At seven years old, she traveled our quarter-mile neighborhood with printed articles from the Encarta 97 CD-ROM.
She towed a red Radio Flyer wagon with a thick black metal handle, the stapled papers stuck together and flying about whenever the wagon rocketed down the hill.
She went from door to door like that, asking our neighbors if somebody might buy an article for a school project or some light reading over breakfast. When asked why she was doing this, she only hrumphed and blew her straight bangs out of her eyes and told them what’d happened.
She’d knocked her mother’s favorite vase to the ground, running into the end table atop which it sat. And now, she was 70 dollars in the red, trying to figure out how she might pay for her mistake.
It has become one of those stories, the ones we carry with ourselves when we forget where we came from and wonder how we’ll ever maintain that same level of ownership over our mistakes. How we’ll rectify situations gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Now, that wagon sits in our shed, collecting dust and termite holes and spider webs. The CD-ROM has long been tossed in favor of Wikipedia’s instant answers.
Now, she has learned to Google her problems before ever stepping foot onto that white concrete and trudging up the slow, lazy incline behind our house.
And so have we. So have I. So have you.
We have mastered the art of the non-apology, the half-hearted I’m Sorrys that sprinkle themselves liberally atop everyone else’s payback sundaes. We double the scoop size, ask for extra whipped cream, beg for a little more hot fudge.
But never, oh never, do we mark out thank-you notes for the ones who forgave us. Never do we spend six hours selling words, even if they are someone else’s words, to make our thankfulness more clear.
For twenty-two years, I could write you a thank-you note, but it wouldn’t be for you so much as Anyone, Anyone At All who asked for one.
And then, this winter, I learned. I started small, with the people I knew I could write to, the ones who were long overdue. And then it grew harder. The ones I’d been avoiding, the ones I knew deserved it but couldn’t find the words.
I did not write a hundred or two hundred or three thousand. But I wrote twenty-three. And those twenty-three people made my heart swell with their gratitude. They were my life-changers, my world-shakers, my biggest supporters.
And yet I had met only a handful of them face-to-face. Had shaken only a few of their hands. Had cried on several shoulders.
What a beautiful world we live in, where we can scour Wikipedia for every answer and never have to cart a wagon full of paper around in apology. What a sad world we live in, where we never have to write a real thank-you note.
The world needs more of them. Hannah Katy will tell you that. And so will hundreds of others. Hundreds who have felt the tears streaming down their faces when they get a letter in return. Who have spent half the afternoon sobbing over the kindness of someone they haven’t hugged in far too long.
If you are searching for your answer, your moment of gratitude, it is this—a pen and a piece of paper and a postage stamp.
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