Todah, wado, efxaristo, danke, gracias, thank you, xie xie, salamat, grazie, mahalo, domo arigato, obrigado, spasiba, asante, cam on, medasi, gahm-sah-hahm-ni-da, dhanyavad…all ways to say the same thing among many more peoples and languages.
Usually these words call for an appropriate response. “You’re welcome” used to be the polite response in English. These days we hear an echoing “thank you” often, as if the “first giver” knows that the gift is being passed along in an endless series, popularized in the phrase “pay it forward,” in contrast to “pay it back.” The giver is not only glad to give; he or she finds reward in moving gifts along an endless sequence of giving.
Mrs. Veatch made that point to me in 1973, when she called our home in Iroquois, Illinois, from her home in Thawville and asked if she could come to visit. She had been my high school Latin teacher, but she instilled much more than Latin in all of her students. Latin was her base for sharing the love of learning and people. Her home was a library that became the start of a library for the village of Thawville and a resource for all of the area. She knew that my wife had just given birth to our second child, and with part-time work and graduate school almost finished we didn’t have much. She came bearing gifts.
“Don’t even think about repaying me,” she said. “I’ve already had my reward from seeing your accomplishments as my student. Just pass it on.” That was her consistent attitude, even as she faced the death of three sons in those years, and even as she faced her own illness and death. I have remembered her example as our opportunities to share with others became greater as the years have passed.
“Bitte” is a frequent response in German, “I beg” in English, which seems an odd idiom until we realize that the obligation to give is felt acutely in one who knows how much is owed to the others who have made giving possible.