In the fifth and sixth grade, I was gifted with a teacher who challenged me in my writing for the first time. Up to that point, I had only ever received praise from teachers who were impressed with accelerated writing skills. That’s what happens when you start keeping a journal and writing stories on your own in Kindergarten. So when I got to sixth grade, I was shocked to receive my first paper back covered in markups and revisions. There was no grade, even.
“These were wonderful first drafts,” Mrs. Welch told our class. “Now, I want you to each look over your papers, and the notes I’ve made. You will schedule a time to sit down with me individually, either during a working class time or during your study hall, and we will review all of my comments together.” Staring at my paper, the beautiful black words encompassed in red ink, I was upset. I felt defeated, and I was sure that the one thing I knew I was good at was now over. Either I was awful, or the teacher was.
But that Fall, I learned more about myself and the English language than I ever could have imagined. Week after week, paper after paper, I would sit down with my teacher and review her comments. She took the time to explain each sentence, each red mark, with detail, and she helped me rewrite line by line until the final product was polished.
We did this editing exercise for several weeks. When November rolled around, a new assignment was put in front of us. Mrs. Welch told our class that we would be using the same editing mode to write the best Thanksgiving letters ever to someone in our lives who we were grateful for. We were each to come to class the next day with the recipient of our letters decided. I chose my dad’s parents to write to because we didn’t usually get to see them for Thanksgiving, and I knew I had a lot to write about their love for their grandchildren.
Writing this letter, 11-year-old Emily was filled with joy and gratitude for the ability to use writing to spread happiness to others. I worked with Mrs. Welch to edit it several times until it was just right. Everyone read their letters aloud, then we learned to properly fold and stuff a letter into an envelope, and we mailed them all together.
I still remember when my grandparents called after the letter arrived. They were thrilled, and I was glowing with pride. Now, my grandparents have been married for over 50 years, they have 7 children and 23 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren. My grandmother’s health is declining faster than we are emotionally prepared for, and I am more grateful for them than ever.
Nearly every year since then, I have written a letter of gratitude to someone. Some years it was a quick email to a friend, while others I went all out and mailed stationary across the country. In these letters, I don’t just write THAT I am thankful, I get to tell them WHY I am thankful and tell them stories of times when they impacted my life in ways they may have never known.
This year, I’m committing to writing three letters: One to a family member, one to a close friend, and one to a feminine leader whose work inspires me.
I wonder if you will join me this year in spreading love and thanks through written word. Maybe it’s an email to your dad or a handwritten card to your sister who lives farther away than you’d like. Maybe you will pick three people, too. To start, decide who you want to thank this year. Make a list of all the things you want to say – it doesn’t need to be pretty yet. Go back, identify the most important pieces from your long list, and then begin writing. Write as if that person is standing before you and you are saying these words directly to them. Feel their smile with every kind word, and their heartache with every difficult memory. Think how it would feel to receive this kind of letter, to know for certain how loved you are by those you hold dear.
In these times of darkness and turmoil, we yearn for ways to fill our lives with love and hope. Every day the news bombards us and takes our attention to the dark tale of last night’s crimes, this week’s celebrity scandal, and the latest political garbage. But your attention is perhaps your most valuable resource in becoming a lightworker, and you must protect it with intention. By sharing your gratitude in these letters, you will fill two hearts – and one will be your own.