Sometimes I stumble upon the right thing at the right time. Most recently that right thing was photographs and that right time was the pandemic.
In the early days of working from home, I scanned through old photographs I might use for a current project. The photographs included ones I took during trips in the United States and abroad. They also featured friends and family.
Without giving it much thought, I downloaded photos I had taken over the years of the children of my longtime friends Julianne and Eric. For the next month, I e-mailed two or three of the photos to Julianne each morning. I simply labeled each e-mail: Photos for the day.
What began accidently evolved into a daily practice that brought unexpected joy. The photos themselves were filled with joy—a twelve-year-old Nathan with a huge smile, the twins’ celebrating their first birthday. But on a daily basis the photos also reminded me of countless other joyful moments I’ve shared with these friends—from holidays to hikes, from meals to museum visits. They also offered a concrete way to connect with these California-based friends at a time of limited personal connection.
The accidental practice soon evolved in another way. This time the evolution was more intentional.
Last year I spent a portion of Holy Week at Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine community in Hingham, Massachusetts. It was such a meaningful experience that I hoped to repeat it this year. But even before the pandemic, I realized that returning to the abbey wouldn’t be possible because of commitments with congregations at home.
When I learned the abbey would livestream its Holy Week services, it felt like a gift. On Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday for my Glastonbury friends) I was set to join the monks for a service of foot washing and the Lord’s supper.
Then I received an e-mail from a retired pastor in our region. Earlier that week I had dropped off a tablet that I hoped would make it possible for her to join Zoom meetings. Now she wondered if I could talk her through using the tablet.
My calendar had an opening at 6:00 p.m. I was sure I could call her and still be finished in time to join the Maundy Thursday service.
An hour into the phone call it became clear that the livestreamed service would begin without me. It also probably would end without me.
I’m lucky to have people in my life who send great thank-you notes.
Andrea is the thirty-something daughter of good friends. For almost
a quarter of a century, I’ve loved finding note cards addressed to
“K Palen” in my mailbox. Her notes are funny and often a bit snarky, and they remind me of the smart and talented person who wrote them.
Mia and James are the teenage-age twins of another set of good friends. Their early thank-you notes were crayon drawings or messages dictated to their mom. The notes they send now continue to be as different as the two of them are. Mia’s notes include details and warmth, while James’ are a bit more formal in the way that adolescent boys sometimes write. (I love when he signs his first and last name just in case I don’t which James it might be.)
Juanita is the newest addition to my band of great senders of thanks. She’s a centenarian who actually sends thank-you letters rather than notes. In beautifully petite script, she writes about her life—both in the retirement center she now calls home and during her days growing up on a farm or raising her children or sharing in her late husband’s ministry. Her letters remind me how alive someone can be at any age.
But it’s a different note that’s been in my thoughts over the past couple of months. The envelope had a Colorado return address that didn’t ring any bells. But everything on the envelope was handwritten, so it didn’t appear to be junk mail.