Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The challenge of being thankful

"There you go," the supermarket clerk said to me today, handing me my receipt after I spent $150 to stock up for the end of the year. Some clerks say, "Have a nice day," which, though trite, at least makes some sense, as "there you go" does not. Neither expression, however, is what the customer--at least this customer--expects, which is "thank you."

These clerks, who represent the supermarket chain, should, like all people in sales, have the courtesy to acknowledge my patronage on behalf of their employer, even if they are glad to move on to the next customer and have no personal reason to thank me.

But perhaps they are like some of my young guests recently at Christmas who, after opening their gifts, find it awkward to express any kind of gratitude. They mumble a generalized "thanks" at the end of the evening, which doesn't really do from my point of view--as one who has shopped for the right present, spent money, and wrapped the gift with the hope that it would please. I expect a bit of genuine gratitude. Genuine enthusiasm would be nice.

I think more than politeness is at stake here. Perhaps it involves humility. How else do I explain all the thousands of missed "thank you's" I've noticed over the years by friends, relatives, and strangers alike? To look at me and appreciate the thoughtfulness of my gift is such a seemingly simple social exchange, yet it is one of some complexity since it involves, I think, (consciously or not) a dependency. And many folks can't be properly grateful because they can't be indebted to me or anyone; to be grateful is to lose (however fleetingly) a sense of independence.

I don't fully understand the challenges of being thankful. I have read a bit about the importance of gratitude, which I see as a positive counterpart to all the things that can and do go wrong in a day; it's an affirmation of life, or in religious terms, an acknowledgement of the goodness of creation.

I don't want to say that my guests often disappoint because they are self-centered and arrogant or rude; it's that while saying "thank you" is not easy for young children since it feels awkward, many of us never quite learn to be grow out of this shyness and become comfortable with this basic type of verbal exchange. At least that's my way to understand this mystery.

For the store clerk, saying "thank you" should be a polite formality; for everyone else, it should come from the heart. And when it doesn't, I can only hope that they will one day learn to be less socially shy. And that I will overlook the sense of being taken for granted. Even when my e-mails go unacknowledged (bad form!).

As for me, I am grateful daily for many things: my life, my marriage, the endless opportunities I have for learning and sharing and giving to others. I am grateful, too, for little things--like the light as it comes in my study in the afternoon on winter days--and believe that nothing should be taken for granted. Gratitude as a type of simple prayer is a recognition of the good things in each day, a means of remaining optimistic despite the horrors of the world around me (see the daily news), a way of keeping my balance.

As this year ends, and I think of all I am grateful for, I must include this blog and those people in several countries who have read it or returned for a second helping now and then. I thank you all, and I hope that the new year is full of good things we can be grateful for.

No comments: