If I am being honest, there are few things I have dreaded more in life than writing thank you notes. I have no idea why such a simple task has caused me so much anxiety and anguish, but writing them has always been like pulling teeth.
When I was little, I didn’t understand their purpose. I thought it was silly to write a note saying thank you for something I could thank them for in person or on the phone. And mass producing thank you notes after an event, like a birthday or Christmas, felt oddly disconnected and insincere for something so personal. In an effort to make the task easier, my mom and I would always start with a fill-in-the-blank outline, insert the recipients name and gift, and move on to the next one. An assembly line of gratitude; Quick, efficient, and completely impersonal.
Today, I was going through some piles of old papers, and as I shuffled through the stack a small, worn envelope fell in my lap. When I pulled the old card out of the previously opened envelope and revealed the card inside, I found a thank you note from 1999, when I was only 4 years old. But this wasn’t a note written to me, it was one I (and by “I”, I mean my mom) had sent to someone else. Inside was a message thanking the recipient for a birthday gift they had sent me, and it was signed KELSEY in large, crooked letters. The person who had originally received this letter had recently found it and given it back to my mom, thinking it would be fun for us to reminisce over the almost antique moment from my childhood.
But as I looked at the card, I found that the note itself isn’t what actually struck me about this tiny, yellowing card. It wasn’t the memory of the gift, or the humor of my 4-year-old handwriting. It was the fact that this person had kept this little note for all of these years. 18 years to be exact. This little message had been worth keeping for almost two decades. It had made it through many spring cleans, a few moves, and innumerable life changes. This small piece of paper had endured beyond the gift it was sent to express gratitude for.
And it made me think.
I keep every single thank you note I have every received. They end up in my piles of memories, just like the one I had been sifting through. I don’t know if I even realized I was saving them, I just did. Not all of them are thank you notes, some are holiday cards, congratulations, well wishes and “get well soons”. Some are love notes, nods of appreciation, “good lucks” and occasionally condolences. Notes from graduations, birthdays, and accomplishments, from close friends, past loves and loved ones can be found in old shoeboxes labeled “Memories”. You can find one from my friend Amy tucked into the pages of a notebook I carry with me wherever I go, and others on the shelf above my bed. These notes always survive when I clear out my stacks of old papers, change homes, or move on to something new. These little momentos from people I care deeply for, mean so much more to me than I even knew.
My childhood self wasn’t wrong, writing thank you notes isn’t always the most personal thing, especially when you are writing a lot of them. You can call someone on the phone and say a lot more than you can on a 4.5″ x 5″ card. But you can’t keep a phone call or a conversation. And what I didn’t understand back then was that the contents of the note aren’t always what matter. It’s the person behind the words that means the most.
So today, I bought a package of thank you notes, and slipped them in my bag. That way, whenever I am feeling thankful for someone in my life, all I have to do is pull one out and start writing. Because who knows, 18 years from now that card might just fall out of a stack of old memories, and make them smile like I did today.