Sunday, January 30, 2011

Merci Beaucoup Revisited

One day last week, while walking in the snow, I happened upon a twelve-year-old boy who was shoveling a path on the sidewalk. Instead of shuffling by with just a nod or smile, I decided to go a step further, and so I said, “Thanks for clearing this path and doing such a great job!” The boy stepped to the side as I passed, smiling ear to ear.
            Most of us are taught to say “thank you” at a very young age, and we instruct our children to say please and thank you as soon as they are able.  But plenty of times these “rote” thank you’s are fairly meaningless. I often find myself robotically chirping, “Thank you! Have a nice day!” to store clerks who are chatting with their friends on their cell phones during the transaction. Afterwards, I always wonder, “Why aren’t they thanking me, the customer?” Automatic thanks don’t really do much, either for the thanker or the thankee.
            I decided to do a little experiment and spend the week thanking people in a more specific and personal manner. I thanked the technician who gave me my mammogram, adding that she was so proficient at her task that I hardly felt any discomfort. She grinned with surprise, and we ended up having a heart to heart about alternative medicine. I thanked the guy who had to schlep into storage to locate a sale item at a local discount store. “Thanks for getting this so promptly and for finding exactly the right thing.” As a result he carried the item down the stairs to the cash register for me. I thanked my best friend for listening to me "pre-worry" one night, and I thanked the waiter who showed up in a crowded restaurant to refill my decaf at just the right moment. “I noticed from afar that the steam wasn’t rising from your cup,” he joked.
            Maybe this seems silly (and it is kind of starting to sound like a children’s book I once read) but the more I thanked people---specifically for things they were good at or thoughtful about—the better I felt. And I noticed, too, that not a single person said, “What the hell are you thanking me for?” (Except my best friend, who insists I don’t need to thank her for listening to my ramblings.) Most people, it seems, like to be appreciated, and they know when your thank you is heartfelt.
            In yoga we often close our sessions with the Sanskrit word “Namaste.” I’ve heard it translated a few different ways, but the one I like best is “The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.” When a thank you is sincere, that’s sort of what we’re saying. It’s recognition of and gratitude for the generous nature of someone who has made an offering—whether the offering is a clear path through the snow, a hot cup of java or a warm embrace.  “Thank you”—from the heart---is an echo of the gratitude we feel for life.
            Next week: You’re Welcome. (Only kidding!)

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