Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

Thank You Notes

"What are the magic words?"

I pose that question at least once each time I substitute in an elementary school classroom. And if I had to guess I'd say that 85% of the time the correct reply is given for the situation: "Please" or "Thank you."

I taught kindergarten for a couple of days last week. A young man walked up to me and announced in a gravelly, pack-a-day, I've-been-workin'-on-the-railroad voice that his shoe was untied. If I had been in a crabby mood I might have replied, "Yes, it is," and moved on to our math lesson. But since my patience was not hanging by a thread I asked for the magic words instead. He didn't know them but I remedied that. He seemed somewhat skeptical but maybe the fact that he walked away with nicely tied shoes provided good reinforcement.

Later that day we took a break for story time. The classroom teacher had a basket of books by her chair and I selected one titled Thank You, Thanksgiving by David Milgrim. It's a story about a little girl who's sent on an errand by her mother to the general store in town. Clearly we should classify this particular work as a fantasy because these days a mother is about as likely to ask her young child to fire up a circular saw in the garage as she is to send her off to town by herself.

As Little Miss toddles off through the snow on her mission she thanks her warm boots. In fact, her journey to the store becomes a litany of appreciation. When she hears birds singing in the park she says, "Thank you, music." She also thanks the park, some rabbits (although I couldn't figure out what for), a duck that picks up her scarf, the store, a hill where she does some sledding, pie with whipped cream and finally Thanksgiving itself.

I've developed a pretty good poker face, so as I closed the book I'm sure the children couldn't tell I was thinking "Huh?" I had just read a book with Thanksgiving in the title but the main character gave thanks only to animals, geographic features, inanimate objects and a holiday. Something buzzed on the periphery of my brain until it hit me: The little girl thanked things, not the people who made them possible. (Although I will concede that it was proper to thank that duck.) Don't thank the boots; thank your parents for buying them. Don't thank the store; thank the clerk who helped you. Don't thank the pie; thank the person who made it.

I had the feeling the author's purpose was to write a children's book about Thanksgiving without having to deal with the elephant in the room: Thanksgiving requires giving thanks to somebody. And while you can thank your mama for the pumpkin pie whom do you thank for good health? For a monarch butterfly? For autumn's last blaze of color on the mountainside?

I decided to ask my students whom they could thank on Thanksgiving. The responses came quickly:
"My mom."
"My dad."

"Okay, anyone else?"

"My brother."
"My sister."

Come on, come on. One of you knows. I'm sure of it.

"My family."
"My brother."

"Yes, someone said that. Can you think of someone else you can thank?"


I didn't cross the line and give them the answer I longed to hear: God. I'm certain He put this impulse of gratitude in our hearts, knowing that eventually it would lead us to Him. Because there are some things no one else can claim credit for: The velvet of a newborn's skin, the joy of fellowship with a dear friend, the recovery from a serious illness. We can't help but run smack dab into the Creator of all things.

Thank you, God.

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