Effie Caldarola

Effie Caldarola

I was barely through the door of my neighborhood bank the other day when I heard “Ana,” (not her real name), one of the tellers, call “Hi, Effie.”

It’s a wonderful feeling when people know and speak your name.

A few years ago, we moved from Alaska, our home for many years. As we prepared to leave, I would walk into my comforting, familiar coffee shop and the words to the old “Cheers” television theme song would come to mind: “I want to go where everybody knows my name.”

Nobody wants to be a stranger. It’s nice to be recognized.

But then Ana said something else: “I was just telling Michelle (another teller) that Effie is my favorite customer.”

I was startled and we both laughed.

“Why,” I asked, “am I your favorite customer? Do you have a lot of unfriendly customers?”

She nodded her head sadly. “You should come in and spend a day with me some time,” she said.

OK, before I go on, I must establish I do not always have a sunny disposition. Just ask the customer service folks at the big-box store if I’m pleasant when I’m forced to stand in line to contest an inaccurate charge. Or ask my husband how jolly I am some mornings before coffee.

Ana’s comment, however, merits reflection. Is a cheerful and polite customer becoming the exception?

Are we becoming less and less courteous as a nation?

We’re all too familiar with the vile extremes of behavior lately: the white supremacist who kills two wonderful men who are defending women on a Portland train; or the death threats that are leveled against practically everyone these days, like the referee for an Elite Eight basketball game who made calls with which some fans disagreed; or the racist and misogynistic threats made against Leslie Jones, a strong and vocal black comic who happened to star in a “Ghostbusters” remake some people didn’t like.

Then there are actions closer to me: my daughter’s co-worker in Philadelphia, a Muslim woman screamed at from a truck (“Go home!”) as she walked down the street. Or my friend Molly, who took a Syrian couple house hunting for a rental and encountered disturbing discrimination and hostility in response to the wife’s hijab.

Or even in my rural Nebraska hometown, an agricultural area that was originally settled by Bohemians and Irish, but is now largely Hispanic. The athletic director there wrote a public letter lamenting the abusive treatment of his teams by visitors from other rural towns, visitors who shout ethnic slurs while hoisting Trump signs at sports competitions.

“Ana” is a beautiful young woman with ambiguous ethnicity, although her real name could be Middle Eastern and her English has the faintest hint of an accent. Is this why she deals with irascible customers? Or are people just getting ruder?

I took my own lessons away from the bank. The climate in our country may have plunged in the past few months, but we need to endeavor to make our own lives speak of respect and mercy. We need to renew our commitment to “go high” to make up for all the folks “going low.”

I may register a polite complaint at the big-box store, but I’m going to be more mindful of the low-paid clerk with whom I’m interacting. I’m going to be more aware of how people view my behavior and how it affects others. I’m going to learn people’s names.

We should encounter no strangers. If we are Christians, we should encounter only Jesus, in his vast variety of disguises.