Turning fifty a few years ago compelled me to pause and reflect like so many who become middle aged. These reflections often take the form of questions: “why am I not where I thought I would be?” and “how did I get here?” My reflections have centered on “how did I become the person I am today?” and “who and what events influenced who I have become today?” While I have fleeting thoughts with regards to my future, I have lived long enough to know that I don’t get to call all the shots. While I move forward with life I plan to take time to express thanks to those who have helped me along the way. The African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” cannot be limited to one’s childhood. Our growth does not stop with a high school or college diploma in hand. We all continue to grow and develop. Sometimes it is by fits and starts as we face life’s stumbling blocks. At other times our growth resembles the slow crescendo of a Beethoven symphonic movement.
So, I intend, over the next few years, to compose gratitude letters. My sister, Joan, has inspired this endeavor with her own expression of gratitude to a family friend. The setting: a gathering of friends in Maryland during the Christmas holiday. The reason: our mother at home for hospice care–we gathered one last time. It would be good to see our friends in the area, had been our thought. Bill had been one of my engineering professors and he and his wife, Shirley, had become family friends. At this gathering, Joan went up to Bill and thanked him for some advice he had given her years ago. I’m not sure he recalled giving the advice, but as I heard her thank him, I was impressed that she thought to thank him years later. It reminded me that sometimes a passing moment can leave as lasting an impression as the steady reminders to “brush your teeth before going to bed.”
Since that gathering I have thought about doing this and I created some guidelines for this letter writing project:
- Letters will be no longer than two pages
- Letters will be addressed to the deceased and living alike and sent via US mail–not email
- If the recipient is deceased, I will send the letter to a family member
- Letters may or may not be published on this blog site
- All letters will be accompanied by this essay
Writing a letter represents an exchange of truth between two people. My friend, Matt, believes letter writing has become a lost art in this digital age of email, texting and twittering. Just like the craft of knitting has made a resurgence, I like to think that so can the art of letter writing. I hope that the letters will be received in the same spirit that I plan to write them–as reflections on a life with gratitude.
Have a Productive Day,
Dear Reader, please share your comments and stories that are sparked by this piece. Have you had an impactful exchange with someone? Has there been an influential teacher or coach who provided guidance? See Contribute for how you can share a story at The Engineers’ Daughter.
For advice on writing your own gratitude letter I liked what I read here.
Scott Crabtree of Happy Brain Science has a motivating free e-book called “This is Your Brain on Gratitude.”