"Now, What Do You Say?"
My wife and I were in charge of the snack table at church. People streamed past, picking up cookies and cups of coffee. One little boy asked for a cup of orange juice. As he took it from my hand, his mother looked down and said, "Now, what do you say?"
"Thank you," the lad replied quickly, giving me a little nod.
"You're welcome," I responded, and they moved on.
It was only a drop in the ocean of events of that day, but it made me think about how many times we say "thank you."
You sneeze and someone says, "Bless you."
"Thank you," is your reply.
A waitress brings your coffee.
"Thanks," you say. You pay your bill.
With your change come another "thank you."
The kids of my generation grew up under the tutelage of television's Captain Kangaroo. We learned well that the magic words in life were "please" and "thank you." The old captain was right, too.
Each of us probably says "thanks" a hundred times a day. We say it so much that sometimes we have to amplify it a little. "Thanks very much" ratchets our appreciation up a few degrees. "Thanks a million" pushes it even higher. And sometimes we append our "thank you" with "and I really mean that" just to verify our sincerity.
Sometimes just speaking the words isn't enough. There are occasions when a card is appropriate. The card says "thank you" on the outside, but most people feel it necessary to write a personal "thank you" inside. Often, the writer expresses the thought that the words "thank you" are not enough.
Even our machines are taught their manners. Vending machines light up a little "thank you" window when they are fed their proper fees. At our school, each student in the cafeteria line has a personal code which is punched into the cash register. At the end of the transaction, a computerized voice dutifully speaks "thank you."
More and more, we are being thanked in advance. "Thank you for not smoking" reads a sign on the front door of a restaurant. "Thank you for not littering" is printed on the side of a paper cup. "Thank you for your contribution" appears on the outside of an envelope soliciting a donation. Being thanked in advance puts the onus on you to follow through with the proper suggested behavior.
We often say "thank you" when the occasion clearly doesn't demand it. A student borrows a pen or pencil. When it is returned to me, I say "thank you" even if the borrower doesn't. Now, wait a minute. Why should I say "thanks" when he didn't?
You spend an evening in a restaurant, generally ignored by your waiter. When you finally catch his attention long enough to get the check, you still say "thank you" when there was very little to be appreciated. And you leave a tip to boot.
We're angered sometimes when an expected "thank you" is not forthcoming. In the cash register line, the clerk is supposed to say "thanks" as you get your change. If you say it and he or she doesn't, the air is unsettled. Your impulse is to retort with "you're welcome" in an appropriately ironic tone.
"Thanks a lot!" we will utter when we're not actually in a grateful frame of mind. "Thanks for nothing!" you'll hear when your helpful efforts have failed. "No thanks to you!" someone will say when they have had to muddle their way through a job on their own.
Most of the time, though, our expressions of thanks are genuine. As many times as we hear and say "thank you," these magic words seldom seem redundant or trite. They help grease the wheels of day-to-day life.
Perhaps we should be thankful for all the reasons we have to say "thanks." Consider the sunsets and woolly worms and apple pies; music and wildflowers and popping corn; lightning and little kids and orange juice; friends and family and the grace of God. Yes, consider all of these and a hundred million more. Now, what do you say?