I never saw a more thoughtful handwritten note.
And I had no idea that my “main” gift at the end of Secret Santa week would be, as he called it in the note, his first “tie” tie. I see now that that was a big deal for a seventeen-year-old boy. A rite of passage. In fact, my memory of the whole experience is so vague now. His probably is, too. So, you see, it’s terribly fortunate, and so important, that he wrote that note in 1977 and that I have kept it until 2016.
This high school classmate wrote that he was impressed by my thoughtfulness and effort as a Secret Santa. Thirty-nine years later, I am focused on his thoughtfulness and effort in having given me this permanent record of his feelings and experience. I apologize right now to anyone offended by the implication that this level of maturity is unexpected from a seventeen-year-old, then or now. It shouldn’t be unexpected. It should be standard practice for normal, literate, well-brought-up people, no matter their age or “life stage.” Subtext: People aren’t too busy to write thank-you notes. They’re just too lazy. And saying “people no longer expect it” is absolutely not an excuse.
How much can a handwritten note mean? A lot! Yes, it’s manners and it’s protocol. It can be politics. But, set all that baggage aside for a moment and remember that the note your gift-giver deserves from you means appreciation. It means you don’t take lightly the time that person spent to make or to select your gift. It means you understand that he or she did eye-straining, mind-bending or back-breaking work in a suffocating cubicle or in a dusty factory to earn the money spent. Gift recipients: Please “get this” and write those notes.
Why do letters and other artifacts seem to acquire more value over time? Why are antiques more special than last week’s factory output? Here’s why: History. Preservation. Heritage. Heirloom. Family legacy. Items made with personal artisanship – or written with one’s own fingers on actual paper – often grow to mean more later because, as time has passed, we have changed. We feel different things. We understand life and other people better. We’ve forgotten what other stuff was pressing on us at the time we received the note or the item. We treasure things that last because we see so much that does not last. Possessions. Lands. Lives. Relationships.
I’ve told my children (and here I’m reminding them) that we have a file folder upstairs labeled Thank-you Notes Received. When it comes time for you to oversee the writing of eulogies for myself and your father, this is a place I want you to look. What others remember of us (and take the trouble to record) is our legacy.
Write them. With thoughtfulness. Read them. Keep them. Read thank-you notes again when you are older and when some details in that correspondence have taken on new meaning in light of what has happened in the world. These pieces of paper are what the historyphiles call “primary sources.”
Psalm 50:14 reads, “Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.” To be honest, I was looking for a very simple “be thankful” verse, but I found in this one a great reminder that, just as when we sin we do so foremost against God, when we express our thanks to someone for a gift, we are also acknowledging the Giver of all good gifts!
Closing with a little red and green for Christmas in July…
I am grateful for my friend’s permission to publish this article. He was a leader, scholar, friend, and band Captain back then. Now, in roles that include physician, husband, and father, he continues to serve as Christ’s ambassador. In May of this year I met a younger woman who went to our high school and turned out to be a mutual acquaintance. My friend once served as her youth camp counselor at church. #smallworld
To the person(s) who decided “we need a little Christmas” in the middle of the year: Thank you. (Even if it is primarily about ratings for your feel-good TV movies and about reversing downward trends in retail sales.) I’m down with #ChristmasInJuly and I even have my hot chocolate, sweaters, and mittens in use! (Well…maybe not mittens.) #coldnatured #airconditioningisamixedblessing