The Thanks I Get: In Honor of Thanksgiving
Written by AWB Blogger of the Month, Miss November 2012, Angie Albright of A Growing Season.
We often say or hear, “Well, that’s the thanks I get for doing ______________.” We are usually saying it in a sarcastic way that shows we haven’t been fully repaid for whatever kindness or good deed we have done.
I have had the pleasure of having the exact opposite experience, and recently a couple of genuine expressions of gratitude for things I have done actually meant more to me than those people could have imagined at a time in my life when I was feeling pretty lost and not so sure what my role on this planet was supposed to be.
I taught college English for many, many years and I have thousands of former students running around Northwest Arkansas. I run into them frequently and I usually remember either their name, face, or something else about them. A few weeks ago I was coming out of a movie with a group of friends and a young man approached me and said, “You probably don’t know who I am.” It took me about two seconds to pull up his name. I remember him well.
I gave him a hug, and he introduced me to his wife. Then he said, “Being in your class made me want to be an English teacher.” I wanted to hug him again for saying that. In fact, he IS an English teacher with at-risk students and is a youth minister as well. He was thanking me but I wanted to thank him. He reminded me that I had made a difference and that I was a good teacher.
After I left teaching, I was the executive director of a women’s shelter that housed domestic violence and sexual assault programs. My job involved doing presentations to lots of different types of groups—big, small, professional, informal, factory workers, law enforcement—name a group or population, and I probably spoke with them about our services and domestic violence in general. Almost without exception, after a presentation I would have someone approach me, usually after others had left or walked away. This person, usually a woman, would look me in the eye—hard, like she was trying to burn a message into me—and shake my hand and say, “Thank you for what you do.” Every word would be heavy with that meaning. She and I understood without having to say it out loud that either she had used our shelter or something like it, that someone she loved had, or simply that she knew the horrors of domestic violence and was happy to know people were working on behalf of victims. This encounter usually brought tears to both of our eyes.
I recently ran into a former client of the shelter at a local retail store. I didn’t always know all of our clients, but this one I had spent a great deal of time with and had watched her succeed in ways we could only wish for everyone who went through our program. I looked at her name tag and knew I should know her. She called me by name. When I heard her voice I then recognized her. Her hair was done and she was wearing makeup. She looked professional and happy. We spoke briefly about her situation currently and how far she had come, how good she was at her job. She then did that thank you thing. She looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for everything you did for me.” We both started to tear up. I went around the counter to give her a hug and told her how proud I was of her.
Just as with the student, I was reminded that I had made a difference to someone else. I was also reminded that even though I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing in terms of an actual day-to-day job, I was quite certain I was put on this planet to make a difference for other people. It sounds so grand, but it is actually very simple. I just knew I was supposed to be doing things that make this world a better place.
I wish I knew how to thank those people who thanked me beyond just a handshake or a hug. They made a difference to me when I needed it. They returned to me just as much as what I had given them in the first place. What a beautiful transaction this business of thanks giving is.
Angie Albright writes A Growing Season. Check out her wonderfully told stories. You won’t regret it! You can also find her at twitter using the handles @AngieAlbright and @AGrowingSeason.