I received my first box of stationery somewhere around age five, maybe six. It was a rite of passage masquerading as a Christmas gift, and it closed the chapter on receiving without giving back, on only seeing myself. I remember lifting the top of the navy blue Crane box and peeling back the delicate white tissue paper that cradled a stack of monogrammed cards, printed on thick, ivory stock. It felt deliciously adult to have my own notes that carried my name, my first document of ownership. The product of adults, who believed deeply that gratitude in the written form was as important as any law of decorum, I took the exercise seriously. I would sit at my homework desk with my dictionary to make sure my spelling was correct, erasing and re-erasing phrases until the paper was nearly worn thru, wanting it to look and sound just so.
In time, my responsibility for crafting a thank-you note expanded to every party, every job interview, every occasion when someone gave me the gift of their time, attention, and even advice. (A Baltimore grand dame I knew confessed to me that for every party she attended, she’d write her thank-you note the day prior to the event and mail it the morning of, just so hers was the first received. Scandalous, but I admired her feverish dedication to manners.)
While remembering someone’s kindness with a handwritten note is positively regal, it’s also an exercise in dying to self, to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot. Self care cannot be a primarily inward gravitation. Growing, healing is often achieved by stepping away from the self and, instead, considering others’ feelings and comfort, which is the foundation of all manners.
So, with only hours left in 2020, I challenge you to dig out your notecards, roll of stamps, and pen, and put your gratitude for your holiday gifts on paper. Turn a phrase of thankfulness that communicates to the giver that this frightening year was made brighter by being remembered by them.
Happy writing--and thank you for listening!