“Thank you,” I said to the woman who held the door open so that I could walk in ahead of her. Our pupils collided and I offered a small smile that made it to my eyes. It was an insignificant exchange, one of many I enjoy. I’d say I thought nothing of it, but that would be a lie. I think a lot about these random connections to strangers, acquaintances, friends and family alike. These simple contacts mean a great deal to me, and I go out of my way to create, foster and nurture them throughout my day.
Not so in the world of the fae, as I’ve read most recently in Kalayna Price’s latest Alex Craft novel, Grave Visions. In this book we learn, as I’ve read before, that to thank the fae is to acknowledge a debt that must subsequently be paid, rather than to express appreciation. And I started to think about a world in which I couldn’t let my grateful heart shine through. What a dystopian reality, where I needed to stifle my instinct to be thankful.
I’m a gratitude junkie, as I’ve written about before. The blessing of a grateful heart is a joy in my life, and I love to be able to say and mean those two lovely words, “thank you.” The phrase is so much more than letters strung together. For me, an expression of gratitude is never cursory or perfunctory. Well, almost never—I am far from perfect, of course.
Some of my earliest memories are about gratitude. When I was quite young, I wanted to watch a TV show, but I didn’t have my glasses with me (they were new and I wasn’t used to wearing them all the time). My friend ran home to get them for me so I could watch. I still remember the feeling of being so thankful to her for that kindness. The feeling was so visceral, my heart so full that she would do that for me (she was asthmatic, and the run cost her lungs, but she did it anyway—that’s true friendship). I remember my gratitude toward my first grade teacher for intervening in my behalf with my mother so that I could go on a field trip my mom had decided was inappropriate for me (which was irrational on her part—it was a school trip, not a day at the casino). Anyway, my point is that my memories of feeling thankful have lingered long and deep, because it feels wonderful.
When I chronicle the chapters and events of my life, I often think in terms of all the wonderful love and support that has been offered to me over the years. It seems that a deep sense of gratitude is associated with every situation and milestone of my life. When my father died, one of my estranged friends, whom I’d treated shabbily, showed up, despite my bad behavior. When my mother died, and I was away from home without appropriate funeral and mourning clothes, a sales lady in a large New York department store literally took my hand and clothed me from my underwear on outward, so I could meet my responsibilities to bury my mother in a manner she would have applauded. There is no way I would have been so put together without that woman, who didn’t know me from Eve, but whose compassion I will forever remember with thanks.
In the Jewish religion, every aspect of every day is an occasion for gratitude toward God. In the Orthodox tradition, there is a blessing for each element of the day, including a satisfying bowel movement in the morning and sexual satisfaction with one’s spouse. It’s a beautiful tradition to be aware of the many occasions for gratitude throughout the day and throughout our lives.
While I know that such expressions of heartfelt thanks benefit the recipient, the real winner in theses scenarios is me, the gratitude giver. It would be such a supreme shame for me not to be able to say and express my thanks, if I lived among the fae, for example. How awful to think that any declaration of gratitude engendered indebtedness. It is true that when someone does a kindness it is natural to want to return the favor. But that is a desire, not an obligation.
There are, of course, unfortunates who despise “owing” someone for any kind of benevolence, even when the person offering the consideration wasn’t expecting anything in exchange. For some, being in someone’s debt through an unreciprocated act of altruism is almost as bad as being the target of malevolence. Poor, misguided souls. They might as well live in Faerie with Alex Craft. I am grateful that I am not amongst those inhabitants and want to thank Kalayna Price for reminding how selfish and great a mere ‘thank you’ can feel – even if it is gratitude for a common courtesy such as holding a door open.