About Sharon Schabel Kralik

I cannot further delay to report the tragic heartbreak that occurred in our family on July 6, 2013, when my former wife, Sharon Schabel Kralik, died.

Sharon’s passing came far too early. At 56, her life had never been easy, but it was about to get better. She had plans to remodel her condo, and was looking forward to spending time with her son at his new house at the beach. She was making plans to go to her nephew’s wedding. Then her motor skills suddenly deteriorated, and an MRI revealed aggressive and inoperable tumors throughout her brain.

When I first saw Sharon, she was dancing on a table at a party that a friend had swept me into in the spring of 1979. I could not take my eyes off her. Neither could anyone else. This picture of her was taken in the following years, as she undertook the work of her life, which was to be the mother of her two sons.

Sharon Schabel KralikThere was good cause for anger at the cruelty life so swiftly showed her just after Mothers’ Day, but the one person who most deserved to be angry was not. She showed no anger, only love. In battling her illness, Sharon was courageous, and absolutely uncomplaining to the end. For the last months of her life her beloved sons were with her at all times, and their devotion must have shown her the success of her life’s work in bringing them up. We knew that she felt the pain and knew the injustice of  her illness. Yet Sharon showed us an example of courage and endurance and tolerance for indignity and pain. She was welcoming to all who came to see her. Loving and forgiving to all. Even me.

What people like Sharon supply the world is not achievement or wealth, but what the world needs more and values too little, unquestionable, and unquestioning love. And that is of so much more value. As St. Paul said. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Sharon had love, and Sharon’s love was truly something.

Here is a link to her obituary in the L.A. Times.

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Completing the Journey

I am dealing with heartbreak in my family these days. On some days, we give our heartbreak a name. That name is cancer. When we are trying to accept that it is more powerful than mere mankind, we give it a larger, Latinate name. In fact, the tumors have a collection of dominant Latinate names. In the end, we are told there is nothing we can do.

It is one of those tragedies caused by the kind of powerful, unknowable forces from which one can claim complete independence. In an action at law, it would be acknowledged as a superseding, independent cause of the damages and sorrow it leaves in its wake. We are told that we were powerless to prevent it. And yet it is one of those things for which one feels responsible, in an irrefutable way, for the role one has played in the drama that end this way.

I have been continually bothered by the fact that I have not answered all of the wonderful letters I have received from readers. In fact, I have not yet opened all of them. Something has always intervened. For the better part of this year, I have been overcome by my day-to-day workload. As I tried to set aside several days to devote to the task, this latest tragedy intervened, leaving me casting about for tiny ways to be helpful, largely undertaken for the purpose of making myself feel better when I had no right to feel better, but again leaving me with no time to answer my readers.

As noted in the afterword to the paperback edition of the book, many times people were writing to me as the first or one of the first letters they were sending out on their own journey to write 365 thank you notes. I knew that not all of these people would make it to the end. It didn’t matter, I thought. I felt changed for the better writing just a few notes. So would they.

Stuart Brown letterNow that the book has been out there for a while, I am finding that many readers have persisted all the way to the 365th note. Yesterday, when I was dealing with one of the low points of recent events, I received a letter of a different sort. The letter was not the first of 365 notes, but the last.  Stuart Brown, the Director of Student Affairs of the University of Connecticut, wrote me the 365th note of his journey.

Professor Brown’s project, which he called “The Student Affairs.com Writing Project,” was in many ways more ambitious, and better executed than mine. He often wrote longer letters, far more than just the simple cards that I had sent out. And he had discipline: he finished exactly 365 days after his first letter. His 365th note to me was dated exactly 365 days after his first. Which he also wrote to me.

As he told me (in his own handwriting):

“It was a great experience, sometimes tiring, sometimes a bit panicky, but an undertaking I’m glad I took. The real joy was the reaction from individuals that received my cards and letters. They were excited, flabbergasted, thankful and surprised. Many told me they have kept them on their desk as a memento.  Others wrote back to me enthusiastically upon arrival. ‘Wow, thank you for the thank you!!’”

Like me, Professor Brown has been humbled by some responses telling him, “Your card came at a difficult time for me.”  I found myself writing back to him in that same way, acknowledging that his letter arrived when I was trying to comprehend the kind of tragedy in which one feels the cruel hand of life. Yet I assured him that the project had left me “forever changed, and better able to perceive and convey God’s grace in the face of darkness.”

When I review all of the challenges and difficulties and tragedies I have encountered in my life since the time when I wrote my 365 notes, I wonder how I would be responding now if I viewed my life only as the stream of negative events it appeared to be in late 2007. How differently I feel now that the gratitude I sent out reflects in the lives of Professor Brown and the others who are now writing to me about the beginning, or the end, of their journey to express gratitude and love and the good things they find in their world.

Professor Brown wrote of his experiences at a blog he created for that purpose, and I encourage you to read it for his experiences.


Professor Brown’s last blog about his journey sums up what he has learned, and then takes on a note of finality:

“This is it.  No more daily writing.  No further sharing of thoughts and feelings via this blog.  I will be continuing to write notes and letters, just not at the pace I pursued this past year.  That will be the legacy of The Writing Project—to keep the lost art of handwritten correspondence alive and well, at least in my own little corner.”

