Am I too late in saying thanks?
April 24, 2010 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Someone made a small, kind gesture to me years ago. It was just a few kind words but it meant a lot at the time. Do I email him and thank him? Or is that too weird?

Many years ago I was in church and feeling depressed and upset. A priest stopped near me and said a few kind words. It was an insignificant event for him, but at the time I was touched that he took the time to notice me and say something nice.

Now, years later, I'm an educator and I try to remember the effects a kind word can have. I make a point of giving praise and encouragement to my students because it might be the only positive thing they hear all day.

I remember the priest's name, and can email him through the archdiocese. My question is, should I? If you've had someone contact you years later about something you did that you don't even remember, were you touched, or was it just awkward? I feel like I should let him know that his act of kindness inspired many more acts of kindness, but I don't want to make him feel awkward because the incident was so insignificant that he probably doesn't even remember it.

Thanks!
posted by christinetheslp to Human Relations (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Please let him know. I am sure that he would be thrilled.
posted by typewriter at 1:17 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do it. Absolutely. It's never too late to say thank you.
posted by keever at 1:17 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it would be delightful to hear from someone many years later that I had made an impact upon there life. By all means tell him what you have told us. It is a great gesture.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2010


I do this often, it seems to be appreciated.
posted by jessamyn at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2010


Do it.
posted by amro at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2010


I'd say email him. When I was a teacher, I had a class talk to me about a tangent I spent on submarines in my physics class. I have no memory of this, but was really pleased by how they remembered it and were still excited about it.

Thanks are almost never unwelcome.
posted by Hactar at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2010


It just may be that right now, he could use a kind word.

The world isn't running short on kindness or on thank-yous. I'd definitely email him. He may not remember, but at least he'll know that he made a difference.
posted by Houstonian at 1:20 PM on April 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


I think he would appreciate it. After all, the point of a good priest is to help people who are in need of spiritual solace. He'd probably like knowing that he was successful in your case, even if he doesn't remember the incident.

You're an educator; if, years from now, a student you don't remember contacts you to say that your words of encouragement meant a lot to them, how would you feel? Probably just happy to know you made a difference.

Go for it!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:24 PM on April 24, 2010


Sure, do it.
posted by fixedgear at 1:25 PM on April 24, 2010


I don't think sincere gratitude is ever weird.
posted by chicago2penn at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2010


Thanks! A similar situation happened to me once, and I was left feeling awkward ("Is she sure that was me? Did I really say that? I don't remember that at all. Now I've gone and forgotten this touching moment. Man!").

But then again, I always feel awkward, so I guess my opinion is the outlier!
posted by christinetheslp at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2010


I once had a student send a grateful email to me (for a tiny, tiny thing - in my mind)......four years after I'd had him in class! Needless to say, the email is printed out, saved in 9,000,000 different places, and on my flash drive. definitely do it!
posted by lucky25 at 1:31 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's selfish and arrogant to think that he's gonna remember something he said to one person "many years ago."

However, it sounds like you feel it altered your life's course, which is the most important part. It also sounds like you have done exactly what he would want- paying it forward.

My thought would be, instead of thanking him in a sort of meaningless way for something that happened years ago that only has significance for you, to give back in some meaningful way.

If you are in the same area, go back and volunteer. If not, well, volunteer anyway.

Though, it sounds to me like you are already doing exactly what you should be doing- giving back to people who need you most.
posted by TheBones at 1:31 PM on April 24, 2010


He may not remember the event, but you can describe it, particularly the part about having been depressed and how his kind words impacted you. I'm sure it will not be awkward at all, in fact will please him to hear that he helped bring light to assuage your darkness. He is a clergyman, after all.

I am the type to be moved by the tiniest, most seemingly insignificant kindnesses. Were I to receive an e-mail thanking me for some small thing years after the event, I would be quite thrilled. I just recently lost my mother, and every phone call, card, and e-mail I've gotten (some with misspelled one-liners from barely literate neighbors and acquaintances) has moved me tremendously. Every single one will be personally acknowledged and thanked.
posted by RRgal at 1:37 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Be sure to include the part about how you pass on that kindness every day, I bet that will mean the most to him.
posted by raisingsand at 1:46 PM on April 24, 2010


Be sure to include the part about how you pass on that kindness every day, I bet that will mean the most to him.
Agreed entirely. I mean, I think he'll be happy to know that he helped you in a time of need, but I think he'll be much happier to know that for his own kindness, you now try to be kinder. I think that's what we all want, really. To have kindness be an infectious force of good. So even if it's awkward and weird, just do it.

