I’ve been writing these two small words over and over lately: Thank you.
Donors to the sanctuary made our year-end fundraising soar to new and unexpected heights, and we have been quite busy sending out thank you letters and donation receipts.
I love to write those words, and I love thinking about each person as they made their donation. Some donors I know very well, and I can picture them as I write. Others are new and mysterious, and I wonder how they came to know about the chimpanzee sanctuary in Cle Elum.
Sometimes (often) those two words don’t feel nearly big enough to contain all of the gratefulness that I’m feeling. I hope the actual depth of my appreciation is somehow transferred into the ink as I write.
It really is incredible that people support the sanctuary and take the time and effort to back up that support with often hard-earned money. Knowing that we have this shared concern and mission is powerful.
I feel lucky to have a job where I not only get to be around amazing and unique non-humans, but I also have the opportunity to see the generosity and hope that our own species is capable of demonstrating.
So, reflecting on all of this today, I started to think about how the chimpanzees show gratitude. Thankfulness is a pretty complicated emotion that is probably an amalgam of different feelings, and maybe something that carries a bit of cultural individuality.
We don’t claim to be able to be inside the heads of the chimpanzees, even those we know very well, so I can’t say for sure that they experience thankfulness like I do.
That’s the conundrum about perception, though – I only know what I experience. I can guess that other people/beings experience the same or similar feelings as I do based on imagining how I would feel in a given situation and observing their outward behaviors, but it’s really just a guess.
Given my limitations of knowing much of anything about what’s outside of myself, I do think that the chimpanzees show and maybe feel something akin to gratitude.
When we serve food, we bring it through the chimp area first, as illustrated in the popular “pasta cam” that J.B. created on Burrito’s birthday. The excitement that the chimpanzees exhibit and the satisfying groans they make when we provide them with food is, I think, at least tinged with gratefulness.
Among themselves, when one of the chimpanzees reaches out for reassurance (like Negra here):
and then receives the reassurance they are seeking (from Jamie in this case):
I imagine there’s some thankfulness that’s part of what the reassurance-seeker experiences.
There was a more dramatic experience last fall when we had to suture Jody’s eyelid that I couldn’t help but believe that Jody was thankful for the humans, even though we had to do something that she otherwise would not have appreciated.
And then there are just the little everyday moments when the chimpanzees do a little something that makes me wonder if they are feeling grateful, like when old friends visit and walk with Jamie or today when I caught Missy’s gaze as she turned from the window she was looking out, and she proceeded to walk over and let me groom her back through the fencing.
I can’t say for sure if Missy was thankful that I was there to share the moment with her, but I can say definitively that I felt a whole lot of gratitude.