Is it me, or is Maine turning the corner on its anger problem?

The question popped into my head Tuesday after my wife, Andrea, arrived home from work and told me about her just-completed trip to the post office in downtown Portland.

It was about 4 p.m., that witching hour when everyone in creation has something to mail before calling it a day. Picture two counters open and one … two … three … four … five … people piling up in line.

Behind one counter, the postal clerk kept traffic moving. But at the other, things had bogged down.

The customer there, a man clearly from far away, wanted to process a money order. But he spoke little to no English and apparently had erred in filling out the name of the order’s recipient and thus had to cancel that order and start a new one.

The more the woman behind the counter tried to help him, the more confused the man appeared. And the longer the line grew.

“You need to sign here,” the clerk said.

The man seemed confused, trying to process what she meant.

“Name?” he finally asked.

She nodded patiently.

Then she told him she needed identification to process a new money order. Again, several moments of confusion before he finally produced an acceptable ID.

Around that time, another man hurried coatless through the door. Cellphone in hand, he spoke perfect English and had apparently been summoned to help translate.

Which he did. But then, as they completed the transaction, up popped another roadblock.

“That will be $1.20,” the clerk said.

The first man looked at the second man and mumbled something. He had no more money.

The second man then told the clerk: “I’ll run out to my car and see if I have some change.”

Groans up and down the line?

Not a one.

Muffled demands to “hurry it up”?

Never happened.

Snarky, below-the-breath remarks about “learning the language”?

Not a peep.

Andrea had a $20 in her wallet. Reaching for it, she asked, “Do you guys need some money?”

She did it because it occurred to her that “if I was in a foreign country and I didn’t speak the language and I’m trying to do this, how frustrating would it be?”

Back to the line. As Andrea tunneled down into her purse for the $20 bill, a woman just behind her chimed in, “I have the exact change.”

Or close enough: Ever so pleasantly, the woman handed the man a dollar bill and a quarter.

His business finally complete, the line behind him now six or seven people deep, the grateful man thanked the clerk and walked back to the generous woman to give her the nickel in change.

“Oh, that’s OK,” she told him with a warm smile. “Pay it forward.”

With that, the two men left, smiling and waving at everyone. And, lo and behold, they got smiles and waves in return.

Now, I’m not suggesting that uplifting moments like this don’t happen all the time, often unseen and unheard but for the fortunate few who happen to witness them firsthand – or, better yet, initiate them.

Still, our culture of anger, here in Maine and beyond, has produced far too many flip sides to the post office scenario: The mere presence of an immigrant, an LGBTQ person, someone with mental illness prompts a caustic remark, maybe a threat of violence, from someone whose only reflex is to attack those who are different.

Often, some bystander with a phone camera then uploads that outrage to the pure oxygen of social media, where it bursts into full flame and spreads like wildfire. Anger begets anger, which begets more anger … until suddenly everyone has to choose between the Native Americans and the kids from Covington, Kentucky.

Mainers know this phenomenon well. Led by a man who for the past eight years wore his hot button like a badge of besieged honor, many of us grew numb over those years to the insults, prejudices and just plain nastiness by which the rest of the world grew to identify us.

That guy’s gone south now, his bully pulpit switched out for a bag of golf clubs. And while his most viciously vocal supporters still remain, they no longer can set their bearings by what comes out of the Blaine House. Their role model, at long last, has begun his slow fade into history.

I thought about that Monday when Gov. Janet Mills stood before the NAACP’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day dinner in Portland and spoke words not heard from a Maine governor for a long time.

Recalling the 46 new Americans whose naturalization ceremony she attended at Portland’s King Middle School last week, Mills said, “Dr. King I think would welcome them. And he would tell us to love them just as we love our neighbors who have been here for decades, those who have lived here for centuries, just as we love and respect our indigenous friends who were here before that.”

Welcome back, fellow Mainers, to the way life should be. Finally, the pendulum has begun its swing back toward the light, one act of kindness at a time.

Sure, some might say what happened in that post office Tuesday afternoon was no big deal. I suspect that man in search of a money order might beg to differ, as would my dear wife.

“It was a win-win,” Andrea later told me. “Somebody new to our country presumably had a good day because people were so patient. They understood.”

Better yet, rather than hinder, they helped.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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