For what it's worth, 12 years after the fact I looked up my first grade teacher and send her an email detailing various successes in my life, and how I traced a lot of my positive traits to the love and care she showed me when I was a (very difficult!) first grader. I know it put her in tears. A lot of people who live their lives trying to help others are often disconnected from the good they do... obviously, that doesn't mean they shouldn't do it, but it's definitely nice when they have a chance to see the tree that grew from the sapling. I know friends have told me after the fact "it was really nice that you said x" or "it was really nice that you did y" and it's nice to know that just being you isn't so bad.
posted by wooh at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you've had someone contact you years later about something you did that you don't even remember, were you touched, or was it just awkward?

I can't imagine a nicer contact out of the blue. The fact that you're still remembering it means it was very important to you, and communicating that to him matters. Do it, pronto.

He probably has down days, too, and a little note from you might be just the thing to make his week. Or month. I think it might actually mean more to him if he doesn't remember it, because it'll be a reminder that even the smallest gesture can have a large impact.

One suggestion, though? Don't email. Write him a note on a small card and snailmail it. It might just end up in his mementos drawer.
posted by Malor at 2:06 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you asked this. Reading all the responses you've received has convinced me that perhaps I could do the same for some of my past teachers who really made a difference. It seems to me that even if your priest does not remember the specific act of kindness that touched you years ago, he would remember generally that he has done these kinds of things for people, so for him to hear about it from you would not be awkward at all. I agree with Malor that a handwritten note might be even more special for him.
posted by datarose at 2:33 PM on April 24, 2010


Do it. On paper if possible. It'll be welcome whether he remembers or not.
posted by amery at 2:37 PM on April 24, 2010


Nothing bad can possibly come of this. Do it. As others point out, paper is nice.
posted by number9dream at 2:52 PM on April 24, 2010


Absolutely send that thank you. I spoke yesterday with a friend about a guy who helped my ex-wife and I lo those long years ago; we were so broke, and moving back north after a disastrous Florida experience, we didn't even really know if we had enough gas money -- he gave us $100, which was a lot more then than it is now. (He didn't actually 'give' us the money, he bought a macrame plant hanger thing my ex had made. But everybody really knew it was a gift, and he was just covering to save our pride. A fine man. My ex and I used to sortof mock him, because he liked to play tennis; we were blue collar stock, tennis was for mopes as far as we were concerned. I don't even know his name. He had dark brown hair, loved to played tennis -- that's about all I know.) I'd love to be able to thank him, and I sortof have, as best I can; I've given that money on many times, not that I'm wealthy but this thing is short, it's best to give when you can.

You'll be giving him a large gift.

Early 1990's, I found a poem in a small literary magazine, and loved it, I saved it off for years, took it to intimate dinners, read it to lovers, shared it with friends; it's a beautiful poem and the poet really nailed the experience. When the internet came along I searched him out, and sent him an email telling him what I just told you, how much I loved it and how I'd shared it with others who were important in my life. He emailed back -- subject line in the email was "Time Bomb" -- he wrote back saying that it went off like a bomb in his life, totally blew him away, said it made not only his day but probably his week and would maybe make his year. And yeah, he was likely just being appreciative, or exuberant, or both, I doubt that it 'made his year' or whatever, but I don't doubt for an instant that he was glad I contacted him and told him what I did.

He was happy.

Life is short. This won't cost you a thing, might mean the world to this man. Go buy a nice card and get it in the mail.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:20 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just be aware that he probably doesn't remember, and acknowledge that. In my experience what makes it feel "weird" is when it's like "remember that time you X? That changed my life!" in a way that implies it was objectively a big deal. Then I feel bad about not remembering and not being able to talk about it.

