In the absence of thanks

There's a certain kind of ingratitude that I've come to understand and make peace with. Did you ever help to extricate someone from a serious difficulty and find yourself unthanked, even forgotten? This particular kind of ingratitude absolutely used to haunt me. I knew that good deeds had to be done without thought for reward if they were to be genuinely good deeds and not acts performed to blow up one's ego. I could accept this easily. My misery seemed to come not from being unthanked, but from the inability to understand what kept people from being grateful. I was tempted to have a sort of ''the devil makes 'em do it'' attitude about it, except that some inner instinct continued to suggest that there was a better answer.

One day I was feeling particularly disturbed about this when suddenly a certain small duckling came vividly to thought. Back I traveled to a trip my husband and I had made five years before to France. We had a favorite secluded place we loved to stay at, near the little village of Nouan-le-Fuzelier - a small inn on a pond, surrounded by woods. It was the duckling time of the year. One morning we decided to walk all around the big pond, and after a while we came upon a little duckling who had drifted too close to a drainage system and been carried out of the pond by the current. He was desperately trying both to get back up to the pond - where his anxious family was waiting and watching - and trying to resist being pulled further down, an experience he probably would not have survived.

We quickly sized up the situation and realized that we had to find a way to lift him out immediately. At some risk, John suspended himself from a small bridge, got his hand under the little creature, and whisked him up, over, and back into the pond. The duck family had moved away to watch from afar, so now there was a little distance to cover in order to get ''home.'' Never have I seen anything so small move so fast. We stood there laughing with amazement as well as relief. He looked as though he had an outboard motor in the rear - barely touching the water as he fairly flew across the pond in a wiggly puff of feathers and spraying water.

He certainly didn't look back.

As I remembered this experience, my eyes filled with tears. Freedom is so natural, so expected, I realized. Captivitym is what is not natural. Once we are free, we may just forget to turn around and say thank-you. Can I begrudge anyone such a feeling?

I know, we are humankind and not ducklings. We can and should remember to be grateful, particularly since gratitude is a bit like identifying the well where the water came from so that you can go back and drink again. But now I understand how we can be helped out of our prisons of fear and hatred and suffering, and just keep right on going in the joy of freedom, without ever turning back.

It just proves how right it is to be free.

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