Before I caught the plague…

by Janie Jones

Hello all.

I am feeling much better, and even though I’m still clearing out the congestion, overall I consider myself over the cold.  Thanks to everyone for the well wishes, I was miserable, and it was nice to have some kind words.

But, before I became ill I had been meaning to share a book referral with you.  You see, the Friday before I became so dreadfully sick, I stumbled upon a book.  The campus often has these clearance book sales where you can find new books for next to nothing.  So, passing by one day I stopped for a quick browse to see what was on offer.  And this is what I found:

“A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life” by John Kralik

I don’t know why it caught my eye, except perhaps because I am a thank you letter writer.  I always write thank you letters when people send me gifts, and I make my daughter do so, too.  Despite my habit, I get very few thank you letters.  I remember being a kid and being made to write thank you letters, but the expectation was you only had to write if you weren’t actually handed the present face to face.  It was implied you didn’t need a thank you letter if you thanked the person when they handed you the gift.  However, as I got older, some times I felt compelled to send thank you notes for things given when it wasn’t my birthday or holiday, regardless of whether I was handed the gift in person.  Sometimes I do get angry when I send people things and I don’t get a thank you or any acknowledgement of the receipt of what I sent.

So, it seems in our society today there is a distinct lack of the need or even the duty to say thank you.  And, seeing that title perhaps I was curious to know what Mr. Kralik had to say on the subject.  I bought the book, which was on sale for less than I pay for a soda at the school store, and read straight through it that Friday night.  I found it touching and thoroughly engaging.

Apparently Mr. Kralik’s story has motivated lots of other people to enter a campaign to write a thank you note every day.  While I think it is a little extreme perhaps to write a thank you note to the Starbuck’s clerks, it does bring up the subject of just really recognizing how you affect the world around you.  If you notice people and their actions, just maybe they will start paying more attention to you.

Even though I am a very private person and don’t much enjoy living in a crush of other humans with constant companionship every hour of the day (I don’t have Facebook, or Twitter, and most days I don’t bother to turn off the sound on my phone because it’s pretty unusually I get an unexpected call or text) I do still think it is important to have a community of people who you belong to, and who you can count on.  As my life has changed over the years I have always felt frustrated that I didn’t feel I fit into the communities I found myself immersed in, and what I think I’m realizing is that there are a lot of phoney people out there.  They want you to dote on them but they have absolutely no interest in you or gratitude for your thoughtfulness, or even any knowledge of how much it might cost you emotionally, mentally or spiritually to be there for them.

Sure, I don’t always thank everyone every day.  But the communities of people who I do care about most I try to acknowledge their support and what they mean to me as often as I can.  Perhaps I should work harder at doing that.  But, I might be more inclined if they reciprocated.

Of all the communities I belong to, I have to say the blog community has been one of the most important in my life these last several years.  You come back to read my drivel, you leave uplifting comments, and you seem to care for no other reason than you care.  And for this I am so grateful and honored.

Perhaps though it is easier to be humbled and grateful to blog friends, people who only see the true self.  In my day to day life I end up wearing only certain faces.  I build walls to protect myself.  I portray qualities and beliefs that will smooth my interactions and limit confrontation and chaos.  So, people I see in school see the organized, intelligent, striving, scholarly self, most times masking the panicked, neurotic one-step-away-from-nervous-breakdown self.  Closer friends see mostly the panicked, neurotic one-step-away-from-nervous-breakdown self and the fun-loving, snarky, self-confident Janie has been withering away.  Or some times I just pull away so they see nothing and there is no pity or disgust over how I’ve changed, because even people you love sometimes get tired of your drama.  And, let’s face it, a lot of times that is what dominates the blog as well.  But, I can also share more intimate feelings and somehow know even if they aren’t fully understood, I won’t be abandoned or judged.

Well, in any event, there’s some serious food for thought.  Writing thank you notes should be a duty, but, what I think we can take away from Mr. Kralik is that if you put just a little effort into going beyond the duty and thinking about that person, thinking about what it means to have people in your life that do actually contribute to your happiness, your health and your well fare, then you should pause and acknowledge that.  And, when you do tell someone thank you, even for a little thing, it can mean a whole lot to everyone.  When people sense you value them, sometimes that makes people want to continue to feel valued and respected and so they value you back.  It can be a wonderful catch 22.

