“I always thought every day was a gift,
but now I am looking for where to send the thank you note.”
~ Randy Pausch
In recent years, I’ve cultivated a reputation for writing “the best thank you notes.” Those are not my words, just a five word summary that has been repeated back to me many times by the recipients. My beloved clinician, Amber (read: Fly Robin), for example, wrote me after receiving the thank you letter, “I don’t know that I have words that suffice… it’s a gentle touch on the heart that one does not forget.” When I gave L.G. a note thanking him for dinner and a movie trivia book, he told me that was the moment he knew he wanted to be more than just my friend (read: L.G.). Now who in their right mind, doesn’t want to be that person — the one who gently touches someone’s heart in a way they’ll never forget? Sign me up! Again and again. I even wrote legendary actress/comedian, Carol Burnett, a thank you note a few years ago (read: So Long). Funny, she never wrote back. (Hey Carol, are you listening? hint-hint-wink-wink.) When I turned 50, I gifted my grandmother with a thank you note, “I just don’t know what to say,” she mumbled over the phone. She peacefully passed away a year-and-a-half later.
I’ve been writing thank you notes since I was a kid. It was required duty that had been instilled by my mother. They weren’t the same, but it did help lay a future foundation which I am grateful for today. My notes today come 100% from the heart, not an ordered directive. I always choose to hand-write thank you notes whenever possible. For me, it feels more personal, more intimate, more vulnerable, genuine, and honest. Plus there’s a keepsake for the recipient with a hand-written note. Today, I sent another one; it’s been a bucket list item for me, something that took 41 years to do…
My name is Shannon M. O’Regan. In the mid 1970’s I attended Adolph Link School in Elk Grove Village, IL. You, sir, were my 6th grade teacher.
I was only your student for 3/4 of a year as my family moved away before the school year ended. I was devastated and heartbroken to leave. The subsequent three years, a pivotal and sensitive time for every adolescent, was emotionally challenging. Those details are not necessary here. What is important, is how that short time in your classroom stuck with me. Today, at 52 years old, you remain one of a handful of educators who made a lasting impression on me and my life. You’ve never left my mind and heart. What’s so exceptional here, is that our acquaintanceship was so short-lived, yet so permanent.
Dr. Bill, you had the unique ability, a gift, so early in your career to see your students from the inside out. That was my very experience with you. You once said to my mother, (paraphrasing) ‘Shannon is a beautiful person inside, but the shell is so thick and hard to penetrate.’ I remember always wondering: How did you know? How could you tell? On my last report card from you, you wrote, “Shannon has shown some real improvement… I wish she could feel free to open up those inner feelings verbally instead of expressing them in poems.”
While doing research to send you this letter, I learned you are man of devout faith. I hope you welcome this letter from the space of gratitude and love from which it is intended. Thank you for your dedicated career to education. I can only imagine the impact you’ve made on all the students who’ve passed through your classrooms over the last three-plus decades.
Thank you, from the center of my heart. It was you, who first cracked my shell. While I did not become a poet, I do enjoy reading meaningful ones. I’m grateful to you, Dr. Armosky, for being an early catalyst who helped me have the courage to open up those inner feelings verbally — mission accomplished.
I was eleven when I met Bill Armosky (now Dr. Bill, with a doctorate in education). I did not write this thank you note for me, the SMO you know. I wrote it for him, on behalf of that 11-year-old who couldn’t articulate how much he meant to her. How sad she was to leave his class. How much she missed him when she left. How appreciative (and relieved) she was that he saw potential in her, and held faith he might make a difference. I wanted him to know he was successful with her, though it took time, she continued (and continues) to make real improvement.
Before she met him, the path was daunting: there were three different schools, two different dads, three towns, and four houses, abuse, neglect, and chaos. Uproots occurred at each exchange and with each uproot, an internal brick of ice was anchored in place. She built an emotional igloo to self-protect from getting too close — to anyone — or revealing too much of herself, her sensitivity, her beauty, because she was going to quickly go away anyway. Why bother.
In the three years after they met and said good-bye, there were four more schools, another dad, two more towns and three more houses and the walls of the igloo only grew more densely layered before they were able to begin to melt.
This letter needed to be written and sent; it was something that has been inside me to do since Bill and I parted ways in 1975. I had to do it, I knew it was right. As my dad likes to say, “You know when you know.” I also knew regret lingered in the shadow of my life if I didn’t. I don’t want regret shadows loitering around my life anymore. I acted on faith, blind faith, not exclusively sight (Hebrews 11:1). At first, I thought I’d make contact via email or social media to confim I had the right guy – direct from him. Then Spiritual forces shut down the “easy” routes: Bill’s not consistently active on social media, and the email I tracked was rejected. All roads kept leading to a mailing address — the same mailing address. I trusted that and went with it, surrendering to paper, pen and a stamp. Throwing my nervous-need of confirmation first into the wind, I wrote it in 10 minutes and mailed it with no attachment to what happens next. All I know is I followed through after 41 years and did it. I’m grateful for that.
Sometimes I think we give gratitude more generic lip service than we do actual heart action. I took heart to my hand, hand to pen to paper and feet to the mail box. It’s never too late to directly express big gratitude, because I know it’s never too late to say, Thank You. I hope this thank you note makes his day. I have no need for confirmation; my heart (and experience) says, yes, it will.