Posted by: ritagone | February 20, 2013

Love at the Post Office


On the campus of Penn State University in State College, Pa., there’s a small post office that was featured recently on “CBS Sunday Morning,” one of my favorite news shows because rather than focusing on the negative, they have a knack for finding heart-warming and positive stories that are uplifting to the spirit.

This segment was about Mike Herr, the post office clerk there, who is so complimentary and goes out of his way to find something nice to say to the students lined up at his window that, when interviewed, many of those same students confessed that they often went into the post office with no business to conduct at all, buying a few stamps when they’re not needed, just because they wanted a cheerful word from Mike to boost their day.

And they got it!

Whether he is complimenting a pair of sneakers or a coat, asking questions about how a gift package was carefully and artfully wrapped, Postman Mike has something good to say to every person who comes to his window.  And he’s been doing this with every customer every day for 38 years!

To Mike, this seems like the most natural thing to do.  Why wouldn’t you say something nice to someone?  Why wouldn’t you give them a cheery word or a compliment or crack a joke to send them on their way if you could?  That’s his philosophy.  And it works.

The students have rallied behind him, he has been honored in parades and other civic events, and students have gone on to praise him for his influence in their lives when they have been honored as Teacher of the Year or similar awards.  His influence is far-reaching, much farther reaching than you would ever imagine a postal clerk’s influence would go.

And this is good news, as far as I’m concerned, because in a world where there is too much that makes us weep and wail with sadness, we don’t hear enough about the Mike Herrs of the world.  I read an amazing book a few months back in order to teach a series on aging.  It had been recommended by my dear friend Brian Newman, and I will be forever grateful that he told me about it, because it had a profound impact on me, both via the subject matter and because there were so many vibrant and memorable quotes.  The book was “Number Our Days” by Barbara Myerhoff, in which she chronicled the story of a bunch of elderly Jewish people living near a senior citizens’ center in Santa Monica, and how their community was changing and adapting to a rapidly moving scenario each month.  For some, this meant an inability to keep up with everything around them; for others, it consisted of making sure the sense of humor didn’t disappear in the midst of utter chaos.

But what I remember most about this amazing book is a quote that I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of my life:

“’A man of great wisdom, a doctor, told me I had a fatal disease,’ one of the interviewees told the author. ‘You cannot remedy it,’ he said.  ‘There is nothing I can do for you except to give you this advice: Do your work as well as you can.  Love those around you.  Know what you are doing.  Go home and live fully.  The fatal disease is life.’”

I wonder if Mike Herr ever heard this quote, because it sounds an awful lot like his philosophy of life.  “Do your work as well as you can.  Love those around you.  Go home and live fully.”  Why?  Because we all have a fatal disease.  That fatal disease is life.  In other words, we are all terminal.  Something is going to kill you, rest assured.  It may be sudden or it may be over a long stretch of time.  It may be a disease or it may be an accident.  Or you or I might be the victim of a random, malicious act of murder.

But one way or another, you and I will suffer the consequences of the fatal disease we carry around in our systems: that fatal disease is life.

Somewhere along the way, something or someone influenced Mike Herr to be a person of shalom wherever he was.  For Mike, it happens to be a small post office on the Penn State University campus.  Not very spectacular or worth headlines, but noteworthy enough to garner the attention of the CBS Sunday Morning producers.  Why?  Because people with the attitude of Mike Herr are so far and few between.  Unfortunately.

So I’m with him.  I’m going to behave like Mike Herr.  Oh, yes, and like Jesus, because Mike Herr’s behavior is remarkably similar to Jesus’ behavior.  I shouldn’t wonder if Mike isn’t familiar with Jesus.  And if he isn’t, I sure hope he meets Him soon.  Mike Herr would find a lot in common with Him.

So come on: be like Mike!  Be like Jesus!  Be a positive, loving influence on the world around you.

Who knows?  They might even do a segment on you for CBS Sunday Morning one of these days!!!




  1. Good advice, Rita..and a great story!!!

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