If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart
I was inspired by a post on twitter that my friend Sarah Diemer made about writing to her old college professor, the one who helped her to believe in her writing. It reminded me of the people in my life that I have wanted to thank for a long time, who always believed in my writing even when I couldn’t find a way to believe in it myself.
Two of those people are dead, unfortunately: my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Gauger, and my paternal grandmother, Florence (to whom The Poppet and the Lune is dedicated). My grandmother always knew I’d be a great, best selling, prolific author someday (I’m being patient), and I didn’t get to thank her for her confidence in me before she died. But I loved her and would miss her for so much more than just being my cheerleader. And besides, I like to think that she hears my gratitude now even better than before.
For a long time after I got over my massive creative block (after high school), I wanted to write Mrs. Gauger a letter, but I hesitated. She had retired the year after I’d been in her class, so we weren’t able to stay in touch. And, to be perfectly honest, I have a lot of awful memories associated with my middle school and high school (a lot of it contributed to that massive creative block mentioned earlier) so I never wanted to contact them. I would occasionally Google her name, or look in the phone book, but that never yielded anything useful. I sat on it for a while, every now and then feeling really bad about not being able to contact her. Then, finally, I just wrote the letter.
It was short and sweet and honest, and everything I wanted to say just poured out onto the page. I hand wrote it. Who hand writes letters anymore? I thought she’d appreciate it, since she taught me how to write in cursive (I know, fifth grade is late for that apparently, or so I’ve been told). I talked about how she had taught me to appreciate good stories, to explore genres, and to believe in my love of telling stories, and my talent for it. (She was so impressed with a short story I wrote back then that she read it to all of her other classes, and actually called my parents to tell them what an excellent writer I was ;-;)
Fueled by my overwhelming gratitude, I finally mustered the courage to call my old middle school and ask them what I could do to contact her. They said they had her last known address, but they couldn’t give it to me. They could, however, mail the letter for me if I dropped it off in a stamped envelope.
So I did that. I went back to the school, went into the main office, was startled by the faces that seemed completely unchanged from when I was fourteen years old, and handed my letter to the receptionist who was expecting me.
A week later I got a phone call from the school. They were unable to deliver the letter for me, because unfortunately, Mrs. Gauger had passed away six years prior. “Would you like to come by for your letter, or should we recycle it?” she asked me. “No,” I replied after a moment. “Yes. Please recycle it.” I felt that, if the words were just out there in the world, they had a better chance of reaching her.
I have to admit I was a little heartbroken. The part of me that lives in stories imagined a lovely correspondence unfolding between us, getting to know each other better, me now as an adult, she now as a friend instead of a teacher. Now, not only would that never happen, but I would always carry this feeling of unfinished business between us. I don’t think she knew she was my favorite teacher of all time, that without her I may have always wanted to write, but I might have never really believed I was any good (teachers don’t have to tell you nice things about your writing, unlike friends and family, and it is an early writer’s natural inclination to mistrust all compliments).
I’ve come to terms with it, now. I do believe she knows how much I loved and appreciated her in life, but still. It makes me realize how important it is to tell the people in your lives what they mean to you, even though a lot of times that can be an awkward, blush-inducing experience.
Who are the people in your life that you want to thank? Who has encouraged or inspired you to become the person you are? Let them know. And if you can’t because you’re too shy or you don’t know where they are now, just write them a letter anyway. You might be inspired to find a way to send it. You might be inspired to tell the people who support you every day how much they mean to you. Don’t be afraid to tell the world you are grateful.