Sit down and write a letter of thanks to someone, without agenda. Then mail it.
Last month, a friend confided that 2013 had been so terrible for him that all he could do was hope for better luck in the New Year. “When you say something like that on October 15, you know it’s been a pretty rotten nine and a half months,” I responded. But I also had to agree that I would be mighty glad to get this year behind me, even with the well-worn wariness that comes from asking, “Hey, it can only get better from here, right?” and receiving, with thunderclaps, the universe’s gleefully disastrous reply.
Given that my greatest hope for the future is being able to stay awake to see the ball drop in Times Square a couple of months from now (and knowing that 2013 can wreak havoc on me no longer), it’s a bit of an understatement to say that I haven’t been approaching Thanksgiving with an Oprah-like level of gratitude. The way I’ve been feeling lately, I’m surprised that the National Day of Kvetching hasn’t asked me to be grand marshal of its parade.
So I wondered what I could do about that — how I could convince my heart to turn away, just for a moment, from fear and worry. I feel as if I have so little to offer these days, even thanks. When I tried to think about what I did have, I realized it’s the same thing I can always count on not to let me down — words.
So I started there. I found some tacky garage-sale notepaper and wrote a letter to the brother and sister-in-law of my friend who died 13 months ago. Not long after his sudden heart attack on a business trip, his wonderfully plucky and resilient mother died, too, leaving this family, for whom Thanksgiving was the most important holiday in their multifaith clan, with two empty places at the table this year.
After I addressed the envelope and added a stamp, I sensed a clear internal directive: “Write more.” So I did. I wrote a letter to each of the out-of-towners I’d most love to see magically arrive in time for dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I told them I was thankful for the gift of their friendship, for their innumerable wonderful qualities and for the many memories we share.
And then I just kept going. I thought about the colleagues I’ve worked with this past year — kindhearted and patient corporate teammates who showed me the ropes of a new publishing system, editors who gave me a first-ever chance at a writing assignment, interview subjects who amazed me with their accomplishments and generosity of spirit. I wrote letters to some of them, too.
And then I thought about the everyday people in my life, especially those who consistently make me feel safer, lighter and more hopeful each time I encounter them — in an e-mail, a Facebook post or, too rarely, face-to-face. And I wrote to them, too. I wrote until my hand was sore and I ran out of stamps.
And then, before I could think better of it, I drove to the post office and mailed them all — a raft of gratitude bombs that would, I hoped, convey some authentic and heartfelt attention in the ramp-up to the official, pumped-up holiday.
I had found more in me than I’d had when I had started writing, just as I always do. Thanks, words. Thanks, friends.
Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis writer.
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