I love to receive cards in the mail and I am incredibly picky about choosing them for others. For standard holidays or birthdays, I start hunting very early, in several stores, to make sure I find the best one for the person in mind. If I find one that’s perfect, but out of season, I stash it in a hiding place for a future appearance. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with finding the best card that fits my aesthetic demands and contains an appropriate greeting, with bonus points for color coordination with wrapping paper.
Sometimes, sniffing out the right card is really difficult. Purported humorous cards usually aren’t and I refuse to buy anything that blasts a song at me like a handheld MySpace page. My least favorite cards usually involve many layers to open up, piles of glitter, or a 20-line poem dripping with sap. I automatically reject cards on the basis of Too Many Words.
This week, I faced my biggest card-searching challenge: the sympathy card. The father of our college friend passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, while at his son’s college graduation weekend. Our friend is getting married in two months and the whole situation is just indescribably sad. They don’t make cards with that much sympathy.
Instead, I have to choose from sanctimonious, preachy cardboard rectangles with watercolor images of lilies and butterflies, reassuring us that memories live on forever. Is my friend supposed to feel better by seeing curly script in the form of, “You’re not alone,” even if she feels like she’s alone? I need the card that says, “I’m so sorry and I know there’s nothing I can say that will be right, but I’m going to hope that saying something will help, even just a little bit.” Unfortunately, that one wouldn’t sell so well next to the card depicting a calming ocean scene.
Finally, I found a simple blue card that read, “Caring thoughts of sympathy are with you now.” Oh, relief. In times when words fall so short of the occasion, it’s not about the number of feel-good phrases or pretty packaging. I just wanted a place where I can write a line to let our friend know that we’re thinking about her. I’m glad that it’ll be on its way tomorrow morning.