One of my first conscious acts on this Thanksgiving morning was to pull a folder from my file cabinet and thumb through it. It’s a file I started years ago. It’s full of thank-you notes people have sent me. (And yes, thanking me is the reverse of this day’s proper theme, but it leads there in its way.)
Many of them are from my years as an LDS (Mormon) bishop in American Fork, Utah, or from my time in a similar role in Ithaca, New York. This is not because bishops are the least bit more wonderful than anyone else, but because a pastor’s relationship with his or her congregation naturally includes being conspicuously involved in the difficulties of their lives, in both public and private ways — and because we get a lot of credit for splendid things done by others.
Some of my favorite expressions are not written at all. One man with whom I worked, as he endured severe, long-term trials, gave me a four-pound specimen from his petrified wood collection, because he wanted to give something but couldn’t think of anything else he had to give. Another gave me a wool hat which an Afghan tribal leader (I say warlord, to impress people) gave him as token of thanks for service to him and his people.
Some of these tokens are written in cards, such as the note I received in 2003 from the student leadership of the American Fork High School Marching Band, after I send them a letter thanking them for their important role in a funeral I conducted for a band member.
One personal favorite is on a postcard. It thanks me for something I said from the pulpit, which the writer characterized as direct, straightforward, and truthful.
Another is on a sheet of ordinary notebook paper and is from a woman I hadn’t even met, when she wrote it. A friend of hers was visiting my congregation on a day when I spoke, and asked for a copy of my remarks to give to someone she knew who was struggling mightily just then. Weeks later came a note, which among other things said, “That talk was for me. . . . It gave me faith and much strength.”
Some of the notes in my folder are from the day I was released as bishop. That was seven years ago, give or take a week. In their Primary meeting later that day, the children of the congregation were invited to create their own thank-you notes for me. (It wasn’t my idea.)
Here’s one from my delightful friend Whitney, who had — much to my delight and her parents’ chagrin — marched into my office a couple of times in the past year to tell me how certain things needed to change in my ward. She was about four years old, I think.
The other side of the page has fourteen more Whitney-drawn hearts, plus an adult’s attempt at translation. I prefer to read the original, untranslated version shown here.
An even younger boy named Keldon produced this favorite (which my scanner seems to have cropped a bit, but you get the idea):
Obviously, there was a conversation more or less like this:
Teacher: Keldon, what have you drawn?
Keldon: It’s a soldier. Duh.
[Confession: I added the “Duh” purely for my own entertainment. But he might have said it.]
Teacher: What shall I write for you?
Keldon: Write, “Bishop, you’re like a soldier.”
I know I’m not a soldier. I don’t see myself as resembling a soldier, and I never seriously wanted to be one. But I know enough soldiers (whom I like to remember on this and other days) to take this as high praise.
Here’s why I have indulged these self-serving reflections.
First, on this morning at least, they cause me to remember how the gratitude I owe dwarfs the gratitude others have directed to me (both for myself and as a proxy for many others). Even if we remove from the equation the divine Power to whom all gratitude is owed, and from whom none is due, I owe far, far more than I have received..
Second, the tangible tokens I treasure make me that much more eager to offer others some meager tokens of my gratitude (not in this blog post, but privately). The tokens themselves, to say nothing of the memories they revive, become blessings in themselves, inspiring reciprocal gratitude.
Third, I hope that those who tout Thanksgiving Day as a secular celebration are not too distressed when they discover that, for some of us — at least for me — it is as thoroughly and obviously religious a day as Christmas or Easter. I, at least, cannot disconnect horizontal gratitude from vertical gratitude, and the latter is most certainly a form of worship.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.
Thanks for the small favor of reading.