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The Lost Art of Gratitude: The Power of an Old-Fashioned Thank You Note

Updated: Apr 15

A few months ago, I received a Note From the Past.



It was a handwritten note from Mrs. Thomas, my high school English teacher, who had tracked down my address from my father’s obituary in the local newspaper. In her slightly shaky, but still beautiful cursive handwriting, she was writing to offer her condolences on the loss of my father, who had been her colleague, friend and neighbor for so many years, and how grateful she was for having known him. 


My eyes welled up, touched by her kindness, and I felt myself pulled back into memories from so long ago. 


Mrs. Thomas was tough. 


The “A’s” were hard-won in her Advanced English class- each one to be savored and celebrated. I remember sitting at the dining room table with my dad, discussing deeper, darker layers of meaning in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country people,” and George Orwell’s “1984.” In Mrs. Thomas’s class, we not only read Homer’s “The Odyssey.” We acted out whole scenes, dressed in togas made of bedroom sheets and crowns of aluminum foil.


Mrs. Thomas didn’t just teach reading, writing and grammar. She taught us how to think.  


No matter how far left-field your interpretation was, if you could explore and creatively test out your thoughts, she rewarded you with that coveted “A,” penned in red marker at the top right hand corner of your essay. 


She taught me to love the creative process of writing, the gift of being able to hone and use my own voice to share ideas and tell stories that moved the reader.  


I popped a copy of Decide Happy in the mail to her, thanking her for stretching me, for holding me to a higher standard, for seeing the potential I had, even when I couldn’t yet see it for myself.


Three weeks later, another handwritten note showed up in my mailbox. In her beautiful cursive, she packed her heartfelt thoughts tightly into every space, spilling over onto the back of the card. This time, thanking me for the book and my Thank You to her, and sharing her regret at not knowing about The Year That Shall Not Be Named. “I would have showered you with cards,  poems, and letters, as writing still remains a joy to me,” she wrote. “I rejoice in your conquest of that YTSNBN!”


Enclosed in her card was a slip of paper with a poem, “Dark Night,” written by a colleague, faded from being copied so many times over the years. “This poem expresses my feelings about the many students who took the time to reach out to their teachers. I am forever grateful,” she wrote.  


And now, I have an 80-something year old pen-pal, Sara Thomas. 

It still feels strange to call her “Sara.” She will always be “Mrs. Thomas" to me!


We have reached across the years that span between our lives to reconnect in a meaningful way that has already brought me so much unexpected joy. 


All because she made time to send a Thank You. 

And I made time to Thank her back.   


They say that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. 


Is there a teacher, a mentor, or coach who has lifted you up? Influenced you? Maybe even helped to put you on your path in life?


What might happen if you took the time to thank this teacher? For their guidance, for stretching you, for believing in you? 


Could you drop a note in the mail, or send a voice text, or email, letting them know the influence they’ve had on you and your life? 


We never know the ripple effects our actions- and our Thank you’s - will have in the world. 



With So much Love,


Susan 



Dark Nights


How grateful I am

for that worn brown envelope

tucked into its special place

behind the books.

Often lately,

I open its torn mouth

and let it speak to me

in past tenses.

I reach tenderly into its

bulging cheeks

and pluck bits and scraps of

notes,

and letters,

and listen.

How naive,

these students

to think that I would not horde

their thoughts,

and feelings,

hopes,

and frustrations when

they sign them…


Love,


They jab into my heart,

and mind,

and gut.

I use them to patch holes 

in my dark nights.


Ron Lowe, Teacher at Westlake High School



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