My wife recently had a cataract removed from her left eye. As planned, a week after the surgery, she went back to the surgeon’s office. He examined the eye and told her that everything was as it should be. She then said to him, “It’s wonderful what you doctors can do these days. I want to thank you very much for this service.” There was a moment of awkward silence, she says, as if he didn’t quite know what to say, and then with a smile he replied, “Well, that’s what we are here to do.” He held the smile but there were no more words. My wife reported that this seemed awkward for both of them, as if he wasn’t used to handling generous words of appreciation. When she told me about this exchange I remembered that a few weeks earlier I had had a complicated problem with my computer.
It was a matter of getting the modem and router to talk to one another and relay their message to the computer. Three different companies were involved. I spent the equivalent of one whole day working with technicians by telephone. One of the technicians worked faithfully for a long period of time before admitting defeat and referring me on to another service. I acknowledged his patient effort and thanked him, which brought a reply I wasn’t expecting. He said, “I can answer a thousand calls and not hear a word like that.”
Is it possible that in our high-tech culture the wonders of modern technology that bless us in all sorts of ways, at the same time make us less thankful for these blessings? The Bible has a great deal more to say to us about thanking God than it does about thanking our fellows. Unless, that is, the idea is subsumed in the Second Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or in Jesus’ instruction to treat others as we want to be treated.
Who does not appreciate a simple word of thanks? And who can forget St. Luke’s story of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus from a distance for healing. He sent them to the priests, ostensibly to be cleared for entrance back into society. In this case, Luke tells us, “… as they went, they were cleansed.” Luke is also quick to report Jesus’ perplexity that of the ten, only one returned and “…threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him.” And he was a foreigner to God’s chosen people (Luke 17:11-20).
Little words of thankfulness dropped here and there add color and warmth to life. When they are withheld or neglected life can be grey or even painful. Shakespeare’s King Lear laments about the ingratitude of his daughters in these words: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / to have a thankless child.” Which reminds me that it’s good to express thanks to a surgeon or computer technician but the best place to release long overdue words of appreciation first of all is in the home where primary family connections are either oiled by such words or left to creak painfully through the days.