I know, I JUST wrote about thank you notes. I’m not done yet. In the past two days I have gathered more ammunition in my battle against the social norms surrounding gratitude.
Saturday a hundred plus of us stood in a shallow arc looking up at the couple on the centuries old granite stairs. In this moderate sized town where most people are known to each other these two have made a larger than average mark. Their contributions include real estate developments, school board service, neighborhood committees and a restaurant which attracts enthusiastic diners way beyond the small community it was built to serve.
The beaming crowd of friends and family made up for the lack of sun as she walked up the sidewalk in her elegant white dress. Joining him on the stairs they clasped hands through the entire ceremony. I imagined it was part nerves and part love, and more than any words their hands together made me think about the ways they were already partners and the ways they would stand together in the future.
In the crowd Steve’s hand found mine. I tried to ignore how sweaty it was.
After the vows the newlyweds stood together in a receiving line of two. Middle school math tells me that two points are in fact a line. Waiting my turn I spilled a bit of my campari and soda on my dress, which made my decision on whether or not to hug the couple of the day easier.
As I waited and dabbed at my dress I thought about what I would say to them. I have never mastered the receiving line. Perhaps some people know how to express true happiness in a way that seems personalized. I am not one of them. It turned out not to matter. As I held the bride at arms length about begin my exclamations she looked deeply into my eyes and said with great fervor.
“I owe you a thank you note.”
“I owe you a thank you note. You sent the waffle maker and I owe you a thank you note.”
I had become the human personification of an errand.
Here on her wedding day surrounded by people who wanted to celebrate her she was keeping internal tabs on whom she still needed to thank.
This is the pinnacle of why I despise pro forma thank you notes.
If someone does something out of the ordinary and you want to offer appreciation a note can be a lovely way to do that. If society has decided that a note is necessary milestones like weddings, anniversaries, and even sympathy gifts lead directly to a whole sheaf of shoulds. And as a wedding guest I was thrust unwillingly into that role.
Gratitude should not be teased out of us by a nagging, it should come naturally. Then it still has meaning. Ideally our thanks aren’t born from a to do list, but arise unbidden as part of the threads of a relationship.
The clasped hands of the bride and groom on the evening of their wedding was more of a thank you than any note could ever be.