Thank Fully

Among the polite pleasantries of yesteryear that, sadly, have disappeared is saying “Thanks.” Along with the more formal and person-specific, “Thank you.”

At virtually any cash register, squeezing “thanks” out of a button-pusher can be excruciating. And, frequently, as hopeless as it is pointless.

Let it go. Hmm, a couple more lines and there’s bound to be a hit record there.

About five years ago, I got it into my head to call and offer thanks to some people who long ago changed the course of what would become my professional life.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the way my life was going way back then. I was perfectly content with my occupation, earned pretty good money and had a great tan (at least on my back) that emerged months before anyone else. Roofing is also a great way to avoid needless gym membership fees while still building upper body strength; shingles weigh 80 pounds a bundle and climbing ladders while in their company is part of the job.

I picked two people to call.

One, at the time a girlfriend, nagged me into going back to school. And it really was – and required – nagging. In large part because of the resistance she encountered. Again: professionally happy, monetarily content and, more or less, fit. Plus, I had a 1965 Mustang convertible. Any questions?

So, off I went to a community college, then called a “junior” college, 45 minutes away, enrolling in a total of two evening classes. One math, one literature. Couldn’t pick two subjects I disliked more. Despite that set-up for failure, I passed both.

The other call was to my undergraduate academic advisor, now long retired. At the time I knew him he was a young guy, fresh out of completing his Ph.D. at a nearby university; he taught enthusiastically and graded rigorously.

I ended up in his first class – and mine – kind of by default: virtually all other courses were closed and the stranger registering me for Fall courses recommended taking a “Speech” class. Which I thought was for people who stuttered or stammered. I am not making this up.

Needing a “B” on the final to earn a “B” for the speech class, I scored 79 and received a “C” for the class I at least by then understood as public speaking. The thought of appealing or whining about the grade didn’t occur to me.

For each person, I silently rehearsed a heartfelt (separate) message of appreciation. Which only demonstrates why I deserved that “C” in the speech class; practicing speeches should occur aloud, as though one was actually delivering the talk.

But when finally encountering the two voices by telephone I had not heard in more than a quarter century, I fumbled and bumbled my way through an expression of thanks. Annoyed at my own incoherence, attempts at clarification were probably only minimally helpful.

Eventually, clarity prevailed. Or at least so I like to think. And hope.

Long overdue, there was a certain satisfaction in having done it. At least, selfishly, on my part. The recipients, I believe, appreciated hearing the sentiment, even if it wasn’t a polished delivery.

And there are, of course, far more than two people to whom gratitude is owed. It’s a rather lengthy agenda.

Note to self: in the future, be timely. And if practice is required, do so aloud.

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