I think there are a lot of things to be grateful for.  Although, somewhat shamefully, I must admit, I lose track of them every day, because let’s face it, life is hard.  Life is not fair.  Life is full of those unexpected events you can’t always be prepared for.  But when you have a community around you that notices you and how hard you work, even on the simple things that everyone expects, well, it makes some of those trials just a little easier to face, and it can definitely make the ordinary a little more extraordinary.

So, if you have the opportunity to pick up this book, I would recommend it.  It’s a quick read, and a slog through Mr. Kralik’s personal dramas, but as I said above I found it riveting and felt that there was something refreshing in his honesty about his failings and his effort to better himself.

And now my friends, I have to go to school.  May you have a good Monday.

Thanks for reading.


10 Comments to “Before I caught the plague…”

  1. I remember too, when I was a little kid being made to write thank you letters for gifts I received. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I rather enjoyed it. But that was when I was an only child. Once my mum had my two siblings, those kind of things went out the window!
    I also remember that when I was really little we didn’t have a telephone. That was something else that changed. I guess my mum called people and said thank you or as you described, did it face to face.

    Bringing up my own children, I tend to tell them to send a text, an email or make the call. It’s not the same as a card or a note dropping through the postbox, I know, but hopefully it shows at least some gratitude. 🙂

    What startles me is the face to face stuff. People often seem uncomfortable accepting thank you’s and for that matter compliments.

    The other day I had a bowl of a soup in a small café. The soup was really, really good. It was packed with flavour and fresh ingredients but it also felt comfort foodie. It was exactly what I needed at the time, it hit the spot. So I went up to the man behind the counter and thanked him and told him that his soup was really excellent. He looked a bit uncomfortable. It’s really important to me, if, like you, I’m grateful for something, that I say thanks. Whether it’s a quick text after a pouring my heart out on the phone to a friend, to thank them for listening. Or saying thanks to the bus driver as I get off the bus. Or whether it’s saying thank you, have a really nice day to the lady at the checkout, who looks tired or has been helpful or friendly.

    It takes just a couple of seconds and makes the world a better place. And don’t we all like to feel appreciated?

    I taught my children to always thank for every meal provided. We’re not religious, they thank the cook! It’s funny when other people come to dinner. Mostly they never say thanks. Some of them don’t comment at all. Although I may have been slaving for hours in the kitchen. If they don’t say anything I often feel the need to ask them if they enjoyed the food!
    When they hear the children say thanks, some of them look surprised. Some of them copy their example.

    But back to my previous point. It has often happened that I’ve warmly thanked someone for something or complimented them on their appearance and they have seemed uncomfortable. It doesn’t stop me because many people light up when you thank them/compliment them. But I wondered if you’ve had this experience too. I thought it was probably because nowadays, people aren’t used to being thanked so much.

    • Yes, I know precisely what you mean about people being uncomfortable with gratitude, and I think you are right, most people aren’t used to being thanked. I also know, as I must admit being one of them from time to time, that I am so used to being taken for granted that being thanked for doing the small things is a surprise. I try harder these days to accept the gratitude and thanks with grace.

      Part of the problem I suppose too, is that I was not taught to feel worthy of thanks or to accept thanks as thanks. Everything I did as a young person was sneered at, belittled and told was irrelevant compared to adult world issues. I was outright told I was expected to do what was expected and not look for praise or acknowledgement because you should just do your best at everything because that’s what was expected, and as a grown up no one would thank you for doing what was expected. But I was also told if I wanted anything, I had to do something in return. Why after all, should they drive me to my friend’s house if I couldn’t do the dishes. My house growing up was filled with sarcasm, suspicion and was a place where altruism was a joke. It was a place where people did nice things because they wanted something out of someone, or because they wanted to be noticed rather than really doing it for the sake of being nice. My father tended to look down on everyone and everything, so my experiences with thankfulness were usually an empty, meaningless thing. I’d see him thank someone then turn his back and find nothing but fault in the person or point out all the reasons why it was a meaningless gesture implying it unworthy of thanks.

