An Old-Fashioned Thank You

Emily - Wimberley, Texas
Entered on June 18, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that sending thank-you cards through the mail makes the world a better place. Maybe not in a grand or groundbreaking way, but it helps in a way that I think is nonetheless important. Call me old-fashioned, but it seems that in this digital age of text messaging and email, the expression of gratitude is a dying art. The convenience of using these media to say “thank you” is tempting- the twitch of a thumb and it’s done- but in this same convenience there is a certain coolness, no matter how sincere the sentiments. A card is tangible; it can be touched, torn open, turned over. It can be posted on to the refrigerator with a magnet, propped on a desk, or pinned to the wall. It is something of substance, touched by you, passed along a network of human hands and delivered into the very fingers of someone who has done you a kindness.

When I was a little girl, my mother insisted that all gifts were to be reciprocated with hand-written thank-you cards. As a child, I regarded this activity as onerous, grown-up behavior that interfered with watching television cartoons and climbing trees. Why couldn’t I just call Grandma on the phone? “Sending a card is more personal,” my mother would tell me, which I understood to mean that transmitting thanks through the mail is a hallmark of good manners, and a time-honored cultural tradition. But those afternoons I was, on occasion, required to spend with a pen and a stack of stationery taught me a valuable lesson: That the time it takes to hand-write a thoughtful message of thanks is the real expression of gratitude, the kernel in the center. It’s a way of showing that you have spent a few moments reflecting on and appreciating someone’s selflessness.

One might argue that it is the “thank-you” itself that is important, not the physical thing upon which the message is conveyed. Others might say that cards and stamps and envelopes and fuel in the postal trucks are all a waste of resources; true gratitude is an attitude of the heart.

But I say, let that attitude inspire action! Let your appreciation be felt, in no uncertain terms, by those who have been helpful or generous. After all, we waste our resources on far less meaningful things. How often do you check your mail and come across anything really nice and just for you? Daily, my mailbox is crammed with slick ads addressed impersonally to “Resident”. Most of the things with my actual name on them come from faceless entities that want something from me: Payments, donations, or subscription renewals. Opening the mailbox and finding a card inside is like finding a little flake of sunshine glittering among the tedious sheaf of paper that is delivered to my house each day.

So, while the tradition of thank you cards may old-fashioned, I believe it is important to continue because it is a reminder to be thankful for what is good, for people and kindness. Just like giving inspires gratitude, gratitude also encourages giving. Every small sweetness contributes to the flavor of the world.