One evening in 1967 two friends and I decided, on a whim, to attend an inaugural professorial lecture by Dr. Vernon Forbes, Head of the Geography Department at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. Prof. Forbes was
elderly and had been departmental head for some time, so my guess is that this was a requirement that was long overdue.
We sat at the back of a large, inclined lecture hall behind a distinguished audience and listened
to an address which was neither spectacular nor memorable, slipping out unseen (or so we thought) as it ended.
The next morning, in the hallway of the department, Professor Forbes leaned over as he walked by and, much
to my surprise, said, “Thank you for coming to my lecture last night.” 52 years later, I still remember it. Why?
It might be that, based on previous experience, my perception was that personal interaction
was not his strong suit, so this acknowledgment stood out as unusual. It might be that, amid this distinguished audience, he had picked out the three of us and I was flattered to be noticed in that august company. Most likely I was impressed
that, having noticed, he chose to say thank you. Not in public, not loudly, but quietly and in person.
I don’t recall so much as one word of the many lectures of his that I attended; I do remember how he
behaved on that one occasion and how it made me feel.
First, how often do we notice and acknowledge those who come to our bee meetings? Not with a general announcement at the beginning of the meeting but with
that personal ‘thank you’ as we pass in the corridors, or walk up the aisles, or tidy up as other leave. A meeting, by definition, cannot function without attendees, yet to what extent do we take them for granted? How do they feel as
they leave to go home? Sometimes simply to notice someone, to use their name, to nod and smile, says it all.
Secondly, how often do we thank those who give of their time, skills and energy to organize meetings
for our benefit? Do we notice the work that lies behind a good meeting or a satisfying workshop (the underwear that underlies the software and hardware) and do we take the time to say so, quietly, in person and with specifics?
On 14th January a man trying to go up a down escalator lost his balance, fell into my wife, Mary, at the top of the stairs, bundling her over. Fortunately she did not hit her head on the tiled floor but did break her hip - the ‘pop’
was audible. She faces a lengthy recuperation post surgery and has been fortified both by the visits and the cards she has received. Some of the latter are commercially produced with a neat little poem and are signed by the sender; others are more
personalized. One she received yesterday is handwritten :
Dear Mary : You have been in my thoughts so often I feel negligent in not contacting you before this. I hope your recovery is
progressing smoothly and your pain level is tolerable. How are you filling your days? Hopefully you are able to participate in some of those creative outlets and thoughts that lift your spirits. I like to picture you using this experience with
an easel or sketch pad on your lap, maybe working on a knitting project that can occupy your mind and hands. I hope you are being well cared for and if I could wish your pain away I would love to think my thoughts could do that. I hope your life
soon resembles the style you are accustomed to and spring around there corner renews you in its magic. Love, Lisa.
Lisa, in her own imperfect and beautiful way, acknowledges the dominant issues - pain, the
challenge of filling each day and the anxiety of a lengthy recovery - and recognizes the creative spirit that drives so much of who Mary is.
It does not have to be this long. What is the difference between writing
to a beekeeper office- bearer to say “Thank you for all that you do for our bee club,” and “Thank you for the thought and preparation that lay behind your effective and humorous introduction of our speaker last night” ?
My impression is that expressing gratitude is less prevalent than it was - the days of a younger generation being forced, reluctantly, to write thank you notes for gifts received have long since passed, even as it is easier to do so than ever
before, using e-mail, text or face time.
We will probably never know the full significance of those few words of appreciation, and we will certainly never know who remembers them 52 years later, yet in an age of both
enhanced communication and surging loneliness, they are probably more important than ever before.