September 12, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

No better use of 42 cents

Even when my status is marked “busy,” my friends strike up Gmail chat. The proverbial red circle somehow loses its street cred in cyberspace.

Minimizing the screen doesn’t free me. My account beeps with each new comment, flashing “Erin says …” at the bottom of the monitor. Invariably, I follow the ellipses.

The swiftness of electronic communication can be a nuisance, binding us to a ping-pong match that strong-arms our better intentions.

That’s why I appreciated the advice in The Last Lecture, the bestseller by Randy Pausch. The 47-year-old father of three recently lost a brave battle to pancreatic cancer.

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other,” he wrote. “And despite my love of efficiency, I think that thank-you notes are best done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. You never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.”

I decided that Randy’s counsel warranted a little shopping so I headed to a nearby paper store to replenish my thank-you card stock. As I entered, I inhaled slowly, taking in a glorious sight.

Who knew there are so many ways to say thanks? With a salsa dancer spinning below the word “gracias.” With a ladybug perched on a red ribbon. With a demure Chinese girl handing out red and orange hydrangeas.

I found myself running my fingers over the deckle edges, delighting in the tactile experience—smooth and coarse, silver foil and wire accents.

The cards inspired a spark of wonder, reminding me of Pope John Paul II’s letter to artists, who are “captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes.” Faced with artistic marvels, he wrote, “wonder is the only appropriate attitude.”

I dropped $46 in wonder.

And I set to writing my thanks, taking a page from St. Paul’s letters. In his handwritten epistles, he called for gratitude again and again.

“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up,” he told the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:11). “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks” (1 Thes 5:16-18).

Many centuries later, G.K. Chesterton, the jolly freethinker, echoed St. Paul. “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,” he said, “and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

I selected a card with glittery ice cream cones and began writing to a friend who had sent a care package. I described each element she had tucked inside, turning it over in my hand and mind.

Then I jotted a few thoughts on “Life in General,” more whimsical than newsy. I was riding the looping l’s and arcing a’s.

Writing by hand slowed my mind and broadened my view. I didn’t write about the day’s happenings or the calendar’s demands, but my feelings, how my life was coalescing with long-term goals and deeply-held values. Stroke by stroke, line by line, it felt honest.

As I signed and sealed the card, my heart throbbed with wellness. Slipping it in the mailbox, I marveled at the process that would carry my thoughts to her doorstep. Unlike

e-mail, it wouldn’t arrive instantaneously. That time lag excited me. I knew she wouldn’t click delete after reading it.

I’m joining in the back-to-school spirit of sharpened pencils and blank notebooks, assigning myself one thank you note a week. A thanks for something, anything. Weekly.

As we pinch pennies this year, the U.S. Postal Service is experiencing a drop in volume. But personally, I can’t imagine a better use of 42 cents.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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