Christmas is past and it is New Year’s Day. We are watching televised bowl games and putting away Christmas decorations. I took the Christmas tree outside to the curb for recycling and the empty space it once occupied looks bare. My wife is working hard at boxing our tree ornaments. By tomorrow afternoon, the house will return to normal. This post-Christmas period brings back memories of my elementary school days when I watched parades and bowl games. During halftime, I would go outside and play with my siblings. The mild Texas winter weather made for great outdoor games. But I knew what awaited me inside the house: writing thank you notes.
My mother was a stickler for writing proper thank you notes to all relatives, other than our immediate family, who gave us gifts. My grandparents and other relatives lived in distant states and long-distance phone calls were expensive. Email was not yet invented. People bought stationary and composed letters, something very foreign to today’s millennials and younger population. My thank you notes were carefully reviewed by my mother and the grammar, spelling, and penmanship had to be perfect. A mistake meant rewriting the thank you note. For a hyperactive boy, this task was most dreaded, almost as bad as returning to school after the holidays.
On the 27th of December 2019, Michael P.H. Stanley wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial titled: ‘A Thank-You Note Helped Me Find My Calling.’ Dr. Stanley is a resident in neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He told potential residents during their interviews: “Our gratitude reveals our values.” Later at dinner, an applicant asked him: “So what are you thankful for?” The shoe was on the other foot and Dr. Stanley showed him a box of stationary in his backpack which prompted a story.
During middle school, his father’s friend Don Hardy cut out, laminated, and mailed him an interview from the local paper that featured the young Mike Stanley, who later told his father to thank Mr. Hardy for him. Two weeks later, Mike received a package containing “an envelope, a stamp, a blank sheet of paper and a golf pencil.” It seems that Mr. Hardy was teaching the middle schooler a lesson in writing thank-you notes. Mike learned his lesson and wrote a thank-you note to Mr. Hardy and the local paper reporter, Shawn, who wrote the interview.
But the story doesn’t stop with a lesson learned. Shawn and Mike became friends and later, Shawn’s father developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They invited the teenager to visit an ALS clinic where Shawn’s father was being treated. “Then Shawn’s father turned to the neurologist and said: ‘Well, Mike’s a smart enough guy and has nothing to do this summer. Could you put him to work?’ She did. By the end of the summer, I knew medicine was my calling.”
I can relate to Dr. Stanley’s story. I was involved in Scouting during middle and high school. One father of a younger scout in our troop, Mr. Bridger, owned a shoe store in my small town. When I turned 16, I asked him if he would recommend me to the manager of the next-door grocery store where I had applied for a job. Mr. Bridger knew the store manager well and I landed a part-time job after they talked. Within a year, I was promoted to assistant store manager. This work experience opened the world of business to me where I first learned basic management skills. I verbally thanked Mr. Bridger and we became good friends. Looking back, I should have followed my mother’s rules and written a thank you note.
As I grow older, I am more aware of the qualities of gratitude and humility. My journey of life was paved by a community of people who molded me and opened doors to opportunities. “Sending a thank-you note is an act of not only gratitude but also humility. Merit and meekness meet this time of year around the dinner table, on TV specials – and, for me, in little paper promises never to forget what I owe.” For Christians during this time of year, we are reminded of our gratitude to a humble child born over 2000 years ago and the new life Christ brings. And even better, we don’t need to write a thank-you note for this gift!