A Thanksgiving letter from a stranger

Sock Monkey in Vegas

Sock monkey in Vegas (a second home to me), thanks to my sister. Thanks also to NN, and JM.

Some dear friends of mine who I keep in touch with primarily on facebook have been reading my blog (aww, thank you!). When one friend (bless his heart, and that’s somethin’, from an atheist)  suggested that all my facebook Friends (I capitalize facebook Friends to distinguish them from just friends) should contribute $25 to my book-writing seed fund, I thanked him for his faith in my abilities, but pleaded that please, nobody should send me any money. Writing a book is no way to make a living, and besides, half of my Friends are in the same boat I am. Then within a week, two Friends asked for my address. Of course, I guessed that they liked my other Friend’s idea and they wanted to send me money. I LOVE THESE GUYS. Do I have generous, amazing friends, or what? But I didn’t give them my address.

So it’s time to explain why I don’t want people to send me money. There are so many reasons why. First, it would take a lot more money than I could raise from my facebook Friends to support two people in the highfalutin’ lifestyle to which we have become accustomed (we have a refrigerator) while I write a book. Let’s see, $25 times 200 (half my facebook Friends) is $5K. That would pay my expenses for, hmmm…about two months. And the book would make…hmm…about $5K if I’m really lucky. How long would it take me to write a book? Hmm…about 6 to 12 months I think, if everything went smoothly. So…you see the problem. Writing a book is just not a value proposition. It’s a luxury. Even $5K wouldn’t give me that luxury at the moment. And besides, I’m no J.K. Rowling. I can’t make up a story for the life of me. I can only tell my own, which isn’t all that fantastic. Plus, most people are struggling to stay within a budget, to manage consumer debt and student loans. Everyone is grappling with the crappy global economy, …and I don’t want anyone to go into debt to help me out of my debt, y’know? There are other reasons, but that’s really a big one.

So imagine my surprise when I retrieved my mail today and found a thick envelope, hand addressed, from Raleigh, NC. I didn’t recognize the address, but at first glance, I saw the word “Church” in the return address and thought…hmm…maybe someone reading my blog has decided this atheist needs some churchin’. They’re sending me a little New Testament, or some Watchtower materials.

Then I noticed the letter wasn’t specifically from a church, it was from an address, well, let’s call it “XYZ Church Road” in Raleigh. I don’t know anyone in Raleigh. At least, not currently. I slashed open the envelope, and found two pieces of cardboard taped around a handwritten letter and a holiday WalMart gift card.

Here’s what it said:

Dear Valerie,

Please accept this gift in the spirit of the season, and use it to make sure that you and your son have a merry Christmas.

And please maintain your spirit of hope that things will get better for you, because they will. Your positive attitude is one of your best assets when times are tough like this.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year in 2012.

A friend

Just want you to know, new friend, that this made me weep profusely. Thanks for that. I had to redo my mascara. And it makes me weep again every time I read it. I’m tempted to frame the letter, but I ripped it in two with my letter opener. And anyway I can’t afford a frame. I’ll tape it back together and keep it, for sure. I’m tempted to send back the WalMart gift card, which says it’s worth $100, because I have your address, and I could do that. But…I thought about it, talked to my closest friends about it, and…well, I really do want to use it to have a better Christmas. I might buy myself a frame.

I just want you to know that you are indeed someone I would love to call my friend. You are an amazing, generous, trusting person. And a little more resourceful than my other Friends for finding my address, which you got correct, by the way (just kidding, Friends. You checked with me first and that is infinitely better! I’d rather spend time with you in person and you can pick up my extensive martini tab). I can only hope that my new friend is really in a place where that money will not be missed. Like, I hope you didn’t steal it. You didn’t steal it, did you? Does Raleigh have a Wall Street?

I have to confess that I also received an anonymous gift of holiday Visa gift cards in the mail in 2009 when I told my story of my first visit to the food pantry to friends on Christmas eve. I think I know who it was from; with a central MA postmark, it came wrapped in Santa stationery that said we had been very good this year, ho ho ho! To that person, to that family–I know it was you guys (I didn’t tell that many people)–we can’t thank you enough. I was profoundly moved, as was my son. I have also been lucky enough to have been gifted with numerous non-anonymous donations that saved my ass more than once in the last four years. From my dear family, from my closest, longest friends, as well as from friends I only know a little. But I didn’t have a blog then. I could only thank them with a thank-you note and an oblique mention on facebook.

It’s not just the money that is so profoundly moving. It’s the kindnesses. The gestures. That lady I didn’t know handing me that gift basket on Christmas eve, the innumerable times my sister has flown me to visit her in Nevada, the invitations, the sentiments, the encouragement, the understanding from friends, family, and strangers. It all adds up to one helluva support structure. I’m so very thankful. If I added up all the checks and gifts I’ve received…no, I couldn’t, it’s too much. Too much to ever pay back except in kindness, and in saying, simply, “THANK YOU. THANK YOU.” I can only hope I can pay it forward someday. But for now, I’m just thankful. THANK YOU.


7 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving letter from a stranger

  1. Hi, really loving the design of your website. Would you mind if I asked you what theme youre making use of here? I’m new to this, but I’m hoping to have mine looking nearly as cool as yours. Thanks a lot.

  2. I agree — friends, and people, are amazingly generous… especially when we least expect it! 🙂 I have a related story I will post in a separate comment…

    But, first, I really believe, as a fellow under-employed person, that attitude really is everything! In 2009, when I first told my mother and grandmother that I was going to give up my apartment and live with a different friend each week, my mom cried and my grandma commended me (it reminded her of the Great Depression — and how people came out of that, so I would be okay, too)… and even though (like you) my job assignments waver (short-term temp jobs, longer-term ones, etc.), I am just fine. Happy!

    Great story to share with us, thank you!

  3. My other comment is that I had a similar thing happen… A few years ago, I had moved from L.A. to a ski resort in Northern California to make money for a few months… and then they had a snow drought, so my hours suddenly went to under ten a week! I could not afford to stay there, so had to go back to L.A. and thought I would have to give up my apartment. The night before, I had read the “Money” chapter of The Secret… where you should envision that the bills you get in the mail are checks to you, etc… When I returned to L.A. the next day and went through my stack of bills, rehearsing my “I have to move out” speech for my roommates, one of the envelopes was from an old boss of mine with a belated Christmas card — and a check for the exact amount of my rent. Like you, I was brought to tears… (and was able to keep my apartment… for a while, anyway…)

    So miracles do happen. People care! 🙂 Glad you and I have such people in our lives… (I could not do my current couch-surfing-through-L.A. without them!)

    • Thank you for sharing that story–I hope you’re writing about it! If you are, please share a link if it’s a blog for others to check out. It’s amazing that you have so many friends just in LA!

  4. Hi Natalia,
    I just wanted to say here that I found your blog, 52Weeks52Couches. It was easy because it’s all over Google! I saw it featured on CNN Money online! WOW! Congratulations and I hope your plan to write a book pays off for you in ways that I never expect my (non)plan to.

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