“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
I first read that proverb many years ago in a book of daily prayer, and it caught my imagination and lodged there. I visualized a tiny, beautifully-crafted, three-dimensional, 24-karat golden apple, suspended within a shining circlet of silver.
If I had start-up funds, I would produce a thousand such pendants, and around the edge of each silver circle would be inscribed the words, “Thank You”.
It strikes me that saying thank you, either in words or writing, is fast going the way of the dodo. I genuinely doubt that toddlers are taught these days to sing the little rhyme that small children of my generation sang repeatedly: There are two little magic words / that will open any door with ease / One little word is “thanks” / And the other little word is “please”.
Thinking on the lack of gratitude displayed by recipients today, I vividly recall the dismay that I felt, years ago, when a coworker for whom we’d given a baby shower came in the following week with a single thank-you card which she proceeded to hang on the office bulletin board. Thirty people had gone to a great deal of trouble for this woman: provided funds for food and decorations, bought and wrapped lovely gifts. They had each individually done a good deal of work to make the event special for her. Yet not one of them received, even verbally, personal thanks—just a cheap card, quickly written, stuck on a corkboard with a pushpin.
Years later, as I discussed this upsetting recollection with a friend, she related to me an even worse incident: A family had moved into the area, and one thoughtful neighbor had stopped by to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood with a home baked pie. Standing there on the doorstep with her offering in her hands and smiling words of welcome, she was told by the new neighbor, “Well, if I’d wanted a pie, I would have baked one!”
I’d barely recovered from my shock at this story when my friend went on to describe a further incident of rudeness in place of thanks and courtesy. She’d taken a loaf of home-baked bread to a neighbor out of appreciation for several things he’d done. Weeks later, not having heard even so much as what he thought of the bread, she innocently asked him if he’d enjoyed it. “It was awfully dense,” was all he said to her. Not, “Thanks, can’t remember the last time I had home-baked bread”, nor even, “It was nice of you to go to so much trouble.” Just a criticism of the food’s texture.
These and a dozen other incidents are the reason that I feel saying “thank you” is, like so many other common courtesies, becoming a dying art. And that saddens me, for it speaks badly of our civilization as a whole. If we cannot express gratitude to the giver, do we even truly experience feelings of appreciation?
I don’t give myself a free pass on this situation, either, for I know there are all too many times when I’ve forgotten to at least speak words of thanks. Those memories shame me. But I have a few other recollections, perhaps balancing the shameful ones, in which I’ve gone the extra mile to thank someone. I especially remember the time when my teenage daughter, driving home late at night with three friends in the car, was t-boned by a driver who ran a red light. A witness to the accident not only called 911 but stopped, got out of his car to direct traffic around the accident scene until the police arrived, and then provided the officer with a description of the accident.
Days later when the police report became available, I found the name and address of the witness. I sat down immediately to write him a thank-you note for his actions, concluding my words with, “You helped keep those kids safe, and I’m so grateful”.
I hoped then, and still hope, that he felt he’d received an apple of gold in a setting of silver.