The Artful Note
“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” (Nietzsche)
This morning I read something that threw the time-honored tradition of thank-you note writing under the proverbial bus. It basically accused a collaboration of over-achieving moms for perpetuating the notion that these “mundane tasks” are archaic and impossible and entirely inconvenient. This is not the first time I have read or seen or heard something or someone speak of thank you notes as though they were a nuisance, a relic from times past, from the days when mothers had time to insist upon niceties.
Given the average number of times these kinds of rants are tweeted and shared, I am certain I am in the minority, but nonetheless…I disagree. Here’s why:
We live in a world where, quite obviously, we undervalue thoughtfulness and gratitude. We complain about tasks that, if we were to take a step back from them and think about why we do them, we might be reminded of why the tradition began in the first place. “A personal, handwritten thank-you note is the finest form of expressing gratitude”. There may be hand cramps, and little to say at times, but it is a monumental “teachable moment”, to sit closely with your child, to think about a gift, to make considerations with them about how to appropriately relate to another person that you recognize an effort on their part to do something for you.
The fact is, we are not born grateful. No child has ever exited the womb and turned toward its mother to indicate anything other than hunger and the need for comfort. As our children grow, taking becomes remarkably easy. It begins with the simple joy of learning to open a present; the delicious act of pushing back the ribbon and the excitement of tearing apart the colorful paper…20 years later we are masters, creators of online gift registries. We see a sign that says “Take One” and we do. Free Samples? Yes, please! Finders Keepers, etc, etc and so on and so forth. We are a culture of anonymous acceptors.
I believe that one of our many responsibilities as parents is to teach our children that to give is to receive and to receive is to appreciate appropriately. What better way to accomplish this than with the intensely personal process of writing a handwritten note? We are not only teaching an exercise of gratitude, but also the foundations of civility, humanity, humility, understanding and thoughtfulness. Respect for one another and time taken.
I put to you the idea that writing a note is not a task, a chore to go about begrudgingly with a scowl on your face. Rather, a demonstration of love and friendship. When I write a note, I try and think about not only the gift or the act for which I am appreciative, but the person who cared enough to give it. I imagine you collecting your mail and finding my letter among bills and fliers and other unpleasantries. I imagine that perhaps the petite frame of the note and the sideways-ness of my awkward left-handed scrawl brought a smile to your face. And then, upon opening and reading the note, you felt: glad. Glad for giving, glad for our friendship, glad for a life where people still do things like send notes through the mail.
It isn’t always convenient, and often times mine are mailed in the better-late-than-never time frame. But surely, most definitely, worth the effort.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. My daughter and I have some letters to write.