That sinking feeling

20 Jun

I was feeling anticipation and excitement when the receptionist called to say that CanadaPost had a package for me.  Sure enough, it was a large envelope from an eBay vendor in California. I'd ordered a new HP hx4700 PDA a couple of weeks earlier, and it had been shipped by US Postal Service.  All I had to do was pay the GST and the item would be mine.  I gave the postal delivery person my credit card for processing, and turned my attention to the package.  Hmm, the end of it was open – I pulled out the box from inside the envelope, and it was… empty.  WTF?

Upon examination of the envelope, I noticed that the form from the Canadian Border Services Agency contained the message "Not opened".  Does that mean that they didn't open the package, so someone must have since then?  Or does that mean "hey, don't blame us for opening the package; it was open already"?  Either way, I have a problem.  I politely declined to receive the empty package from the postal delivery person.  Then I got his name and the name of his supervisor.

I called the supervisor and after some discussion and a call back after they checked procedure, they said that it's up to the sender to file a claim against them. Upon reflection, this means I'm screwed. The vendor already has my money, so why should they care what happened to the goods?  Since they didn't offer or pay for insurance, they have little leverage against the US Postal Service.  Further, they declared the value of the parcel to be $49.99, so that's probably the maximum amount that they could extract from the postal service.

I could pursue some dispute through PayPal on the basis that I did not receive the goods that I paid for. I imagine that the vendor will claim that he delivered into the shipper's hands the exact merchandise that I ordered, and that thus I have no basis on which to say that he didn't honour our transaction.

While thinking through all of this, I experienced the usual range of emotions involving anger, frustration, blame, self-blame, loss and despair. My immediate reaction was to attempt to purchase a replacement unit from another vendor and get it shipped immediately through more secure means.  I wanted to smother all of those bad feelings as quickly as possible.

Then I recalled some of the lessons I learned from reading Pema Chödron's When Things Fall Apart: her advice is, when confronted with great uncertainty, do not attempt to suppress it or eliminate it, but rather lean into it and embrace it.  Nothing in life is certain, anyway, and ultimately we have little control over anything. Events such as this remind us of the essential dissatisfaction with all possessions, and we should seize this chance to reflect on the real nature of existence. Also, we can be as careful as possible, and take every possible precaution, in all our activities (including on-line commerce), and yet still it’s possible and even likely that misfortune will enter our lives. Nothing we do can guarantee us protection from pain, loss, injury or death. We’d be better off recognizing that they’re a part of life, and we’re not exempt from them.

I've now been robbed of around $400, but in the grand scheme of things that's not very much. Maybe this will turn out to have been a cheap price to pay to learn some valuable lessons.  For one, I now know that I should be very careful to insure the Apple MacBook that I'm currently selling on eBay so as to avoid a similar occurrence featuring me as the vendor.

Another lesson is learned from looking back at the reason for the purchase of the PDA in the first place.  I bought the hx4700 because I wanted a PDA with a high-resolution VGA screen in order to run Pocket Strepla,a real-time flight management and mapping program to be used with a GPS in a sailplane.  I already had another similar program, Soaring Pilot, running on a Palm T|X PDA, but it doesn't show nice colour maps, and I had decided I deserved better.  Before purchasing the HP PDA, I did consider simply taking the $400 it would cost and spending it on rental of a better sailplane than the 40-year old Schweizer 1-26 I've been flying.  But the lure of new gadgetry too strong.  I allowed myself to be possessed by a possession, and now I’ve been dispossed of it.   Now I will get a chance to experience the pain and suffering that attachment to material objects brings us.

In addition, nothing I do can change what has happened: I paid out $400, and now have nothing. I can accept that, and move on, or spend weeks or months acrimoniously fighting for compensation and redress and likely still have nothing at the end of that time.

And a further lesson is from the shipment itself.  A week before purchasing the PDA, I had purchased a Bluetooth keyboard for my Palm T|X (it will also work with the HP hx4700).  When I paid for it on PayPal, I had a sudden bad feeling when I noticed that the vendor's Paypal username was nothing like his email account name, which in turn gave me cause for alarm because it was with a free email service (hotmail, if I recall) which makes it difficult or impossible to identify the real person behind the account.  Add to that his terse and unhelpful response when I enquired after a week as to the whereabouts of my merchandise: "should be there any day".   A repeat inquiry after two weeks didn't elicit any reply whatsoever. I had a strong suspicion I had been scammed. In contrast, the vendor of the PDA provided several emails to me on the status of the transportation of my package, and provided a link to on-line tracking of my purchase.  I had a good feeling about the shipment of the PDA, and a bad feeling about the shipment of the keyboard. And the final outcome wasn't at all what I expected. The keyboard showed up yesterday, and the PDA has been stolen from me.  I made judgements about two shippers, and I was wrong.  What other judgements in my life will turn out to have been wrong?

Again, Pema Chödron teaches us to suspend judgements, or fears, when uncertainty arises, and instead allow us to be open to the unfolding experience. Rather than worrying that our package won't arrive, and spending days or weeks trapped in misery, we can and should adopt a playful, enquiring perspective, and say "I wonder if my package will arrive or not? Let's find out." 

We don't know how things will turn out.  Apparently the Arabs have a saying that the man who foretells the future is a liar, even if he is right.  And then there's the Buddhist story of the farmer whose horse breaks a leg. When his neighbours offer their condolences for his bad luck, he replies that he doesn't know if it was bad luck; he'll have to wait and see.

This, then, will be my guidance in this situation.  I don't know yet whether this was an unfortunate event, or perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me.  I'll have to wait and see!

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