Friday, November 27, 2009

Organic thankfulness

I've always had trouble keeping my sentimental cycles synchronized with what the calendar officially sanctions. This year is no different. I got into a very thankful mood early — well before Thanksgiving Day rolled around. Days before Thanksgiving proper, I was working on writing the bulk of my post-wedding "Thank You" cards.

True to my high ideals and impractically grand ambitions, I didn't want to just write a generic, canned response to everyone; I wanted each card to be sincere and personalized for each recipient. For I follow the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I am deeply insulted and take personal offense whenever someone sends me a generic message disguised as a customized one, why would I inflict the same on others?

Faced with the task of writing so many customized notes to so many people, it was hard to even get started — but good old engineering experience soon kicked in. Whenever I find it hard to get started on something, I try to build momentum by doing the easy part first. Then, to maintain that momentum and to keep my focus tight, I periodically stop and ask myself what the main objective is, and re-align accordingly.

So, I started with what was easy. I simply read the card that each person sent, so I could see what was written. That would give me something to riff off of. And sure enough, this worked in giving me something to start off with. But the unexpected (and much more helpful) side effect of reading these cards was that they just naturally made me feel thankful. Writing the response just seemed like the natural next step — in contrast to painfully extracting whatever random remnants of goodness I had left in me, or emotionally manufacturing shoddy imitations of good cheer for putting on paper.

The trouble with letting nature run her course and supply material for us is this: what she supplies seldom fits our purposes exactly.

And so, I had to rein in my overflowing thankfulness to keep it focused on thanking people specifically, rather than letting my responses meander all over the place.

I remember one specific instance of an older relative, widowed for a couple of years now, whose long and happy marriage had instilled in me a deep and lasting belief that marriage in this day and age could work. She and her late husband had so many excellent qualities that I could easily have filled her card by heaping random praise on them. But by focusing on thanking her first, I actually had the chance to keep the note shorter and more meaningful by zeroing in on how they inspired me through their marriage specifically, rather than listing their virtues as individuals.

I'm almost done writing these cards. Each card gives me a chance to take a natural sense of gratitude and then channel it in a way that renders it more meaningful by doing a better job of making it known.