The bedbug letter – Casper Star-Tribune Online


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I dont know if its true, but if not, urban legends have a truth to tell.

The narrative is of a supposed incident in which the American Pullman Car Company had received a complaint about a bug infestation in one of its sleeping cars in 1889.

Supposedly, Mr. Phineas P. Jenkins, a salesman of pig-iron products for the Monongahela Ironworks Company of Pittsburgh, was traveling in a Pullman car on the New York Central Railroad and found that his berth was infested with bedbugs.

Jenkins wrote a letter to the company describing his disgusting accommodations.

As the story goes, he later received a hugely apologetic and detailed reply:

The car was located on March 8, immediately removed from passenger service and sidetracked in a remote area until it could be transported by a specially dispatched locomotive to our maintenance facility at Alton, Illinois. There, it has been stripped of all furnishings. The bedding, upholstery, curtains, carpet and all other combustible materials have been burned. The toilets and their fixtures have been scrubbed down and sterilized with carbolic acid. By the time you receive this letter, the car will have been fumigated and steam cleaned from end to end.

The intended effect was sspoiled, however, because enclosed with the letter was a handwritten note by George Pullman to his secretary, Sarah send this (expletive) the bedbug letter.

Evidently, this bedbug letter was the mass produced letter everyone received who complained about bugs. Two similar stories are recorded to have originated in 1917 and 1941.

Sometimes we treat people like this. We send them the bedbug letter, the form letter, that pretends we have heard them and that they matter to us.

In our hurriedness, we ask, How are you? when we dont really have space or energy to care. We say Let me know if I can do anything, hoping they dont take us up on our pretend offer. Sometimes we actually say, Im so sorry, when we are honestly just relieved that it isnt us.

Maybe Mark Twain was right when he said, You should never tell people your problems because 80 percent of them wont care, and the other 20 percent will think you deserve them!

As a Christ follower, one who is on a journey to know and love God, I am encouraged to be compassionate. To care about those in my world; to be present in their pain.

Every single day we come in contact with at least one other human being, a person made in the very likeness of God. We all have something in common: we are all fighting a battle on some front. A wayward kid, an ailing parent, a divorce, a death, a lost job, a dashed dream.

I dont want to simply send another image bearer the bedbug letter.

Lets not give those in our sphere of influence the passing nod of pretending we care. Instead, lets choose to clothe ourselves in compassion. Lets make eye contact, listen carefully, ask meaningful questions and help, if we can.

God is always moved by our suffering, our struggle, our sorrow. So much so that he sent not a bedbug letter but the Son. Shouldnt our lives reflect the same kind of heart?

Larry and Linda Kloster sponsor this column.

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The bedbug letter - Casper Star-Tribune Online

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