I stole something tonight. Well, it felt like stealing. I’m not sure if feeling like you stole is the same as actually stealing, but there’s no sense in arguing semantics. The fact is I didn’t earn it and I took it. That is the same as stealing, isn’t it? Perhaps, it would help if we had an explanation about what actually happened. How about if we go back to the actual event and start from there, okay?
To start with, I will admit that I have a love-hate relationship with the Christmas season. There are parts of this season that I love. I love the time I get to spend with people whose company I enjoy. I love the fact that people seem to soften up a bit at this time of the year. I really love the music. I love the excitement of the children’s programs, and the beauty of voices (both children’s and adults’) raised vigorously and harmoniously in praise to the new-born King. As much as I hate winter, I will even grant a grudging nod to the prospect of a white Christmas. All of that said, there is a certain amount of resentment because this holiday thinks it somehow deserves to be a dressy occasion. Oh, I’m not talking about the clothes we wear, although we often must dress up for an event or two this time of the year. No, the rancor is due to the fact that Christmas insists upon its own costume. Lights on the houses, trees in the living room, garland up the staircase, and on and on. The whole world changes clothes just for this one season. And, it wouldn’t matter that much, except I have to help with the makeover. This year is no different than any other year.
There is to be a gathering of our closest and oldest friends this week and the house is past due for its seasonal wardrobe change in preparation for the party. The Lovely Lady transforms the old place into a wonderland every year, but this year I threw a monkey wrench into the works. A few months ago, I placed a rather large piece of antique furniture right where the Christmas tree normally goes. As the decorating progressed this evening, it became clear that the old oak secretary would have to be relocated for the time being. Up to that point, I had managed to stay out of the process, but after that major chore was accomplished, I did (reluctantly, I’ll admit) help a little more; lugging a carton here and climbing that ladder to find those wayward ornaments back there. The Lovely Lady worked for hours at the task, decorating and arranging long past the time when I would have wilted. When the work was finally done, she was exhausted and so, headed for bed. I was grumpy, but I made a trip upstairs to check on her before coming over to write for awhile.
As I asked if she was okay and hugged her, she made a point of thanking me for all I did for her. Me? All I did? For her? I protested quietly, but accepted her thanks and said goodnight. I’m sitting here now feeling a little guilty for doing it. I took something I didn’t earn. It’s a little like stealing, but not really, right?
This had happened another time just recently, albeit not with her. Last week, I was working in the music store, when a fellow came in the front door. It was a young man who ran another music store in town. I knew that times were tough for him and wasn’t too surprised when he told me that he was closing his business. But then he said, “The real reason I came by was to thank you.” I looked at him, the question mark clear on my face, and he continued. “I wanted to thank you for your help and support over the last year.” I protested a bit and then, uncomfortable, moved on to a different subject. I don’t remember doing anything for him. I’m not sure what he thinks I did for him. The only thing I really did for him was to make sure that people knew that I wouldn’t talk badly about him behind his back. A time or two, customers who thought they were trying to protect me from the new guy would come in saying derogatory things about him and his business. I always made sure that they knew I liked the guy and that I had nothing bad to say about him. On several occasions, he and I had talked about the music business in general and I had been open in making suggestions for getting through slow times. But, I hadn’t done anything worthy of his thanks at all. I took them anyway.
Perhaps, I am a thief, after all. I almost wish that our English language gave us the same rule that the Spanish language does when responding to the words “Thank You”. In that language, to the spoken “Gracias”, the proper response is always “De nada.” The grateful “Thank you” meets, not as in our language, the proud “You’re welcome,” but only the gently demurring “It was nothing.” If I had that option, I could still hold my head high as an honest person. In both of the cases above, it actually was nothing that I did to earn any thanks.
Who do you suppose I could speak to in order to get our rulebook changed? We’ve taught and been taught that we always say “You’re welcome” in reply to someone’s spoken thanks, but perhaps we would be better served by the more apropos “It was nothing”, instead. I never have quite worked out what the word “welcome” means anyway. Why would we use the same word to tell someone that we are glad that they are in our home (You’re welcome here), as we do to accept their thanks (You’re welcome)? Sometimes, I despair of learning the English language at all.
While I’ve been writing though, I have come up with a solution to my dilemma. It may be a little sappy, but I think that I’ll just consider those thanks I didn’t earn as a loan, instead of feeling guilty about taking something which was not rightfully mine. I’ll pass them on very soon to someone else. My life is full of people who bless me in astounding ways. Probably, if you look around, you’ll find the same thing. We all have people who love us when we are unlovable, people who are committed to us even when we abandon them at the slightest provocation, people whose positive input into our lives is unmistakable and indisputable. You may have some thank you’s stored up too; thanks you did not really earn, but that you accepted. Perhaps, it’s time to pass those on now. I’ll be working on it right along with you.
And, if you decide to tell me thank you for any little thing which meant something to you, don’t be surprised if I answer you in a different language. It will just be my way of keeping from taking something which is not mine.
De nada. It was nothing at all.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
(G K Chesterton~English born essayist and poet~1874-1936)
“Let your speech be seasoned with grace…”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.