Last week, I turned 31. Age doesn’t bother me much, mainly because I still feel young and because I know I am loved. I have found that this second, sappy-sounding factor goes a long way in securing youthfulness – and I’m not talking just about romantic love, but dog-love, friend-love, God-love, whatever sort of love comes around.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of a birthday gift my husband gave me. We went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, and when we sat down in the booth he brought out a fat stack of envelopes and put them on the table. APK is one of the funnest and/or most mischievous people I know; in the seven years we’ve been together, he’s taken me on scavenger hunts, stumped me with riddles that lead to great surprises and planned curiously creative Mega-Dates (a term he coined).
So – I was intrigued, but not surprised, to see a stack of envelopes in front of me on the dinner table. There were thirty-one in all. APK explained that instead of writing me a note in a birthday card, he’d decided that it would be more fun if he wrote down thirty-one things he admired about me on individual sheets of paper and sealed them in individual envelopes and let me open them one at a time.
This may be one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten, and I still haven’t even opened all the envelopes. Some of the messages APK wrote down for me are romantic, but not all of them. Many of them are empowering compliments, compliments that remind me to rest and be who I am, or to write what I want to write, or to remember, simply, that I am loved. I put the notes and envelopes in a box, and it’s like the box is filled with magic. When I am tired or grumpy, or when I stop believing in myself, or when I wish someone were around to say something nice to me, I pull out the notes and my day is at least incrementally better, if not turned around completely. I think I’m going to decorate my office with a few of them.
I wish everyone had a box like this; in fact, I think everyone should. People don’t offer others sincere compliments often enough.
After my graduation from college I went on a road trip out West with two good friends, ML and CF. Somewhere between Wenatchee, Washington and Redding, California, we started playing “The Compliment Game.” The Compliment Game’s objective was to make everyone in the car feel great, to tell each person encouraging things we’d heard other individuals say about them, but that they’d never heard directly.
One friend might have told me how great CF’s witty sense of humor is, for example, or what a calming presence ML has in times of crisis, but the compliments never quite made it to the intended recipient. For almost an hour, we connected the dots, making quick work of a long drive and forming one of the two-week trip’s more memorable moments. I don’t even remember now what compliments were offered to me then, but I remember feeling totally surprised by them, as if I’d just opened a little envelope made out, especially, to me.
Giving people compliments can be a difficult thing to do, especially if the recipient isn’t someone you know well. Doing so requires humility, a willingness to be somewhat vulnerable, and an intrinsic belief in one’s self. But it’s also life-giving and can therefore be addictive – kind of like a service project that only requires you to be sincere.
2 thoughts on “31”
I think one of the reasons I love your writing so much is that it sounds like mine, even in sentiment. I started to just glance and leave some twitty comment like, “oooh! cake! happy birthday!” But your writing kept me reading, and I love hearing about your hilarious and sweet husband. A was the highlight of the residencies.
I used to do an entire lesson on compliments. One of the greatest things you can write is a letter of appreciation. I just wrote one to RCA. They replaced my DVD player, free of charge, and I wrote to tell them that they have placed their brand above the rest, and I will recommend them to others for their service.
I once wrote a thank-you letter to Levenger, the fabulous, chic writers’ supplies store (brief cases, pens, papers, etc.). I told them how nice it was that they packaged their items as if they were gifts to me. Even their invoice was in a silver-trimmed envelope, as if it were a card to me. They sent an e-mail saying that it made their day. They get so many complaints that they passed this around the office, and everyone felt good. That made me feel great!
A week later, I got a box of free page points (I told them that even if I became poor, I’d always use their page points!). A few weeks later, I got a bill for the page points! I wrote them a polite note, and they apologized. The owner of the company sent me his book—on my birthday—with a note in the front saying good luck with my MFA. How nice is that?!?!
It’s a long way to say I agree with you. I bet you knew that. I am tough to please, but when I am, I ALWAYS say so. It’s important.
You’re a damned good writer.
Oh, and mmm…cake! Happy birthday!