I had an interesting conversation with my mom last week about thank you notes and handwritten cards in general. She was bemoaning the lost art of thank you notes. I found this a bit funny, of course, because it’s not something she raised us up to do. I think the first handwritten thank you cards I ever sent in my life were when I was 11 and thanking the folks who sponsored me for our church’s mission trip to Haiti. After that, I don’t think I wrote a thank you card until I got married.

It’s not that I didn’t have many people to be thankful to. It’s just that I was never taught that thank you cards are a thing you do. I’ve gotten better about them now, but I mostly send them to folks of my parents generation and older or for gifts given following major life events (house-warming presents definitely qualified). I hadn’t thought about it much, but when mom and I were discussing it, I realized that I don’t like sending thank you cards for smallish things (like getting together for dinner) because I DON’T LIKE RECEIVING THEM.

I don’t even like receiving them for major life event presents. I mean, honestly. They’re a ton of work. My hand cramps in empathy of the poor bride writing out all those notes. They’re always on paper, which means that resources were spent processing the paper, embossing it, cutting it out, fixing glue to the envelope…lots of industrial labor was poured into this piece of paper that I then don’t know what to do with.

Because really, what am I supposed to do with those thank you notes? Keep them on my fridge forever? Save them in an ever-growing box that I will open once every five years to clean out because the event is too foggy in my mind for the note to have sentimental reason? Salvage the pretty covers for some Modge Podge project that I would never display anywhere in my own house because few greeting cards match my tastes in interior design?

Mom said that she likes receiving them because she does like to go through them. A well-written note, she argued, communicates how the recipient was a blessing to the life of the person sending a note. And it is sometimes nice, even I can’t argue this, to be reminded of what you have meant to people in the course of your life. It’s like attending your own funeral and hearing all of the nice things people have to say to and about you. I’d be suspicious of the person who had no interest in hearing that, because it is comforting to have evidence that we’ve brought worth and goodness into the world, and I suppose a collection of thank you notes is a reminder of that.

I guess the final word is that if in doubt about whether a thank you note is in order, go ahead and send one. And make sure it’s personal, because if you’re just going to dash your name on a bit of embossed paper, you’re just adding to someone’s recycling bin. But personally, if you ever find yourself wanting to send a thank you note to ME, feel free to stick with email–I never delete anything. I won’t be offended if you want to save your hand. And I would definitely rather have you spend the time you would spend working to pay for that card and postage telling me just how awesome I am, because that’s the bit that lasts. : )

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