My friend Aidan recently asked a provocative question: what do people thank you for?
I’ve been pondering this for the couple of weeks since I read it. The answer does not come to me that quickly. That may be because I handle compliments poorly and generally react with redirection and discomfort or maybe it’s because the entire topic of being thanked makes me feel self-indulgent. Even writing about it makes me feel a little uneasy, like I’m tooting my own horn. But I’m forging ahead, because I do think there’s a lot of value in this question.
The value, of course, is in being aware of that which we do to which others respond. And using that awareness to guide how we spend our time. What people thank us for is probably something we ought to do more of. At least that’s how I think about this.
People thank me for talking openly about my experience of life. That is diffuse and hard to articulate, and sounds both enormous and tiny. But more often than not, people say thank you for sharing my heartache at life’s small passages, for being honest about things that are hard, for keeping my finger on the pulse of that which hurts in daily life (for me, that’s time’s passage).
People thank me for taking pictures of the sky.
People thank me for talking about books I love.
What’s interesting, when I think about the things people thank me for, are they are all things I worry I do too much of. I fret that I’m a broken record: another blog post about feeling sorrow mixed with joy at the world’s smallest experiences? another Instagram photograph of the sunset from my office window? another time asking “so, what are you reading?” at the baseball field? And yet these things I worry I do too often are the things that people seem to appreciate.
This worrying about saying or doing too often that which objectively the world seems to appreciate is a dissonance I experience at a very deep level. It reminds me of the feeling I have, more often than I like, that I am just too much myself. Gail Caldwell called it feeling like “the volume of the world had been turned up a notch” and that has always made sense to me.
Even as I write this, with a cloudy, pale sunset to my left and my son and husband in the room to my right, I feel slight goosebumps up and down my arms. Is this too messy to share, too self-congratulatory? Am I revealing all the ways in which I’m too heavy, too serious, too sensitive, by sharing this? I’m going to go ahead and hit publish because I think this is precisely the kind of honesty that people seem to react to, but for what it’s worth, it is still a complicated thing for me.
I think Aidan’s question is an excellent one, and likely points us to our true calling, or at least to the ways in which we can be most helpful to others in the world. There’s discomfort in both the asking and the answering, at least for me, but I suspect that’s part of the value of the exercise. Here I go. Honest and candid, and a sunset, and a book, too (book review coming on Wednesday!).
What do people thank you for?
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