I love the personal statements published on This I Believe, and the December 30 broadcast was an essay by Michelle Lee entitled “The Act of Giving Thanks.” You can listen to her broadcast and read the essay here on the This I Believe website. Although her message is a broader statement of the importance of giving thanks and a firm assertion that “good manners are the cornerstone of a quality community,” she begins her essay describing the family ritual of writing thank you notes for Christmas gifts on December 26. “At the latest.”
When the boys were young, we instituted the policy that an opened gift could not be removed from the living room and enjoyed until the thank you note had been written. This caused quite a few groans, and, I admit, a hierarchy of thanks—toys first, clothing (after some nagging) later. Our rule is that minimum effort is a three-sentence formula: (1) Thank the person for the specific gift. (2) Describe how the gift will be enjoyed or used. (3) Close with a sentence that gives meaning to the relationship. (Ex. “I liked how you and I watched basketball after Christmas dinner, and I’m sorry you don’t appreciate Duke as much as I do.”) That last sentence often stumped them for a little while.
Lee describes that this ability to give written thanks has “secured her popularity.” I cannot say that years of practice (since they could hold a pencil and draw a picture) have turned my men into enthusiastic thank you card writers, but this I believe: years of the practice will someday make perfect. In early December I was surprised by a Christmas card from Ian and his girlfriend, and inside, Ian wrote a personal note to me, a small triumph!