A cancellation number is a postal marking applied to a stamp or stationery indicating that the item has been used. We can see the cancellation details on the mail we receive. The print on the stamp indicates where and when the item was mailed, and we cannot use the stamp again.
It appears that Greek rural postmen each had a cancellation number that they applied to incoming mail to cancel the stamps before distributing the mail. The prize winning book tells the human stories behind each of the cancellation numbers.
Cancellation number 87236 was the number used by rural postman, Dimitri Vassilikos, to cancel the stamps on all mail routed through the Elassona post office in Northern Thessalonika.
He died at the age of 87. After his death, seventeen large bags of undistributed letters were discovered in his attic. It transpired that Dimitri sat at his kitchen table all day, drinking ouzo (a traditional Greek alcoholic drink) and cancelling the stamps on the letters.
He never actually delivered even one of the letters. He simply added the mail items to the bags of mail that he had been hiding in his attic. As a result the inhabitants of Elassona are known to this day as 'the isolated ones'. Not even Readers' Digest could get past Dimitri Vassilikos, it seems.
Why would a postman do something so outrageous? He feared that his worthless sons would discover the hidden mail in the attic, steam off the stamps and use the proceeds to go to the Greek island of Mykonos. These young men seemed to be quite attracted to Mykonos and would do anything to get there. I wonder how many used stamps with the number 87236 they would have had to sell to get the money to go to Mykonos?
We think the old man was crazy, but don't we do the same in different ways? Think of the crockery and cutlery and bed linen that are stored and only taken out to impress visitors. As if we are not good enough to use beautiful or valuable stuff every day.
How about the clothes that we save for special occasions? Often the special occasions are so far apart that the clothes 'shrink' while in the wardrobe and then we need to buy new clothes anyway, only to wear them once and hide them away again. What a waste.
In the culture that I grew up in, there was the justification that you use beautiful things rather than leave them for the second wife to enjoy. Somehow there must be some external reason for attaching value to yourself, even if it is by comparing yourself to an unknown person that may or may not be in the future of your beloved husband.
We do the same with our emotions. Our love is precious, and therefore we are reluctant to tell people we love them until we know the end of our time here is near or there is some crisis that justifies us using the words. We do not understand that love breeds love, and we prefer to hide it away in the attic so that others cannot abuse it.
How often do we praise our children or others around us that do well or achieve something? No, we rather withhold the praise because we do not want them to become vain or conceited. Why would we encourage people to break down the boundaries around them and explore their full ability? If we do anything like that, we will just have to dig up more of the praise and encouragement that we have been hoarding, and that will leave us with nothing. Will it?
Emotions like love and praise and encouragement may multiply slower than the more heated emotions of jealousy and resentment, but feel-good emotions multiply forever, while the more destructive emotions only multiply until we see the damage they do, wake up and choose to change them.
So it is quite OK and in fact a very good idea to take all the best things out of the wardrobes and cupboards and our hearts, and use them every day to make our world a beautiful place. The more we use the best things, the more wonderful things will come into our lives, because we are worthy of the best.