Based on his position and your description of the situation, it's probably something he makes a habit of, and it's nice to have the habit confirmed even if you don't remember the specific instance.
posted by Lady Li at 4:47 PM on April 24, 2010


Many priests' calling goes beyond their Catholic faith; their profession extends to helping people. He'll be delighted to have served God by serving you.
posted by carmicha at 5:06 PM on April 24, 2010


I have had people contact me after years to thank me for something I said on several occasions. I usually didn't even remember the conversation, but the thank you has always touched me. I say do it.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:34 PM on April 24, 2010


You should absolutely contact him! I think we should always tell people the positive effects they've had on us. Life is short and the best part of it is when you manage to really connect with others. And I know I would love to read a followup here if you feel so inclined!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:47 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's selfish and arrogant to think that he's gonna remember something he said to one person "many years ago."

However, it sounds like you feel it altered your life's course, which is the most important part. It also sounds like you have done exactly what he would want- paying it forward.

My thought would be, instead of thanking him in a sort of meaningless way for something that happened years ago that only has significance for you, to give back in some meaningful way.


Wow. I completely disagree. Nothing the OP has said is "selfish" or "arrogant," and I think that's both harsh and unkind. Nor, I think, does the OP assume the priest will remember. Nor is a thank you "sort of meaningless." People in helping professions like to know that they've made a difference. And people in general? They like to be treated kindly and to be reminded that they can be positive forces for good in the world.

So thank him and keep offering similar kindnesses to the people you encounter. No need to choose one over the other.
posted by liketitanic at 6:05 PM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I second Malor. Send him a card, not an email.
posted by canine epigram at 6:06 PM on April 24, 2010


Just be aware that he probably doesn't remember, and acknowledge that. In my experience what makes it feel "weird" is when it's like "remember that time you X? That changed my life!" in a way that implies it was objectively a big deal. Then I feel bad about not remembering and not being able to talk about it.

That's what happened to me - a girl I went to school with said to me, "Remember when I was having a rough time that one time, and remember what you said to me?" And all I could respond with was, "Uh...no..."

So I did write to him, and in the first line I said that he'll have no idea who I was and no memory of our interaction, but that was okay. And then I described it briefly, thanked him, and said how it continues to affect my interactions with others.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:37 PM on April 24, 2010


I'm really glad you did this! I guarantee that he'll appreciate hearing it, even if he doesn't remember. I'm sure he does his work to make a difference in people's lives, too, and sometimes his profession can be a thankless job without a lot of positive feedback.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:46 PM on April 24, 2010


Many years ago I was in church and feeling depressed and upset. A priest stopped near me and said a few kind words. It was an insignificant event for him, but at the time I was touched that he took the time to notice me and say something nice.

This is the nature of pastoral work. There are very few moments when someone has a dramatic breakthrough in front of you; you just be as kind as you can and trust that sometimes you'll be in just the right place at just the right time.

I assure you he'll be gratified that he was able to do that for you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:35 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's what happened to me - a girl I went to school with said to me, "Remember when I was having a rough time that one time, and remember what you said to me?" And all I could respond with was, "Uh...no..."

This is really the nature of this sort of thing. When you said the thing, whatever it was, it turned out to be very meaningful to this one person and not so meaningful to you. So she remembers it and you don't. That's not of necessity awkward. You can respond with something like "No, I'm afraid I don't; it sounds like it had a great effect on you, could you refresh my memory?" and then you can hear her story.

I'm really shocked by the opinions here that a note saying "Thanks for that thing you said way back when, it meant a lot to me" could be anything but a good thing to do.
posted by chazlarson at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2010


i'm glad you did this. whether he remembers or no, it will hearten him. the small gesture often means more than we know -- on both sides.
posted by sdn at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2010


Will you update the thread if you hear anything?
posted by barnone at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2010


This reminds me of the positive side of my favorite F Scott Fitzgerald quotation:

"It isn't given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords."

I sent a note like this once to a former classmate and never heard back. I sent an apology on the same day, and that rekindled a long-lost friendship.

(And I don't regret sending the "thanks." I suspect he might not have remembered the incident, but I truly just wanted to thank him and let him know that he had made a difference.)
posted by troubleme at 4:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Always say thanks, no matter how belated.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:28 AM on April 26, 2010


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