Susan Baller-Shepard: 5 Thank Yous to Say Now


5 Thank Yous to Say Now from the Mean Minister*

*Mean, Because I Care

When I was a child, one of my least favorite phrases was, "You should be grateful." So, I'm not telling you that. What I am suggesting here is that this month is a great time to say these five thank yous. It's a heartfelt endeavor. You'll see. It does a soul good.

1. Thank a Teacher

Who were your grade school teachers? Name three of them? Most of us can recall

our early teachers, due to their amazing influence on us. When I got into Mrs. Lawton's second grade class, all was right with the world. She made learning both fun and rewarding.

Now, I teach. Before I taught, I didn't quite realize how much heart, soul, and energy gets poured into teaching. In college, at the University of Iowa, one of my favorite teachers, David Morrell, author of the Rambo series, used to engage us from the start of his lecture to the end, linking literature and the jazz age, savoring sentences from Hemingway and Faulkner. Rabbi Jay Holstein taught religion, like religion was a bull in a China shop, breaking myths and conventions, wild, alive, and humorous, his teaching captivated an auditorium full of college students.

Great teachers open our brains to new concepts, new ideas, new views about the world in which we live. Some random day, we stop and think, "I learned this in fourth grade. Wow! Still with me today." The web makes it easy to find your former teachers. Give her or him a shout out.

2. Thank a Coach

Even if you weren't an athlete, you've had one, someone who encouraged you to keep running the race before you. If you were fortunate to be on a team, thank a coach that mattered to you.

I was part of the first girl's swim team at our high school. We gave first time swim coach Ermalea Doyle a hard time. We didn't cooperate, we were mischievous, we rolled each other in towel bins out into the varsity basketball practice, we wreaked havoc to get out of practice. Our principal reprimanded us for our "moronic deeds."

As a parent of teenagers, I understand "moronic deeds" in a new light. It took me until my kids got older to understand who Coach Doyle was and what she had done for us. Ermalea took a chance on us, on our team. She worked extra hours and weekends, so we could have a team. She died before I/we thanked her and honored her for willingness to take on that challenge. Who is someone who puts herself or himself out there for you? For others? Who helps out, goes above and beyond, offers encouragement? It's good to have a coach in your corner, cheering you on. Say thank you. I don't care how: via tweet, via email, via letter, via phone call, via Instagram. Today's a good day to do it.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,

What's left undone today, is still not done tomorrow;

to every day there is a use and purpose;

let Resoluteness promptly seize

the forelock of the Possible...

3. Thank an Author

One of my very dear friends, a woman I respect immensely, Gretchen Seidler Gibbs, would tell you I'm crazy here. Don't listen to her. Listen to me. Thank an author. When you read a book that moves you, or an article that makes you really think, go to the writer's web site or social media account, and thank that writer. I have thanked authors over the years, and have often developed friendships out of this simple act.

This is where Gretchen would tell you, "Don't hold your breath." I would tell you: Do it anyway. Say thanks. Tell them their words mattered to you. I believe in the power of words, and so do you, or you would not have read this far. Who's a writer who has rocked your world? Yea. Thank that one.

4. Thank a Family Member

Okay. This is touchy. I know, I know. Families can be rough going.

Here's the thing, it can be someone living, or it could be saying a word of thanks for that one who went before you? Maybe it's someone in that long flow of those who came before who gave you life in one way or another?

You can thank a family member in person, or if they're all gone or unknown to you, thank a person who is like family to you. Or, you can do none of the above. I'm just saying, there's that "great cloud of witnesses" who have gone on before us. I believe that they lived so that we can live, in some way, shape, or form.

Photos of my great, great grandmother make her look like a weathered, old woman, not-to-be-messed-with. And, guess what? She was. She weathered all sorts of things, that have given life to me in more ways than I can count. Someone in your life, even if you have the wackiest of families, or family histories, someone gave you something you can use, today, in your life. I promise. Fortitude, courage, steadfastness, ability, locale, the color of your eyes or your great eyesight, something. You can say a word of thanks for that person's life.

Thank you, Henrietta. You look sort of mean, but I'm guessing you were just really, really tired? Thank you, Sarah Elizabeth, for braving the journey across the Atlantic while pregnant. You get the picture.

5. Thank One You Love Very Much

This could be God. It could be your best friend. It could be #4, or not.

No matter. Someone who is a "regular" in your life, as much a part of your life as landscape, and without whom life would be less funny, less fun, far less beautiful.

For the atheist, it could be a "thank you" that on this day your lungs are inflating,

your heart is beating, and blood is coursing through your veins. A gratefulness for this. In the words of poet Jane Kenyon, "It might have been otherwise."

For the Agnostic, who isn't sure how to hedge her bets, it could be a time of quiet to think of several things for which she is thankful.

For the one who believes in a Higher Power, it could be a prayer or a meditation of thanksgiving for this breath, this life, this day. To get to love someone while walking this earth is a precious, priceless thing. As the days in the northern hemisphere get shorter, and all you want to do is hibernate until spring, it's a chance to pause and notice, that you were loved, and you got to love in return, and that's worth a "thank you."

Happy Thanksgiving...

Tell us how it turned out for you -- unless you're Gretchen.

Gretchen will say writers never do write back.

You go ahead, prove her wrong. And Gretchen, one day... one day....


Goethe quote is from Faust (214-30). Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Collected Works. Vol. 2: Faust I & II. Ed. and trans. Stuart Atkins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1994.

Line from Jane Kenyon's poem "Otherwise," is from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Reprint edition. Graywolf Press, 1997.

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