Every night, as I tuck my 6-year-old daughter into bed, we ask each other a question that gives us an opportunity to meaningfully reflect upon the day.
“What are you thankful for?”
When learning a new language, one of the first phrases we are taught is “thank you.” In fact, we don’t have to be studying a particular language to know how to express gratitude in different tongues. Merci. Mahalo. Gracias.
But has this form of appreciation become a robotic response? And more importantly, do we mean it?
With school back in session and the holiday season behind us, it’s a great time to pull out a pen, paper and address book.
I remember the first thank you note I opened. It was just after Christmas when I received a pink envelope addressed to me. As an elementary school student just learning cursive, I excitedly recognized my name. Back then, getting mail was something I looked forward to. I sought out Pen Pals around the country and wrote to family members in Arizona. The thought of someone sitting down, picking out a card or stationary that made them think of me and sharing personal thoughts was something I cherished.
As I slowly opened the envelope, I pretended I didn’t know who it was from even though my grandmother’s penmanship was unmistakable. Her longhand was so beautifully printed that I wondered if I’d ever be able to craft my letters in that way. Even before I asked for help reading it, I knew the words were meaningful because they were placed on the page just for me.
This particular paper had no lines but had dusty pink roses and greenery hugging the edges.
If others experienced something even close to the excitement I felt- and still feel- when finding a treat in the mailbox, I was going to make sure I sent cards and letters whenever possible, in hopes it would be the surprise that makes someone’s day memorable.
Like my favorite books, I asked my mom to read me the thank you note over and over until I had it memorized. Sometimes when wanting to learn another language, we get pocket dictionaries to help us get the words just right. My grandmother’s note was my pocket guide to cursive translation.
More importantly than teaching me how to properly curve my letters, I learned the value of intention. I didn’t give my grandmother a teacup that year because it was the first thing I saw on the shelf. At my parents urging, I did research. I thought about the things I saw her doing most. The next year, I may have given her socks or a candle because everyone needs or uses those items. But since she took the time to express her gratitude, I learned the value of giving from the heart.
Having something tangible, something that touches all of the senses weaves the “thank you” into our memory. There are times today when I intend to text people and forget. There are times when people text or email me and often I skim, telling myself ‘I’ll read it more thoroughly later’ … but I don’t. Being able to thank someone in person is certainly preferred and should be done whenever possible because there is a body language and affection that is lost in writing. However, in writing, we can provide a depth that we aren’t always comfortable expressing with our voice.
I don’t remember exactly what the thank you note from my Grandmother said 25 years ago, but perhaps more importantly, I recall how it made me feel.
Tonight, when my daughter asks me our nightly question, I am going to tell her I’m thankful to have learned “thank you” isn’t just a word we say to be polite, but a feeling we can share with someone, and when done genuinely, one that will be remembered for a lifetime.