I want to let Professor Brown and others finishing the journey know one thing I know now. This is not it.  Even if you do not write one more note of gratitude (and I don’t for a minute believe that will be the case), the love you unleash will continue to come back to you, as Professor Brown’s note came back to me. The true blessings have only begun.

We need to keep noticing the good things. The bad things with the imposing Latinate names will bring themselves to our attention without any particular beckoning.

I will get back now to responding to the wonderful readers who keep reminding me to be grateful.  My agent just wrote to tell me that more letters are on their way.

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Thank you Mr. Zaslow

On February 15, 2012, I wrote a long overdue thank-you note to my cousin who had sent me a copy of her richly detailed published map of Newport, Rhode Island. I was happy to be in touch with her, and that we could both talk about things we had authored.

I mailed my thank you note to her just before I took off for Australia. I went there in search of an author who had so identified with my book that he bought 730 copies of it. My new author friend, who is now determined to write his own 365 thank yous, was sending a copy of my book along with each one of his 365 thank you notes, and I thought I would go sign them for him. “Really,” friends were saying, “all the way to Australia? To sign a few books?”

Well, for one thing, I had never been to Australia. Why not? It seemed like the right thing to do.

I had written the note to my cousin on one of a beautiful set of greeting cards sent to me by Shannon and Phil Haldaman of Traverse City, Michigan. Shannon Haldaman first contacted me in January 2011, when my book was first released. The Haldamans had been energized by the book, and had begun writing one thank you note a day. Sometimes more than one. Then, later in the year, she and her husband Phil decided to do even more to revive the nearly lost art of handwritten greeting cards by starting their own card company. According to The Grand Traverse Insider, a local newspaper, she was inspired by my book to “give the project her all” and to add a line of thank-you cards.

“The impact made by Kralik’s book was phenomenal, and that, plus the encouragement they received from the author when they contacted him on Facebook, led the Haldamans to jump into their new venture with excitement,” the Insider reported. The cards the Haldamans made record the beauty of northern Michigan, a beauty I had learned well during my five years as a summer camp counselor at the National Music Camp located between two beautiful lakes near Traverse City. There were the tranquil lakes, the white birch trees, the cherries I remembered so well. And there was one card picturing a bed of Petosky stones. Always valued by the young campers who found them, the Petosky stones capture fossilized plant growth in the patterns shown on their smooth grey faces. Here’s that card:

Up North Captured Moments

My cousin grew up in Michigan, and shortly after receiving my card she wrote to ask me if I had heard that Jeffrey Zaslow had died while driving on a Northern Michigan road not far south of Traverse City, from a book signing in Petosky, Michigan. The news, which reached me in Australia, has left me wondering what to write ever since.

Mr. Zaslow, a prominent Wall Street Journal columnist, went from respected author to phenomenally successful writer when he became the co-author of a book entitled “The Last Lecture.” As a reporter, he attended what was billed as the last lecture of Randy Pausch, a popular professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Professor Pausch, who was dying of cancer, had given a stirring, vibrant lecture in which he tried to pass on the collected wisdom of his lifetime to his children, and any of his students who cared to listen. It turned out that the Internet was listening, and the lecture became an overnight YouTube sensation. It will ever be known as the best PowerPoint presentation in the history of that medium.

Subsequent to the lecture, Mr. Zaslow interviewed Professor Pausch for many of the mornings of the remainder of his life, as Pausch pedaled his bicycle in an effort to bolster his inexorably failing health. The thus expanded lecture became a book of the same name that sold 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

“The Last Lecture” established Mr. Zaslow for good as a writer, and made him the go-to teller of famous stories of persons who could not quite tell their story for themselves.

One can imagine that publishers sought him out when they figured that the subject, such as Captain Sully Sullenberger or Gabrielle Giffords, had a sure fire best-seller in them—if only they could write it. His stature was such that he was recognized as a full co-author on each of the resulting books, “Call of Duty” and “Gabby.”

His talent for telling the stories of others thus fully established, he then began telling stories that were totally his own, including his latest release, “The Magic Room,” a book about a small bridal shop in rural Fowler, Michigan.

The papers say Mr. Zaslow was killed in Warner Township, near the town of Elmira. The accident occurred on Highway M-32, a 2-lane blacktop that runs west to east at that point. According to the papers, M-32 was icy that night, and Mr. Zaslow lost control of his car, which slid into a semi-trailer truck, killing him. He was driving alone to and from the town of Petosky, where he signed for readers of his new book. The road there seems to go straight, west to east, and then bends southeast for no particular reason. There is almost nothing there. The township hall and other buildings would not be visible from the road on a dark night.

I drove these roads 40 years ago in the summers when I worked at the National Music Camp. On our days off, we would drive through the small towns, trying to find a bar we hadn’t tried before, just to see what kind of beer they had on tap. The drinking age was 18, in those days, on the late ’60′s logic that if you were old enough to fight in Vietnam, you were old enough to vote, and old enough to have a beer. Or a whiskey. We sometimes raced to see who could drink a pitcher first without pouring it into a glass. Every once in a while, we would find a band. I remember driving through this area one night to find the band Steppenwolf, which played one or two songs in a barn like structure and then ran for the door. That passed for culture in those Northern Michigan nights of the early ’70′s, but with the northern lights dancing across the spinning sky, there was no need for more.

Other than the fact that I have driven on the road where he died, my connection with Mr. