Oh, Gratitude, Where Art Thou?

Oh, Gratitude, Where Art Thou?

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

When our daughter, Rachel, became a bat mitzvah, she received lots of wonderful gifts. After the weekend of synagogue services, festive meals and all kinds of celebrations, it was back-to-real-life time. And that meant that, in addition to schoolwork and after-school activities, Rachel had to write thank-you notes.

Was Rachel the kind of 12-year-old who relished the opportunity to express gratitude through the written word? What do you think?

Every evening for weeks and weeks Rachel worked on those notes, and the ones she wrote were exceptional. I know this is true because 30 years later people still refer to their “maturity” and “personalization.” Ah, yes, I remember the process well, involving the bossy mother (me) and the dutiful daughter (the virtuous celebrant). Rachel really did appreciate the generosity bestowed on her, but writing thank-you notes was hard work.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

My friend “M” had a cunning solution to the situation. His son, “T,” an otherwise thoroughly delightful young man at the age of 13, was cursed with handwriting so indecipherable that it would take a team of middle school English teachers and several grandmothers to decode it. Not only that, but the fellow couldn’t sit still for more than a minute at a time.

In addition, T’s bar mitzvah handlers had mixed up some of the gift cards, making it impossible to match sender with gift. M knew that the likelihood of successful written gratitude was zero, so he devised a clever plan.

After several false starts and a lot of internecine drama, T successfully produced a single handwritten message: “Thank you for your thoughtful gift. I appreciate your kindness, and my family and I are very happy you shared our simcha with us.”

This was years before people could do their own custom home photocopying, so M brought the single handwritten piece of paper to a print shop and had it sized to fit on T’s personalized cards, and each of the people who gave a gift received a thank-you note that looked exactly like one T would have written himself on his best handwriting day.

Needless to say, his parents did the addressing.

Melissa, the college graduate, was given dozens of checks at the party her parents threw in her honor. Checks have the name of the giver on them, so it would have been a slam-dunk for Melissa to accurately identify and thank the people who contributed to the trip she and her roommate took that summer, right?

That was a year ago. Several of my friends and I finally stopped waiting for — not a written note — an email, a phone message, a “thanks for the check” when we bump into her. Some people are hurt. Others are angry.

Me? I’m writing this column.

Now let me tell you about Larry and Shana. They had a “destination wedding” last summer, and many of the people they invited were unable to attend, but every single one of us sent something to their home in Los Angeles.

After a few months, we givers began contacting one another. We hadn’t received any recognition of our gifts, but those of us who track things we mail knew that they had arrived. My cousin, whose generosity (matched by her good manners) is legendary, took matters into her own hands and called the groom’s uncle. He, too, was disappointed in Larry and Shana. He decided to call Larry.

“Oh,” Larry said, “I guess you didn’t go on our website after the wedding.”

There on the website was a photo of the happy couple sitting in their living room, surrounded by what looked like hundreds of presents and checks. The words “We can’t wait to use all these gifts in our new home” streamed across the bottom of the picture.

I made an effort to locate the gift my family had sent, and I’m pretty sure I spotted it. My cousin says she saw hers, but it was upside down.

“At least I know they got it,” she said, her expectations of gratitude waning.

Mine, alas, already waned.

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