Thursday, June 20, 2013

How Do You Say Thank You?

This post was inspired by a recent (today) Facebook post I wrote in response to a friend who wrote: "I think I have crossed the line and am now in the 'rudely and tastelessly late' on thank you notes. I am working on them though!!!!!" The sadness in this plea for forgiveness from a person who has been through significant life changes (moving to another state, AND getting married in the last month) brought out the tiger it me. For my dear friend to feel such pressure and constraint in a time that should be only blissful and happy, made me sick, and I commented:

I keep waiting for "Thank You" notes to become outdated. Do I really have to put a stamp on it to tell you "thank you?" People are offended if they don't receive a note from someone who JUST HAD A BABY??? Seriously? Do you know how I feel when I get a thank you note from a new Mom or someone who just recovered from a horrible illness? Guilty! I feel bad that they took time away from their new baby and their families to acknowlege me. People will think I'm terrible (go ahead, you're not alone), and my Mama would be ashamed, but I'm SORRY: THANK YOU NOTES ARE ARCHAIC! There! I said it. ........ I'll probably keep writing them anyway, dammit.

This post received some very interesting reactions ranging from chastisement to hip-hip-hurray! One new mom who recently completed a stack of "thank yous" herself wrote: "I was just trying to fit in." A former student of mine posted: "I will not. I repeat: will not purchase a thank you card to mail. If you need one, I'd rather not have whatever it is you gave to warrant a card." THREE brand new mommies thanked me or "liked me" for saying this "out loud." (I guess writing something on Facebook qualifies as "out loud.") A male friend (males were in the minority of responders) wrote: "I agree, and personally believe that this outdated convention will disappear within a generation, simply because people like you and me won't expect it of our children, etc., and people will just stop doing it. [Wife's name] did the whole thank you card thing because her parents kept reminding us. When [daughter's name] gets all her wedding gifts and whatever else, we won't do that because we don't care, and hopefully, by that point, no one else will either. It is archaic."

At the core of my rant is not that we should NOT be thankful or express gratitude; FAR from it. My belief is that an expression of gratitude should fit the relationship, the situation, the PERSON FROM which the thank you is expressed. Gratitude is not a socially mandated thing. It CANNOT be mandated or it ceases to be heartfelt or truthful...that's not gratitude. That's ritual. And boyoboy am I an enemy of conventional rituals (I don't TRY to be. That's just how God made me.) I enjoy calling people to thank them with my own voice for the kindness they expressed. Sometimes I have sent an email, Facebook message, or even a text. Does the person at the other end of these types of "thank yous" be offended because I did not use a pen and paper? If writing a card is your preferred mode of communication, then GREAT! For most of us, we don't even pay bills by mail anymore. When was the last time anyone under 30 sent something with a stamp from the USPS? Some of the responses I got on my friend's wall, shouted emphatic protestations to my "tacky" comment.

These responses ranged from "If I go to the trouble, time, and expense to send a gift, I would like confirmation that it was received." Oh, please, honey! Don't go to any trouble on MY account. Keep your trifles. Some of them admitted that IF they had watched the person open the gift and had been thanked in person THEN it was "acceptable" not to send a note, but I'd bet money they didn't say to that new mom or bride: "Don't write a note, honey. I know how busy you are." When asked if a nice call would suffice, this person wrote: "Really, I spent the money, you can write a short note of thanks. It's not too much to ask, although I think new mothers should have a long-extended timeline for it." SERIOUSLY!!!? Yes, seriously.

A gift should be freely given. It comes with NO strings attached and NO expectations. A gift should be "other" oriented, not "I took the time, I expect, I would appreciate, I, I, I..." Do any of these people realize (they SHOULD, they're moms too) how impossible it is to find anyone's physical address these days or to get a moment alone to USE a pen without it being immediately misappropriated and used for wall art or worse? Do you own an address book? I don't. However, I do have my friends' email addresses saved and their numbers ready to go in my phone. And today, it is rare to receive a call from someone to just communicate a pleasantry like "Thank you for the darling outfit for Jr. Oh, my! I wish you could see him in it."

Perhaps, I should put this zealous rant into context. When my mother was dying (cancer, legs paralyzed, tumors everywhere, THAT kind of dying), I asked her, "Mom what can I do for you today? What do you need?" She directed me to a notebook where she had meticulously listed the names of everyone who had brought food, flowers, a gift, etc to the house for her in her illness. They were numbered to about 200. She looked up at me with her beautiful blue-gray eyes and asked if I would help her write thank yous. So she dictated thank you notes to people and I wrote down what she said, suggesting the wording when her mind was cloudy. She felt like she had to do it before she died--all 200. In her presence of mind at the time, I think she thought we would actually get through them all that day. It was sad. It made me angry that even on her deathbed, she felt like people needed a card from her. They did not. I would have much rather spent that precious hour of my Mom's life just talking to her or filing her nails or rambling on and ranting to her about...whatever I was on a rant about that day. That would have been nice.

So, a few weeks later I stood up in front of 500 people at Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas to celebrate my mother's life. I thanked everyone, tearfully and eloquently (if I do say so myself) for the cards, flowers, etc. I told them that their thoughtfulness had meant more to us--the family--than we would ever be able to express. I talked about how Mom taught me about gratitude. It was the hardest thing and the best thing I could have ever done to fulfill my Mama's wishes for how and what I would express that day. I learned gratitude through that whole experience--the generosity in accepting a gift, the artful way of expressing thanks and how many different forms that expression could take.

Can we learn to give an recieve "thank yous" in truly meaningful ways? Can we have grace when we aren't thanked and appreciated the way we think we should have been? I don't know. I'm asking.