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I love cookbooks, all sorts of cookbooks. My collection has now taken over the house, but one of the most valued ones that I own is The Joy of Cooking. My copy is white with gold lettering and more than 900 pages of tantalizing information in it. The pages are worn with drips of batter, greased with love and, more importantly, held together by silver grey duct tape! It is almost 40 years old. It is my standby.
But I didn't buy it. It was a wedding present given to me by a friend of my mother's who didn't even attend the ceremony. It is the one gift that has stood the test of time.
While our wedding towels have shredded after years of use and our bed had to be replaced because of spring leakage, that one cookbook is still working very well. I used it just yesterday.
While browsing through The Joy of Cooking, I realized that I really loved that tattered recipe book and decided to write my mother's friend another thank-you note.
I had written her one just after my wedding, but I spent quite a bit of time composing a second one, finding the right words. In the card, I talked about the recipes my family had enjoyed and how much I appreciated her gift. I popped it in the mail and thought nothing more about it.
Then, the following week, my mom called me at 8 a.m. She was very chipper that morning, her voice light and bubbling with the giddiness of a young girl. Her friend had received my handwritten letter and immediately called my mother. She was touched and pleased with it. She expressed her gratitude by writing back to me. I still have her card.
My mother thought she should get in on the action and decided that she should also write a thank-you card expressing her appreciation for some small acts of kindness as well. Buoyed up by this, I continued with my personal quest to spread more thank-you notes around the world.
I started by incorporating a lesson on how to write grammatically correct and culturally appropriate thank-you letters in my business English class for international students at our local university. Most of these students were not familiar with the concept. In some cultures, it is unheard of.
I modelled a simple and suitable example on the board, went over it with them and then I did something unexpected. I gave each one of my 20 students a blank thank-you card.
For homework, they had to write a letter of appreciation to someone they knew and then hand deliver it. On Monday morning, everyone had to report back on what had happened. I was more interested in their experience rather than the letter's contents.
Now, these are university students ranging from 18 to 65 years old, who come from a variety of countries and who all had academic courses, jobs and often young children to tend to, so I didn't think that many of them would actually do the homework for a non-credit course. I had only budgeted 20 minutes of the next class to discuss the results. However, what I got was one of the most surprising and profound lessons I have ever seen.
Every single student had done the assignment and they were all eager to talk about their experience. They stood up one at a time and told their story and what happened after the note was delivered.
One student from Saudi Arabia wrote a note of indebtedness to his landlord. The student had never done this, so it was an awkward experience, but the outcome was incredible. The landlord invited the whole family over for dinner.
Another student thanked her mother who had taken on menial jobs to ensure her daughter could get a better education and life in North America. The daughter hand delivered her envelope to her mother who, upon reading the contents, immediately broke down and cried. No one had ever written her a thank-you card. These types of communications were completely alien in their culture. Her mother absolutely loved the sentiments.
Even I received a note, when a student thanked me for being such a good teacher in her letter.
Needless to say, there were lots of tears and hugs in my class that day.
My 20-minute session ended up becoming a two hour lesson on humanity and how a simple thank you can make a difference, even change your circumstances.
Unfortunately, there is not much of a focus on writing thank-you cards any more, despite a long history. I've read that Europeans have been writing cards of thanks since the 15th century.
Going back even further in time, both the Chinese and the Egyptians are reported to have written messages of gratitude on papyrus.
Initially, "thank you" meant "I will remember what you did for me." So remember just this one thing, which noted author and activist Maya Angelou once said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Make someone feel good and write a thank-you note today.
Sharon Kofoed lives in Nanaimo, B.C.