On Saturday morning 18th May a goodly company of wayfarers streamed along our lane on one of the downhill stretches of The Blackstairs Challenge an up-hill and down-dale walk of about 30km. I'm told that next year will be the 20th Anniversary of the first such event, for almost as long we have been making water available for the trekkers: initially with a 25 lt drum and since 2007 from the tap plumbed up in the yard near the front gate. One year, anticipating a phew wot a sorcher of a day, the organisers phoned me up to make sure of supply; but usually I remember the date and often I make a slab or two of flapjacks. These seem to be appreciated - in any case they are all gone long before the last of the walkers has passed through. But the water, which costs nothing because it falls from the sky, is definitely valued. Unless it is raining in a serious fashion, I usually put out a few wooden benches, and plenty of people use them to change socks, doctor blisters or just take the weight off their abuséd knees.
This year I found a card in an envelope tucked under the empty box of flapjacks. Sincere Thanks, it said Whoever has a heartful of love always has something to give Pope John XXIII. The pedant in me noted the absence of . between give and Pope and suggest that His Holiness has quite enough already. But, heck, let's not carp, someone came prepared a) for flapjacks and b) for the wherewithal to say thanks for them. Puts a tiny bit of pressure on me to remember the date and the recipe next year. When I picked up the empty box, it rattled and revealed inside €2.50, which is more or less what it takes to make a swiss-roll tinsworth of cookies, so that was appreciated also. I long ago stopped expected people to formally say thanks for services undertaken for the community: all my years editting newsletters and serving on committees and washing mountains of dishes. The revelation was realising that I did those things because I enjoyed doing it; not because I was taking one for the team.
Four years ago, my project students clubbed together and bought me a mug, a packet of biscuits and some tea-bags in acknowledgement that I had been present for/with them for 6 hours a week for 30 weeks. I still have the mug, although its handle and the tea and biks are long gone. Doesn't happen every year, but a couple of weeks ago I had a knock at the door of my office from one of this year's crop of about-to-graduates. S/he presented me with a bar of chocolate and a card by way of saying thanks for her 30 weeks of care&attention. I can do no better than to quote verbatim:
Thank you for the unending support that powered me through my proudest work from these stressful college years. Without your knowledge and help, I wouldn't have been able to find my way through the jungle of bioinformatics. I wouldn't have been able to annotate two previously unannotated genes from little brown bats. The witty e-mails and conversations in D426 are aspects of these years that will be missed. Thank you for re-igniting my passion to 'push the frontiers of science' as it had been dulled from the stress of previous years. I hope you look back on those synteny maps of fantastic design (if I do say it myself) with fondness and know how inspired I feel since rediscovering I have the ability to create something great.
That is exactly on the button. That's one student who had a self-affirming "hey, I can leap tall buildings" experience in room D426 this year: who was given space, and pushed a little, and teased a bit, and worked damned hard to achieve the very best. <Milton alert> That one talent, which is death to hide, is no longer lodged in me useless. It is not about me: the truth is a pathless land - occasionally for a few people (maybe one, occasionally two a year) I can be a finger-post.
What's definitely true is that we don't formally say Thanks half enough.