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The Unexpected Thankyou

Wednesday, 13th June, 2001

They don't happen often, but when they do it's a pure joy to be alive.

There have been three of them for me this year and I still smile in remembrance of each. Not a casual smile but a deep one, full of warmth and feeling. Emotion backs up and makes the eyeballs glisten. The heart skips a beat at the welcome shock. The smile emerges, radiant and rampant from the mouth, the eyes and the soul.

Part of the joy is that they are so rare; if they were commonplace, some of the effect would be lost. Mostly it's in the knowledge that you have meant something to someone, enough for them to take the effort to say so. There aren't enough thankyous in the world today; but one that is truly meant is worth a fortune.

The first thankyou came at work, surprisingly enough, as all I was doing was my job. Moreover I'd visited the lady in question before on a number of occasions and fixed whatever problem had emerged to plague her. This time it was more of a query than a problem: she'd had a new CD writer installed and was trying to write a hundred copies of the same disk. Most were failing, all were taking forever and she wanted to know why.

I was happy to oblige, but then she'd logged a call that was sitting in our queue. My job requires me to oblige. For you techies out there, she was trying to write a collection of files from a network drive via a PC with no free hard drive space. I'm surprised it had worked as often as it had. So I ran some housekeeping tasks on her PC, worked out how her software could take a snapshot of the CD she was trying to write and talked her through a much easier method of writing. We tested a copy and it wrote quickly and safely.

For me it was another call to resolve and another call off our queue. I'm in this particular job because I'm good at it and I do realise that the end requirement isn't necessarily to solve problems, but to keep the users happy. The two mostly but not necessarily coincide. I have had instances where I've had to persuade a user that he really doesn't want what he thinks he wants. No problem is solved (though maybe one is avoided) but the customer is left happy. This particular lady was left happy and I went about my business.

A little later in the day, an e-mail came in, short but sweet. The sender was the manager of the helpdesk, not a particularly junior position; and the message was a simple thankyou, that the lady had asked him to pass on. It wasn't necessary, it wasn't expected; but it was very welcome - more so, of course, because it's the only time it's ever happened at work. Out came the smile.

The third thankyou was not required either, but came nonetheless. I did nothing spectacular or saintly, merely told the truth in public. I understand that that is probably rare in itself, but it needed no acknowledgement let alone thanks.

It all started at a meetup of friends at my house some time ago. They were fellow players from the online trivia game I have lived at and the weekend was going swimmingly. I was playing Eva Cassidy to a few people while we talked and somehow it became necessary to bring into conversation one of my most treasured possessions. It is a simple cassette tape, created by a friend in Canada who took one of my poems, set it to music of her own composition and recorded it for me. I remember vividly playing it continuously from Hamilton to Niagara Falls, amazed at the talent and joyous at the gift.

I played the piece and people were very impressed, unsurprisingly given its inherent quality. When they realised that it was composed by a girl who was only fifteen at the time they were stunned. One obviously enjoyed it especially because she mentioned it as part of a thread on a messageboard that our community shares. The thread dealt with songs that made you cry and she still had this song in her head, a few weeks later. It had affected her much as it had affected me.

I responded with a little background for those who hadn't heard the song, and I praised the young lady responsible as I would anyone deserving of such praise. When I said that 'she is without a doubt the most talented person I've ever met', I was merely being honest. I have more respect for her character, integrity and talent than for anyone else on the planet. And that was the end of that.

Or at least I thought it was. The young lady in question found her way, months later, to the messageboard and to my comments. The thanks were not necessary, but the way in which she chose her words meant as much to me as mine did to her. Out came the smile.

And so to the second thankyou. These thankyous are unexpected by default, but this one was the most unexpected of them all, for a number of reasons.

You may remember, solitary reader, an entry in this series of pieces that dealt with the omnipotence of the internet. Someone had pointed out that he had never not found what he sought online, and the piece was my balancing response. I especially noted two searches that I have tried often, never reaching nearer a result than precisely nowhere. One of these searches was Michael Maltese, the writer of many of the most influential Loonie Tunes cartoons and creator of some of the most memorable characters. I believe that he has helped to forge western culture like no other, yet I couldn't even find a photo of him online.

Well, the initial update is that I found a photo, though not online. He's there in and amongst a bunch of fellow workers in a picture in Chuck Jones's book, 'Chuck Amuck', smiling quite wonderfully. Without having any preconceptions of his appearance, he looks exactly as he should.

The further update is that within the last two weeks I've received e-mails from both his daughter and his granddaughter. The internet may not contain everything under the sun but it has proved to be an unsurpassed means of communication. When I read those mails, out came the smile. I may not have found the photo and the biography that I was looking for, but I may just have found a background story far wider than I could have imagined.

More important than the information I was seeking so hard, the mere fact that I was seeking at all and that I wrote about my search touched two ladies obviously very proud of their father and grandfather. That in itself makes this whole series worthwhile. Anything further is a bonus.

To all of you, thank you.

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