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Among the generous attitudes of Americans should be an effort to suppress anger: Effie Caldarola

Pope Francis wears a mask as he attends an encounter to pray for peace in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome in this Oct. 20, 2020, file photo. The pope has worn a mask for protection from COVID-19 on a handful of occasions. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

When we first moved to Omaha, Nebraska, 10 years ago, my husband was in a store’s parking lot trying to squeeze a purchase for our new house into his trunk. He was having a tough time.

A woman with a van, a mommy-mobile, was loading her groceries next to him.

“If you don’t live too far from me, I’d be happy to load that in my van and follow you home,” she said.

Although he managed to fit the item in the trunk, we were impressed with this stranger’s generous attitude, a Midwestern trait, but also an American one.

Where is that all-American kindness right now? I have to remind myself that it’s all around us, but you have to look hard. We live in an angry nation right now.

And sadly, I sometimes find myself being angry right back, and I know that’s not where my faith calls me. In a recent daily reading, Christ admonishes hypocrites who criticize their neighbors and are blind to their own faults.

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?”

Christ challenges us to meet the anger around us with peace and self-awareness.

At a Southern school board meeting Sept. 7, a high school student testified in favor of school masks. He recounted how his grandmother had died of COVID-19, and he attributed it to a lack of mask wearing.

People jeered. A woman behind him, a smirk on her face, laughed. Someone told him, this 11th grader whose grandma had died, to shut up. Never mind that those folks were given ample time to testify about their own opinions.

At a local parish, a man got up during the homily at Sunday Mass and ranted loudly at the priest about the mandate for masks in the parish school. This, despite the fact that polls show the majority of Americans favor school mask mandates.

This behavior is wrong. But the sad thing is that negativity begets negativity. It’s contagious.

Recently, I was shopping at Target, where masks are now required of employees. Omaha is having a surge in COVID-19 cases and intensive care units are dangerously full. I was heartened by the large number of mask wearers I saw.

But then, walking toward me, an unmasked woman sneezed loudly, without using her arm or sleeve to cover the sneeze.

I felt a surge of anger. Was she ignorant, or willfully proclaiming her right to spread germs?

So instead of being positive about my fellow shoppers who were wearing masks, I took a sense of anger home with me. Then I remembered St. Ignatius, who urged us to always give others the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe this woman forgot her mask at home. Maybe she was having a really bad day. Maybe she was a victim of all the disinformation spewed by crazy websites and conspiracy theorists.

Maybe I should have said a prayer for her and focused on my own lack of charity.

Here’s the thing: I can’t control other people’s behavior.

I can only control me. I don’t want to be the person who simmers with anger. I took my anger today to prayer. I realized I want to be the lady with the van, the one who observes people around her and reacts with kindness.

Negativity is contagious, but so is positivity. I want to be that positive person. Find a good cause and work for it. Don’t overload on social media. Find the good in people. Be where Jesus is.