Thank You, Kindly

“Beautiful . . . enthralled . . . raving . . . wonderful . . . stunning . . . brilliant . . . gorgeous.” Last week I opened my email early Monday morning and found not one, but TWO lovely notes from a satisfied bride.  Just that Saturday, we had done her wedding florals and she apparently wrote the first “thank you” the very next day.  Then, after becoming concerned that the initial note may have gone to my junk mail, she wrote yet another, similarly warm letter.  She wanted to make absolutely sure I had been properly thanked.  This happens much less frequently than you might think.  I proudly pictured her making certain to fire off these emails before jetting to her post-wedding brunch.  In my elaborate fantasy, her new husband was calling out, “Janie, let’s get going, we are going to be late!” and she replied with, “Just give me one more minute, I simply MUST let Sarah know how fabulous she is!”

I found myself turning this bride’s sweet words over and over in my mind and it energized my work for the remainder of the week.  ‘This is why I do this,’ I thought.  I tried to access that sense of fulfillment during several decidedly lower moments during the work-week and even in one instance of standing over the changing table, with a fresh bathrobe suddenly soaked in poop.  Ironically, her wedding was only a small, intimate affair, for which we did just a few precious arrangements and yet it was one of the more immediate and glowing responses we have received to date.  The power of her generosity and this kind of communiqué cannot be underestimated.

Growing up, my parents were not terribly formal about much of anything and bucked societal convention in ways that were often spectacular, at times mortifying.  But, when I received a gift from a friend or relative, my mother would place a note card, envelope, and ink pen (she abhors a ball point) in front of me on the dining room table with the expectation that I write a personal “thank you.”  Just before my Grandmother passed, we were organizing some of her papers and found a prime example from my “thank you” canon.  I must have been about six years old and I was demonstrating my gratitude for a Chanukah gift.  In quaky script, I had seemingly offered a stream of consciousness communication that included the sentence, “OK, I have to go now, my stomach hurts.”  So, clearly, I hadn’t yet understood the precise etiquette involved in such a letter but I promise there was a solid “thank you” earlier on the page.  I imagined my Grandmother having a chuckle at my wording but perhaps being filled with the same tender feelings I experienced upon receiving this bride’s emails.

Throughout my adult life, I have endeavored to acknowledge the people around me with verbal and/or written “thank yous” whenever possible.  I have done this for gifts and deeds, alike.  Even though we operate almost exclusively in an internet age, I have traditionally resisted writing electronic thank yous and have instead opted for a carefully chosen, hand-written card.  I labored over my wedding thank you notes to the extent that they were sent out in (somewhat belated) spotty waves.  It always feels important that I write something personal and capture my genuine response to each treasured item.  Although many people find writing thank yous daunting, I generally relish the meditative process.

I am ashamed to admit that for the first time in my life, I dropped the ball on thank yous when our baby was born.  The bounty bestowed on us from friends and family has been truly overwhelming and continuous.  For a while there, even massively pregnant, I managed to stay on track with diligently recording each gift and responding in kind.  I wrote notes and letters and made phone calls.  This went beyond my being compulsive (although there was certainly some of that), this was me authentically intending to return the kindness and make our appreciation evident.  Toward the end, things went a little haywire with finishing my wedding season, entering into the Holidays, and preparing for a new life and I failed to record some things that came in the mail.  The slippage escalated and compounded when I lost one of my master spreadsheets matching names and gifts.  Ultimately, I gave up altogether and became convinced that slighted friends and family all over the country were preparing to weed us out of their lives.  At one point, I recalled that a close friend who recently had TWINS had been prompt with her thank yous and I sank even lower.  No excuse, Sarah.  No excuse.  If anyone still waiting on a thank you is reading this piece . . . thank you?

Perhaps the most significant thank yous, in my view, are the daily acknowledgements in relationships.  I try assiduously to thank my husband for something, anything at least once a day.  If he says something kind, puts away the clean dishes, walks the dog, anticipates my food craving . . . I make an effort to tell him I feel lucky to be with him.  He invariably says something like “I live here, too,” or “You don’t have to thank me for that.”  Sometimes he uses it as an opportunity for bombast and mild teasing, “WHAT KIND OF HUSBAND WOULD I BE IF I DIDN’T . . .”  But, I know it gives him a boost and lends value to the small tasks that frankly make up the majority of a life together.

My sister once told me that the secret to a happy marriage is “choosing someone you can eat dinner with every single night for the rest of your life.”  At the time, I thought that was absurdly unromantic.  Now I understand that it speaks to not only compatibility, but a capacity to do the mundane together and be grateful to be slogging through with the person sitting across from you.  I want my husband to hear about that gratitude as much as I am able to proffer it.

My recent experience with this gracious bride reminds me to be voluminous with praise and recognition.  There are countless people who do not just do enormously nice things for me all the time, but provide a series of tiny kindnesses that get me through the week.  The ripple effect of a hand wave when someone lets you into her lane on the FDR to a beautifully crafted missive on letterpress for a huge favor from a friend is undeniable.  This is hokey, fine.  But, a well-timed and well-executed demonstration of gratitude is totally free and can shore up even the most jaded among us.  I don’t always recycle appropriately (I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW A MILK CARTON IS A PLASTIC) but I can take a brief moment to thank the guy for toasting my bagel to perfection.