A while back, my friend Reita called and began the conversation with a hasty apology.
Recently, her brother had died unexpectedly so I had baked a cake and carried it over to the family.
"I'm so sorry," she began. "I've been meaning to write you a thank-you note, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I've just had my hands full, lately."
I was puzzled. "What?" I asked.
"A thank-you note for the cake and then for the supper you brought for Ronnie's birthday. I haven't had time to sit down and write you."
I started laughing. "Reita, you did send me a thank-you note. It was a lovely card."
"I did?" She paused. "Well, see, that shows how busy I've been. I don't remember it. I thought I owed you a card and I was so embarrassed that I hadn't sent one."
Having unfortunately suffered through grief and loss, I can attest to how this happens. The shock of the grief muddles your mind and you don't remember writing notes. You just automatically do it.
I found I had to make a list, check each one off when written and then refer to that list constantly to double check myself. There were times I would think, "I don't remember writing her" but I had.
People can be so kind, and it has always meant a lot to me to sit down and write an expression of gratitude. I have always been a big advocate of thank-you notes to the point that I've been downright judgmental about them.
At many lunches and dinners with the girls we have ripped apart those who were not gracious enough to respond to a wedding gift or a baby shower.
"A sterling silver rattler from Tiffany's and not so much as a kiss-my-foot," one would rant.
"Oh, she never sends thank-you notes," another will reply. "You should have called me first. I could have told you that and saved you a little blue box with a white ribbon."
Those days are now behind me, though. I have been redeemed. I have seen the light and been baptized into a whole new way of thinking.
Hallelujah. I have been set free.
Now, before you get out the heavy stock, cream colored, engraved paper and shoot me off a note of reprimand, let me clarify this: I will still be writing thank-you notes. I've written a couple of hundred in the past few months and will continue to write them.
But never again will I expect or want anyone to write me a thank-you note.
Here's what happened that changed my small-minded attitude: Someone I've known for years gave me a small gift. The next day, another family loss occurred and the next couple of weeks distracted me with the morose type stuff. She sent me an unpleasant e-mail and ended it by saying sarcastically, "I appreciated the thank-you note for the gift."
This, I might add, from someone who has never sent a thank-you note to me for any gift or gesture. If you're going to condemn, make certain that you're noncondemnable yourself. This is when I ceased to care if I ever receive another thank-you note.
See, you never know what is going on in someone's life. Perhaps the young mother is suffering from postnatal depression. Perhaps the young bride has realized she married the wrong man. Perhaps the birthday girl is dealing with a family illness.
And, yes, perhaps the young graduate is simply self-centered and thoughtless.
We shouldn't give gifts expecting anything, including a thank-you note, in return. We should give from generosity of spirit and kindness. There's a new liberation in my life now that I no longer care who follows the protocol of courtesy. Ironically, it took a rude, unkind remark to take me to that point.
I think I'll send her a thank-you note.Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter.