Once, a friend returned from a trip to Italy and brought me a pencil. She pulled it out of the bag, and handed it to me, unwrapped.
“It’s just a thought,” she said, as I turned it over in my hand. It was a singular pencil, made of wood and wrapped in elegantly patterned turquoise, white and black Florentine paper. I brought it home and put it on my desk.
Twenty five years later it’s still there, in a San Marzano tomato can that does double duty as a colored pencil holder. And every day in the ensuing years, each time I look at that pencil, I smile. I am reminded that someone thought of me, however briefly, however far away, and marked that “thought” with a token.
I’m big on “thoughts.” Until my friend used that particular word, I really didn’t have a name for the impulse, the effort, or the act of thinking of someone else while I went about the business of my life. Now I do, and I try, as often as I can, to mark that thought in a meaningful way.
Take it from me. We’ve all gotten into the very bad habit of letting popular culture dictate our enactment of “having a thought” for us. We act on birthdays, Christmas, weddings, graduations, all of the usual experiences that have given birth to clichéd Hallmark moments. Me, I’m for making my own moments. And having my own thoughts. And marking them as I choose to. Hallmark and the calendar be damned.
Since the “pencil” moment, I’ve tried to mark the occasions when I’m thinking of someone. One year, I made challah bread (yes, challah bread) for Thanksgiving. I made a few extra loaves and delivered them to friends on the day before with unpasteurized honey and salted butter. Another, I collected handfuls of the fresh herbs from my garden, tied them in twine, and passed them out at yoga, to my friends who join me often on the mat.
When my high school senior son asked three over-burdened teachers and his guidance counselor to write a last minute recommendation for him (“Yeah, sorry, it’s due Friday”) he took a page from my book. By heaping an additional recommendation upon the several hundred they were already writing, he realized they were expending extra effort on his behalf. In return, he made them cookies. Not just any cookies. Mammoth chocolate chunk cookies. It was a simple, thoughtful gesture to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me.”
During the holidays, the self-consciousness that seems to overshadow these spontaneous demonstrations of affection wanes. Yesterday, the doorbell rang. To my surprise, my friend Kate’s husband, John, was behind the glass.
“Hi,” he said. “Kate sent this by for you.”
He presented me with a small bag and a card. We chatted, had a hug, and I went inside, impatient to discover what it contained. To my surprise, I found two lovely hand painted wooden Christmas ornaments. Oh, you say, that’s not a thought, that’s a holiday gift. Perhaps. But when you learn what the ornaments are, I think you’ll change your mind.
Under all that white tissue paper, a miniature plump pink prosciutto and a creamy white provolone, like the ones that hang in salumerie all over Italy, emerged. A sweet note confirmed that, it is, in fact, the thought that counts. Kate sent these special tokens to mark the first year of Morso Soggiorno, my immersive food travel business. Now, every time I look at them, I’ll think of Kate and her excitement for me. They’ll have a place of honor in my kitchen twelve months of the year.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying it’s always a good time, the right time, the best time, to let the people you care about know you care for them. Any small gesture will do. A pencil, a prosciutto, a provolone….un pensiero. A thought.
“The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.” –Thomas Jefferson.