“Thank you,” I said as calmly and sincerely as I could. “Thank you very much.”
I have a problem with my tone. For as long as I can remember. My voice doesn’t always communicate emotions I try to convey.
I sound sarcastic or angry or frustrated when I don’t intend to.
The upside is, with my quick wit and sarcastic tone, I’m very funny. The downside is I often sound sarcastic when I’m sincere.
(This was particularly unfortunate when I served in congregational ministry. But that’s a story for another time.)
Last month we returned home to find several cars in front of the house. I hadn’t properly closed the gate, and our year-old puppy had gotten out of the fenced-in backyard and ran around the neighborhood like a year-old puppy.
A neighbor we didn’t know already had our dog in his car and was preparing to leave a note.
When I thanked the neighbor, i didn’t properly demonstrate my gratitude to him and the others who helped keep our dog safe. I was angry with myself for not closing the gate securely. I was frustrated with our goofball dog for running around foolishly. My tone didn’t properly communicate my appreciation.
Almost immediately, I realized my tone of voice, but I was trying to wrangle the dog by his collar while the neighbors moved towards their cars. Did I mention he’s a purebred Chocolate Lab who weighs nearly 80 pounds?
I thought a lot about my voice that day. I even thought about calling the neighbor and thanking him again, but I didn’t.
A month later, our three year-old was eager to get to daycare. While I was in the kitchen, she opened the door to look outside — no shoes, no socks, no coat. I wasn’t worried, we were talking the whole time and I knew she wasn’t going outside.
I got her dressed without any toddler incidents and as we cheerfully gathered our things to leave I asked her to put the dog out.
“Oshie,” she called in her little voice, sliding open the patio door. He’d gone upstairs while we were getting our shoes on.
“Oshie, outside,” I hollered.
“Where is he?” I asked, looking in the bathroom.
“Where is he?” she repeated. She rushed from room to room, calling his name.
“Did he go out when you had the door open?”
“Yeah,” she said, her eye wide with the realization.
I grabbed his leash and went to the door.
We’re six houses away from the main road — about six seconds for a year-old puppy running at full speed.
“Stand on the porch and call him,” I said as we went outside. “Stay right there and keep calling him. If he comes home, go inside with him and close the door behind you. Do you understand?” She nodded. “Let me hear you call him,” I said as I crossed to the neighbor’s yard.
Her little voice carried as I walked across the yard next door. I kept her in sight as I circled towards the road.
And then I saw him. He was on the other side of the busy main road; being held by a woman who had stopped her car. Several others were with her, a string of parked cars on the side of the road.
With two lanes of cars passing between us, the dog struggling to pull away from the woman holding his collar, I called out, “Oshie, sit.”
Thankfully, he did. I focused my attention not on the dog or the situation, but on the people.
“Thank you,” I said as sincerely as I could as I crossed the street. “Thank you very much.”
I attached the leash to his collar while I commanded him to stay.
“Thank you all for stopping,” I said. I looked at each of them and smiled. “My three-year-old opened the back door and let him out.”
For some of us, gratitude comes naturally and easily, born from a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent. For others it’s difficult to offer thanks because it means admitting our need for help.
I am in desperate need of help every time our dog runs blindly in the road. (He did it again while I was writing this. Twice. The second time, he managed to unlock the gate with his paw. Animal control has my number on speed dial.)
I tried to respond to strangers with a level of gratitude equal to the fear I felt when he was running away.
I hope I succeed. I hope people understood how grateful I was for their help. I hope they felt appreciated and important because they were very important.
Every person is important, in someway. Even the worst, most difficult people can helpfully remind us that not everyone is like them.
Everyone deserves the best I can give at any moment.
And so I will continue to be intentional in my gratitude and strive to give to others the grace that is given to me.