I got someone else’s invitation to the mayor’s ball. Should I go?


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Hi Cary,

Look, this might be a no brainer, but I’m just a product of a world with rapidly declining standards and dubious if any moral values, so here goes.

I live in a major international city (A BIG ONE).

Through some kind of human or machine type error I mistakenly received an invitation not meant for me at my post office box (actually addressed to a married couple at my box number).

It was a very expensive and creative envelope so you might understand why I opened it.

Imagine my surprise to find an invitation from none other than THE MAYOR of my city to a GALA NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTY at a very GLAMOROUS location.

I am currently without any plans at all for New Year’s Eve (actually at a bit of a loose end) so this presents a golden opportunity to see in the New Year in style while rubbing shoulders with VIPs and the local who’s who (or people who have swiped their invitations).

What do you think, Cary?

Should I go for it or just stay home and watch the ball drop in Times Square on TV?



Dear J,

You’ve come into possession of an invitation meant for other people. If you keep this invitation, you are stealing from them.

That response sounds very grown-up, doesn’t it? Well, let me tell you, that’s a long way from my first thought. My first thought was, “You’ve been invited. You should go!” I do believe that the universe speaks to us through accident and coincidence, but the language it speaks is metaphor and riddle. Its logic is dream logic. So as I worked through the ethical and legal implications, I realized I was making the same mistake we all make: I was taking the universe literally. I was also projecting onto your situation my own restlessness and impatience and love of mischief.

So if this means something, what does it mean?

It could mean you have a thirst for some big-time fun, some glamor and excitement that you’ve been ignoring. It could be a sign that you have some issues about honesty and stealing that you need to face up to. It could also mean that the world’s “rapidly declining standards and dubious if any moral values” are a serious concern for you, that you have been wrestling with this profound problem.

What it doesn’t mean is that the mayor wants you to come to his party. That’s for sure. Not unless he invites you. And he hasn’t invited you.

So here is what I would love to see you do: I’d love to see you find these people. I’d love to see you have some harmless fun with this. Contact the mayor’s office and tell them that you received this invitation in error and you want to deliver it to its rightful owners in person. Get their address. Then dress up for the ball. Or, even better: Dress up like a royal footman. Go to their address and ring the bell. Announce that they are being invited to a ball. Explain to them that you received the invitation in error, that you thought you were being invited to a ball, so you got all dressed up, and then realized it was not for you.

See what they do. I expect your costume will excite comment. If they have a sense of humor, you may share a great moment. They may even invite you in for a holiday cocktail. There’s no way to tell. But there’s nothing like responding to the universe’s little tricks with a little fun of your own.

Will you be rewarded for doing the right thing? Who knows. Your reward may be expressed, like this coincidence itself, in the language of metaphor.

In short, you have received an invitation. It’s just not the kind of invitation you think it is.

You’re not being invited to a ball. You’re being invited to make a choice.


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