      Unfortunate, but as I have separated from my family and spent more time thinking about what I want to find in life, I’ve been trying more to think that if I can be truly grateful, then other people can, too. I’ve been trying to accept that sometimes people are just nice, and sometimes they really do care.

      You cannot accept thanks unless you are prepared to accept you are worthy of the thanks, and if you are taught to look for duplicity, it is doubly difficult. But over coming those detrimental examples is full of rewards, just, unfortunately it doesn’t happen overnight.

      • I had a very difficult childhood/family life too and I too no longer have any contact with my family. I also grew up with lots of sarcasm and double standards. I still have feelings of worthlessness, but I’m getting on top of them. It has taken a long time and a lot of therapy.
        I suspect that those bad experiences actually made me more thankful as an adult when I realised that I had many things to be thankful for: like good friends and then later my husband and children.

        When I was in my early 20’s a friend noticed that I wasn’t good at taking compliments. And he gave me a truly awesome piece of advice: “Just say thank you and smile.”

        I hadn’t thought of any of that when I wrote my comment. I tend to try to keep my horrible childhood packed in a locked drawer. If I said something insensitive, then I’m really sorry.

        I think that some people don’t care. our parents are shining examples of that, but many, many people do care. Once you get out in the real world an start to make good experiences with good people, you have the opportunity to evolve.

        Your post really touched me because I often think about how my actions affect other people. My family regularly insulted me, and made me feel bad about myself. I decided to bring my own children up very differently. I compliment them all the time. But it’s very genuine. I only say I like something if I actually like it. I compliment their appearance, their work, their achievements, their creativity, their remembering to do something and their thoughtfulness. Similarly, I compliment strangers, partly because I’m a blether and I like to chat to people, but mainly because I think it makes them have a nicer day. I also make a point of smiling at people as I pass them by. I think a few seconds of friendliness can make such a difference to people’s lives. It does for me anyhow.

    • Oh, please do not infer I was in anyway distressed by your comment! In fact quite the reverse. Without knowing your past I felt you “got” what I was talking about. Turns out you really do. 🙂

      Perhaps as you say, we are in a strange way more fortunate for what we’ve risen from, we can see on a whole different level just how wonderful being thanked really is and how big an impact it can make.

      Thanks for sharing your story!


  2. Thank you for sharing this.
    I agree. Just focusing on gratitude makes me a better person whether or not I succeed in expressing it.

    • I am glad it seems that many people enjoyed my thoughts on this subject! Often the pace of life is pretty crazy, and even when we do feel grateful, sometimes we forget to take the time to acknowledge it.

  3. Hurricane Rita taught me that simple things, such as hot water, fresh food, relief from the weather, and the security of our present life is too often taken for granted. I’m blessed because I’ll enjoy all those today. It’s a good thing

    • I have never had to live through such a horrible event. But, I did lose a home that meant the world to me. Leif and his family would not let me be homeless, but still losing the stability of your own home is difficult, and feeling beholden to others, even those that love you, can be emotionally traumatic. And, it points out just how much we do indeed take a roof over our heads for granted. I had to live for 6 weeks last summer without running water in the bathroom and only cold running water in the kitchen. I lost access to food stamps for three months. And, though I didn’t go with out food, it definitely made me more conscious of what it means to go without.

      I found it a real struggle to endure last summer and though it was hard it did occur to me that, really, compared to some places in the world, I was still enjoying comparative luxury.

  4. One of the things I like to do as a thank you is to always make sure I’m wearing a gift if I’m going to meet the giver; I always did it with clothes given to my children. It’s an easy way of saying, ‘I appreciate your thoughtfulness.’

    But I wrote the letters, as well! Emails now.

    So glad you are feeling better.

    • Yes, emails do often make it more convenient to get thanks to people far away. And, I appreciate emails as much as cards, but there is a certain something still that is exciting about getting a handwritten card in the mail.

      I don’t get a lot of wearable gifts these days, but I do agree that it is nice to try to wear a gift when you will see the giver. Or sometimes we take pictures of my daughter in wearable gifts to send the giver.

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