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A Little Gratitude

continued...

So I decided to get serious with my thank-yous, taking a month to let no kindness pass. I went to the stationery store, bought a hundred cards and a decent pen, and took a month to write thank-yous for everything that happened to me, to everyone who did anything for me. This time it wasn't so much about what this would get me or how this would bend the world in my favor. I was adopting a karmic ritual, which, over time, might actually benefit all parties.

I decided to be aggressive. A hundred thank-you notes in a month. How much real kindness was there in a single day after all? I figured three per diem would do it. It seemed likely that I would have some lousy days, some days when nothing was worth noting.

But then I wrote ninety-one in the first week.

Could I write a thank-you note to everyone who opened a door for me, or picked up something I dropped, or handed me a Sweet'N Low in a coffee shop? At first, that was what I was after, the attempt to use thank-you notes like a giant caliper, taking measurements on grace and kindness in the world around me. I wrote to a dozen baristas, two clerks at Wal-Mart, a state trooper, a spate of department secretaries at work, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, a guy who sold me a pair of tires, friends, acquaintances, clerks from whom I bought Christmas presents at the mall, the parking attendant at that mall, and three different newspaper writers. That was just the legitimate, hardcore thank-yous, the ones for which I had a name and an address. I also sent dozens to anonymous people at coffee shops, dressing-room attendants at Old Navy, customers in long-evaporated lines at bakeries, operators in the distant offices of toll-free numbers.

I had my rules. I would not use e-mail to thank anyone. An old-school, proper thank-you note is a card selected for that purpose. I chose ones that said thank you right on the front. I didn't do any drop-offs, either — no notes stuck in mailboxes at the office, no cards slipped under doors. I wanted the notepaper, the method of delivery, the construction of the letter, even the selection of the postage stamp, to imply consideration on my part. More to the point, I wanted to consider those aspects of the process.

I got some answers. A woman from Best Buy called to thank me for the note in which I thanked her for the help with buying a refrigerator. "Selling appliances is a pretty thankless job," she said. I told her I hoped it would score points with her boss, thinking maybe there would be a kickback for me in the form of a discount. "Oh, I quit that job," she said. "I'm in St. Louis now. I'm going to be a minister."

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