I didn’t realize until I was older that we had a weird tradition in our house. It was mandatory that when a canning jar popped, no matter what part of the house my mother was in, she’d shout, “Thank you!”
If she wasn’t home, that duty fell to me, and I didn’t always want to do it.
My mother, a refugee from Germany after WWII, learned how to can after she came to America. But she was always worried about sealing the jars properly, so she’d watch the jars, waiting for the lid to pop up indicating that it had sealed. Relieved, my mother would exclaim, “Oh, thank you!”
Over the years, it became a habit to thank each jar for sealing properly, and I grew up knowing that when the jars popped in the kitchen, “Thank you!” needed to be shouted. Otherwise, who knew what evil would transpire?
I thought the tradition was ridiculous, especially when I discovered that no one else did this.
When I was twelve, Mom pulled out a batch of pears, then went outside to pick strawberries. It was then that a cooling jar popped, and . . . I was the only one to hear it.
I knew what was expected—that I should thank it, but how stupid was that? Thanking an inanimate object?
The house became very quiet and still, as if waiting for me to thank the jar for its kindness in sealing, but I wasn’t going to do it, not going to—
“Thank you,” I finally whispered, because the cosmos seemed to demand it.
Two more jars popped cheerfully after that, and I thanked each of them. Fortunately my mom came back into the house and asked urgently, “Did any pop?”
“Yes, and I thanked them,” I said sheepishly.
She thanked each of the jars herself anyway, just to be sure.
It wasn’t until about ten years later, when I tried canning for the first time, that I eagerly and worriedly watched for my first can of tomatoes to signal its sealing. When it did, I cried out, “Oh, thank you!”
And immediately I understood. And immediately I was hooked.
You see, I began to thank all kinds of things; our old vans when they start without spluttering (I frequently pat them on the dashboard, telling them what good vehicles they are); the driver’s side window of my minivan when it decides to go up when I push the button—especially when it starts raining; my printer when it communicates with my laptop and actually prints something; when the traffic light stays green for a second longer; when there’s a 2-for-1 sale on my favorite bagged salad—all of that gets an audible, “Thank you!”
Yes, even in the grocery store.
I’ve found myself saying “Thank you!” when:
my sons’ favorite t-shirts are on sale;
that 50% off coupon is still good at the fabric store;
the berries produce;
the bread rises;
I get to the pot just before it boils over; and
when the stain comes out in the laundry.
Because everything deserves thanks, animate or inanimate.
It’s contagious. My oldest daughter confessed that when she cans, she also calls out “Thank you!” each time a jar pops; another child thanks the scooter when it starts up; and the other day I heard my four-year-old thank his Legos for going together.
There are numerous studies showing the spiritual/psychological/emotional improvements when we count our blessings, but here are the reasons why I became hooked on thanking the world:
- It immediately makes me happy. Think of every time you say thank you, or someone says it to you. There is always—always—a hint of a smile (or maybe a huge one, depending upon the situation).
I have yet to witness a sincere expression of thanks without accompanying happiness.
- I feel in harmony with the world when I thank it, and that makes me peaceful. So what if it’s weird to thank the automatic door for opening; I do so anyway. It might not have opened, and that may have made me grumpy as I wrestled with doors, trying to leave the store.
But something kind and helpful happened for me, as it does every day, so I show gratitude. It does nothing for the item I thank, but it does ME a world of good: I see the world as a kind and helpful place, which in many, many ways it still is.
I need to remind myself that there is peace, even during horrific times, or I’ll hide in my closet terrified of the world.
My mom told me once of fleeing the Soviets when they were taking over her hometown of Neisse (Nysa), now in Poland. She was a teenager, fleeing all alone to the west, and had only a sausage in her backpack for food. She found a mother and her child willing to shelter her for the night, and she shared her sausage with them. She thanked the woman for safety from the Soviets, and the woman thanked her for giving them something to eat when she had literally nothing left.
And for that evening, for them, the world was at peace. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want that kind of peace in a world growing more hostile. My mom always remembered that night fondly, when she realized that kindness still existed, and so did God.
So really, it’s not so much thanking the world as an inanimate object, either; it’s thanking, in many different ways, the Creator of it all.
“Thank you,” Perrin said again to the forest, wondering if anyone was there to hear it.
Back behind a clump of pines, a man in white and gray mottled clothing nodded. “You’re welcome, sir. My pleasure and honor.” ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World