Wright Words: Open letter to the woman in seat 5D: Thank you for the gift

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Dear woman in seat 5D:

On Nov. 11, we flew together on Delta from Salt Lake City to St. George in southern Utah. Before we’d left the ground, I’d already learned you were heading to visit your husband for the weekend. He’s been out of town managing a construction project and you miss him terribly. This has been the first significant time you've spent apart during your long, happy marriage.

As we slowly taxied along, my mind drifted from the small talk to my own troubles and to my own sour attitude. I realized that by the end of my current trip through Bryce Canyon, Vegas and Phoenix, I will have been on the road 39 of the past 65 days. It’s gotten so bad that after last week’s trip to Vermont, my 4-year-old introduced himself at the front door.

That’s the attitude I packed into my carry-on. My bag was so heavy, I’m surprised I wasn't charged a baggage fee.

You pulled a novel from your purse shortly after liftoff. It was an unfamiliar title and author and you sheepishly offered that you’d bought it because it was on sale and you needed a new book. I laughed and told you not to worry; it would probably be a fast, entertaining read.

You agreed but didn’t open the cover. Instead, we launched into a conversation about books. “Who do you like to read?” I asked.

Your first answer was an author I’m not very familiar with. Your second? Yeah, I know that guy.

“I love Jason Wright’s books,” you said. “I’ve read them all.”

I tried not to smile so big you could see my tonsils. You didn’t gasp, so I’ll assume you couldn’t.

“All of them?” I asked.

“Every one. But my favorite is 'Christmas Jars.'”

I extended my hand, introduced myself and put an end to the awkward exchange. The fact that I don’t remember your name is a complete embarrassment. But the 45 minutes we spent chatting was a gift.

I discovered that not only did you enjoy the book, you’ve put the tradition to work in your family. You’ve given away a jar anonymously every year since the book’s release in 2005. You shared a few of your experiences, including the nervous moments your family felt when one of your recipients shared her miracle in front of everyone during church. I love that when you relayed the story, you flushed with embarrassment all over again.

You told me you heard that one of your Christmas Jars, given through a mutual friend, had been a direct answer to a family’s prayers for help. We agreed how much positive feedback energizes us for the next year and the next jar. Later, you listened so sweetly as I described a few of my own family’s experiences giving away Christmas Jars through the years.

We landed and shook hands again and you disappeared across the terminal. I hadn’t even started my rental car before the questions began. Had I thanked you for being such a loyal reader? Had I expressed my gratitude that you’ve carried on the tradition?

Most importantly, had I asked you if you have any sense how much good you’ve done in the world? Looking back, I suppose I really didn’t have to wonder. I already knew I hadn’t.

Next month, my family will give away our annual jar. When we do, I’ll think of you and the delicious reminder that the book doesn’t change lives; jars do.

In truth, I still miss my family and I still can’t wait to get home. But you, my dear friend in seat 5D, reminded me why it all matters.

I promise that if we ever meet again, I will not forget your name. I also won’t forget to thank you for being a member of the Christmas Jars community.

To share your own Christmas Jar miracle or to be added to the national map of Christmas Jar participants, visit christmasjars.com. Jason F. Wright can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or jasonfwright.com

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