Monday, November 8, 2010

Nov. 8: Thank you!

I was raised to write thank you notes. My memories of the last day of Christmas vacation or the evening before New Year's include a box of cards, an address book, and a list. Notes had to be specific, they had to be personal, and they had to be written--no phone calls, no "but she was here!", and, by extension, no email. My best friend and I developed a schtick about "Because we were not raised by wolves, we write thank you notes." My elder son is famous for the note he once wrote this friend in the orgy of post-Christmas thank you note writing: "Dear Aunt Julie: Thank you for the movies. Mom is making me write this. I think you should hate her." That gem is still on her refrigerator--note the personalization and the fact that it's three lines long!

I consider myself a student of culture, and I accept that we are different. I believe in freedom of choice, I belong to the UCC, I reject the English only movement in the US, and, although that aforementioned son and his brother might roll their eyes when I say it, I am generally a pretty open minded person. However, I have come to realize that one cultural trend I resolutely mourn is the passing of the tradition of thank you notes. Not only do I mourn it, but I have to admit that I will think a little bit worse of you if you should fail to send me one when you should. (I know. I'm cringing even as I type that line. the word "should"? Not my favorite. But I'm trying to be honest here, and that's the truth!) I have participated in a great "Seven Days of Specialness" Swap through a blog that shall remain nameless. My first swap partner faded away, and I ended up swapping with the blogger herself, which was a pleasure. Her presents were thoughtful, inventive, fun, useful and lovely--as, I must say, were mine. Since we had each other's mailing addresses, and since one of presents to each other had been notecards, I wrote a detailed and enthusiastic thank you note to her at the conclusion of the swap. Then I waited for hers--which never ever came. No email, even, saying which bits she liked the best and how nice the dish towel was and that the tea was nice. Nothing. Even now, a year later, I feel a little bitter when I visit that blog. Clearly, some nice people were raised by wolves!

And many of my students were raised by wolves, too, which makes me sad, as it foretells a society in which we say thank you less and less (See? I get to be rigid and depressing. This is a great topic!). Eight recommendations sent to different schools on time? Regular after-school help sessions, progress emails, and above-and-beyond effort and encouragement? No word. The student may say thank you, the parents may spread my name around as a caring teacher, but no note, nothing I can tuck away to revisit after a day when I'm rethinking my career choice. No little flare of happiness that my effort's been acknowledged. That's not to say that I haven't gotten the occasional knock-my-socks-off thank you: a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from a family, two gift certificates to a book store when I taught two children in the same family, a huge bag of fresh garden produce. But the regular, "thank you so much for helping me out" note--it's an endangered species, and that, I join my ancestresses in thinking, is a shame.

Readers will be relieved to hear that I don't follow the "don't start with the word 'Thank you' rule," I'm not fussy about paper quality, and I care if you mail it, put it on my desk, or hand it to me personally. All I like to see, hope to see, and, clearly, need to see, is that other people are acknowledging that my actions have an impact on their lives. I know I feel a lift when I write a thank you note, especially for something the donor might not realize made an impact. My colleague who helped organize a terrific field trip to a Shakespeare workshop with twelve wonderful students? She's getting one on this rainy November morning. So is the bus driver who schlepped us all over the rain-drenched town, never complaining once. And my guess is that those little three sentence wonders will lighten their mornings, even just a little. So although the current response to spoken thanks is now "No problem," take ten minutes to acknowledge your gratitude for something someone has done for you. You'll be amazed how the wolves of anonymity and apathy will retreat, and the grandmothers of love and acknowledgment will smile, warming you with their approval.

Yeah. a little rough, but I have some thank yous to write. . . :>)

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