Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Saying Thanks

I had just finished my run (which in actuality is as much a walk as run), when I met a guy I know in the parking lot.  We exchanged greetings and both headed into the Recreation Center.  He was ready for his exercise and I was going to shower and head home.  So we walked in together and headed right on into the locker room.  He is not a close friend, but I was happy to see him and chit chat.

He is somewhat involved in athletics, so we have that in common.  And of course, that is the easiest place for the conversation to ensue.  We did not have sufficient time to solve the world’s problems, so we settled on solving the dinky problems within the college athletic system!  He is fairly aware of some of the things I do for the athletic department, so the conversation was going to end there.  I was robed with only a towel and was turning to head to the shower.

“Thank you for all you do for the kids,” he said.  I was caught up short.  “Seriously,” he continued, “I am thankful for what you do and I know the kids are appreciative, too.”  I was floored.  He could have handed me $100 and I would not have been more pleased than I was hearing his words.  I nodded, expressed some kind of gratitude and headed on to the shower.  But I had been touched.

How simple that act of his had been.  And yet how powerful its impact on me had been.  Truly, I don’t know what it was worth.  Was it really a $100 gift?  To me it was, but I have enough money and I have a salary.  So I get money on a regular basis.  But there is no predictability to being thanked. 

Oh, I know people predictably thank us in the normal social exchange of life.  When I stop each morning and buy coffee, I thank the clerk for assisting me in my daily fix.  But that is perfunctory.  Of course, I mean it.  But it does not come from the depth of my heart.  It is a cup of coffee and I paid for it.

The guy in the locker room offered his thanks to me for no predictable reason.  I had done nothing for him.  He has never been in a class with me.  He does not need me for anything and I don’t really give him anything.  There is no social exchange as there is in the purchase of coffee.  When I buy coffee, I owe the lady a word of thanks.  But there was nothing to precipitate his gracious words to me.

But I was touched.  Part of the delight was the surprise of it.  Certainly I know what all I do for a variety of people around my campus.  And clearly I am getting paid a good base amount for what I do.  And in some cases, I know I go above and beyond the necessary effort to fulfill my contractual obligations.  I know all that and I am ok with it.  I don’t go around looking for people to thank me.  I know I am not the only one around.  A great number of people are doing exactly what I am doing, but in their own contexts.

I know all of this is true, but I also know how much I was touched by his simple gesture.  Indeed, it was so simple.  It cost him nothing.  He lost nothing in doing it.  It was not obligatory.  Had he not thanked me, I would never have thought a moment about it.  I would not be poorer if he had not thanked me.

It was pure gift.  “Tis a gift to be simple” goes the old Shaker hymn.  How true!  All I was going to do was take a shower and go home.  I did that.  But I took so much more with me.  I took a heart that had been touched.  I was smiling for no apparent reason.  Joy is such a rich emotion.  It is a kind of elixir.  I had been drugged and could still pass a drug test!

This seems inherently spiritual, as I reflect on it.  To take it to that level may make it seem more momentous than it really was.  But that is the spiritual point.  It was not momentous; it was utterly simple.  A mere two words had changed me.  Oh, it was not a conversion.  But maybe, it was a tiny touch of heaven.  To have a touch of the heavenly while still here is a great gift.

After all, we live in a world where there are so many of us making life hell for ourselves and countless others.  In my estimation, hell is a given.  Heaven will have to be chosen, created, and offered as gift.  This guy has taken on angelic proportions the way I am telling the story.  But that is precisely what I think happened.

I went into the Rec Center with some guy I know.  In the process he became angelic and offered evangelical good words (“thank you”) and put me momentarily into a heavenly space.  And then I took a shower.

But it did not rub off.  I can still remember it and appreciate it and celebrate it.  It was so simple.  It was a gift.  And I can do the same to others.  There is no patent on spiritual goodness.  Love lavishly by saying thanks.

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