Sharon Randall: Saying thank you

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2022

It was just a few lines in an email. But if you saw the smile on my face as I read it, you’d have thought I won the lottery.  It came from a young man I’ll call Joe. That isn’t his name and he’s not young any more, but he’ll always be “young” to me.

My late husband was a high school teacher and basketball coach, twin passions that filled our lives with the laughter and energy of countless teenagers.

For several years, we also led the youth group at our church. It included a weekly potluck in our home for 20 to 40 high school- and college-age people who brought casseroles from their moms or pizza they picked up on the way to our house.

It was easy. I coordinated the meals and directed the clean up. The Coach played guitar and led the discussion. Our kids loved having a houseful of playmates. Everybody pitched in. And any time we needed a babysitter, we had a long list of possibilities.

Best of all were a great many conversations shared in small groups or one-on-one. I loved hearing kids talk about their lives and hopes and dreams.

Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes, when we do things to “help” others, we look back and see we were mostly helping ourselves.

Joe was part of that youth group. He married a lovely young woman, started a family and eventually moved away to build a beautiful life together.

I saw him again a few years ago when the youth group met for a reunion. It was great fun to catch up. Since then, we email on occasion to keep in touch.

But his recent note was more than just a way to catch up. He wrote to say “thank you.” Not just to me, or to the Coach, but to several other couples in our church who had “invested,” he said, in his life and the lives of others in that youth group.

I honestly didn’t feel I’d done anything to deserve his thanks, other than opening my home and my heart. But sometimes, we just need to be open and leave the rest to God.

Looking back on my life, I’m thankful for so many people who “invested” in me. Teachers who made me feel smart. Friends’ parents who made me feel welcome. Adults I looked up to who helped me find my way.

In the final months of his life, as he neared the end of a four-year battle with cancer, the Coach heard from many former players and students about the difference his “investment” had made in their lives.

Late one night, I answered a knock at the door and there stood someone I’d not seen in years. I’ll call him Charles. A star forward in high school, he’d dreamed of playing in college. Instead, he went to prison. We’d heard he’d been released and was living in San Francisco.

“Hey, Miz R,” he said, giving me a hug. “I heard about Coach. I’ve got something for him.”

For the next hour, Charles and the Coach sat in our family room recalling games and plays and good times they’d shared.

Finally, Charles opened a bag and took out a trophy engraved with “Most Valuable Player.”

“Coach,” he said, “I won this playing city league ball. I want you to have it. It’s my way to say thanks for all you did for me. I’m getting my life together. And I will not forget you.”

We never heard from Charles again. The Coach had collected a lot of trophies in his years. He never said this, but I suspect (given the smile on his face as he accepted it) Charles’ trophy might’ve been his favorite.

We say “thank you” in all sorts of ways, a smile or a note or a trophy or just a word: “Thanks.”

All that matters, really, is that we find the grace to say it, and mean it with all our heart.

Have you ever lost someone you wish you had thanked while there was time? Most of us have. But the surest way to say thanks for kindness is not with words, but with actions, by being kind to others. Thank Goodness, it is never too late to do that.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or