Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bedbug Letter

This morning as I was cleaning my glasses I reminded myself to do so delicately and from the correct direction. You see, last year I bought new glasses, the kind where the bottom doesn’t have a rim, but a clear plastic line that wraps around the bottom. After a few months of cleaning them every morning the plastic line broke. The eye doctor place fixed them while in wonder of how they broke. That had never happened before, they said. The next day while I was cleaning my glasses I realized how it had happened. As I was cleaning them I was pulling them away from the rim, putting pressure on those thin plastic lines. So, now I clean them coming from the opposite direction and they have never broken again.

Some time later while visiting my grandparents, I shared with grandpa what had happened. He and my family chuckled when they heard the claim that the doctor’s office had never before seen that happen. They said it sounded like the bedbug letter. I asked what that meant and he told the following story.

Many years ago, during the days that travel by train was more common, a man had a terrible nights sleep during his train trip because he was bitten by bed bugs all through the night. He wrote a letter to the train company making his complaint thoroughly clear for his disgust with the discomfort that these bed bugs had caused him. The train company replied with the sort of response most would expect to hear in an apology. They were very sorry for his inconvenience as they had never had this happen before and were not sure how it happened. Therefore, they would make all necessary arrangements to make sure that this room was cleaned from top to bottom, thereby eliminating all bed bugs for future guests… how thoroughly embarrassed to have had that happen on their train as the company wanted all of their passengers to enjoy their trip in all the comfort that a train allows, etc. The only problem is that the secretary had enclosed the customer’s original complaint letter in with the apology on which a note was attached that read “send the bed-bug letter” Apparently, it happened so often, they had a form letter already prepared for these complaints.

So, this morning while I carefully cleaned my glasses so that they wouldn’t break I thought about that story and the bedbug letter. It makes me laugh every time I think of it. Then, I started thinking of the bedbug letter responses in my own life. I seem to have a lot of them, form responses that have become so reactive I don’t think much of them. How are you doing today? I say that I’m doing fine, good or great (at least it’s a bit different each time). That’s the most common bedbug letter that I know of. Not many people, and not many times, have I heard anyone really go into an elaborate explanation of how they are really doing. It would throw me off if they did.

When a cashier thanks me they usually follow it up with wishing me a good day, too. I’ve heard it so often that when I hear them thanking me I don’t even wait to confirm they’ve wished me well, I just happily reply with my bedbug letter answer “thanks, you too!” How embarrassing when they happened to have left out the wishing me a good day part.

I’ve noticed that oftentimes I expect the same reaction from someone that I would have given had I been in the same circumstances. If I encounter someone with something good or bad and I would have reacted in a certain way, then I always expect the other person to react in that same way. It throws me off when they don’t conform to what my expectations would’ve been, to my bedbug letter.

On garbage day we all get out those bedbug letters and start mailing them, only forgetting there was a holiday and the garbage man isn’t coming. Still, the entire neighborhood has all their garbage cans ready for pick up.

I like the story of the bedbug letter and I’ll look forward to seeing similarities throughout my life that I find compare to my own personal bedbug letter responses, reactions, and behaviors. What I can learn from this story is the need for sincerity. We can slip into the trap of living so habitually that we can loose focus on what we may normally let slip by, the opportunities for friendship, observation of the beauty, appreciation for the uniqueness, and the simple occasion to brighten the world around us.