I’m not very good at saying thank you. Take, for instance,
when someone has invited me to speak. To stand up in front of the crowd and say
thank you to the host seems unnecessary to
me. Perfunctory. Fake. I’d rather indicate my gratitude by sending a note after
the fact. But I’ve been convinced that I need to say thank you up front.
Sending a note is nice too.

Apparently, I’m not very good at saying thank you in our
daily life either. This trait became most pronounced after I spent three nights
away last summer. I returned to a somewhat harried husband. I felt incredibly
grateful that he had given me the time to go away. And I thought I had
expressed that gratitude through the preparations I had made ahead of time, phone
calls during my trip, and cooking dinner when I returned home. But he needed
(for good reason) the words: thank you. And I didn’t give them.

In contrast, Penny loves saying thank you.  

Some of this comes from our insistence that she do so. But it goes beyond obedience. When we go to any class–ballet, music, swimming–before we leave, she tugs my pants, “Mom, can I say thank you?” She always wants to return to the instructor and acknowledge what they’ve given her. Whenever we’re at a restaurant, even if the bill is paid and we are packed up and I am ready to get out the door, “Mom, I want to say thank you.” She insists on finding our waiter and expressing her thanks.

All this thanking (or lack thereof) made me think of a story from Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus heals ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-19). “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.” I wonder–what was it about that man that inclined him to return to Jesus? What was it that made him insist upon giving public thanks to this man? The healing had already happened. The other nine probably rushed home to rejoin their families, their communities. But there was one who returned. Maybe it was because he was a Samaritan. Maybe he had a better understanding of himself as one who was an outsider, who didn’t deserve this Jewish rabbi’s healing touch.

I can’t say that it’s because Penny has Down syndrome that she wants to say thank you. And yet I am struck by the fact that, for whatever reason, she doesn’t have the same sense of entitlement I do. I tend to forget that I don’t deserve much of what I’ve been given in this life. And so I tend to forget to express thanks for it. Penny seems to understand intuitively that she has been given much. She seems to understand not to take the gift of inclusion in a ballet class, the welcome she receives at our local diner, even (sometimes) the meal I put on the table, for granted. She seems to understand that everything in life deserves great thanks.

This Thanksgiving, I hope to be more like the Samaritan who was healed. I hope to be more like Penny. I hope to recognize all the gifts I have been given, not because I was entitled to them, not because I worked hard to achieve them, not because I deserve them, but simply because I have been loved. And I hope I’ll do a better job of saying thank you. 

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