Radio Diaries: Someone's Papers

Oct 20, 2017

I open the front door to pick up the newspaper and notice some trash out on the grass next to the curb.  “What is this?” I think irritably as I go out to pick it up.  But it is not trash.  It is somebody’s personal papers—all folded up and soaking wet from last night’s rain.

I carefully unfold them on the kitchen counter and discover a birth certificate, legal papers, credit cards, business cards, and a pile of receipts and notes—all belonging to a young man.

And as I look through these papers, I feel vaguely uncomfortable —as if I am invading his privacy.  But I am looking for a phone number so I can call and let him know his papers are safe and will be returned.  I find an address but no phone number and he’s not in the phone book.

I think of all the things I’ve lost over the years and how few have been recovered.  A watch, a wallet, a precious ring, an intimate journal.  The sting of these losses never quite eases.  How could I have been so careless, so stupid?

I lay the young man’s soggy documents on paper towels to dry.  And all day long, it’s as if there is a stranger in the house, someone I should be including in the conversation.

And the next day, I find a sturdy envelope, fold up the missing papers, and put them in the mail.