By Norris Burkes, Feb 28 2020

It was an icy morning this week when I trudged the uphill sidewalk that skirts the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Behind me, I heard the huffing of a fellow student approaching on his bicycle and moved to my right to yield for faster traffic.

However, I unwittingly detoured the bicyclist already approaching my right and sent him onto a muddy knoll. Still, he managed to stay upright as he passed me. Then, with his tires spitting mud and his voice dripping sarcasm, he yelled, “Thank you SO much!”

Unlike the rider, our thanks will often have some basis in sincerity. Yet most of the time, we express it in an automatic manner as a throw-away nicety. We use the polite “thank you” for people who hold a door open, serve our food, or give us a printed program.

Occasionally, beyond this level of mannerly gratitude, we venture deeper by offering a thankful tone for the mindful effort someone makes specifically on our behalf. For instance, before I run in a local 10K, I thank race organizers and volunteers. During the race, I will break from my runner’s mental zone to yell, “Thank you, Sacramento PD,” or I’ll give a running applause to the roadside musical entertainers.

I do this because I am sympathizing with the laborious effort, they’re making to help my cause. Their sheepish, smiling response often tells me they are humbled that I’ve interrupted my runner’s focus to salute their work.

But “thank you” goes deeper when the person receiving the thanks echoes your remark. By returning your expression they are acknowledging your effort to be present with their life difficulties. This week I was visiting a hospice patient when I was blessed with this deeper expression of gratitude.

I arrived at the man’s house to find him better dressed than on recent visits. He wasn’t wearing the typical attire of hospice patients, which is often pajamas, sweatpants or blue jeans. My new friend was sporting slacks, a collared shirt and loafers.

“You are looking dapper today,” I told the 90-year-old.

“Thank you,” he said. “I told my family that I wanted to look nice today because my chaplain was coming for a visit.”

“Ah, thank you,” I said, gushing sincerity.

My gratitude centered around two things. First, the nonagenarian paid me a high compliment through his words, “My chaplain.” He is well respected in the religious community for his humanitarian efforts, so he’s likely had many “pastors.” But that day, he singled me out as “MY chaplain.”

But more than that, I was thanking him because he knew that I knew the honor of being invited into the home of a dying person. He was reflecting that honor by dressing in the attire that made him feel most like the person he remembered himself to be.

Through our mutual recognition of gratitude, he found a safe place to express himself. In the next hour, we shared some laughs, some tears, some heartaches and some celebrations.

As I left, he thanked me for coming. Gratefully, his last expression was nothing like I’d heard from the cyclist.

You’re likely wondering how I responded to the two-wheeled weaver. Well, in a tone that matched the morning frost, I simply shouted, “You’re welcome!”

It’s unlikely the guy will ever come to know me as “my chaplain.”

Reader Note: Next month’s volunteer trip to Honduras is full. Contact me about a second trip from March 29 – April 5 at or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.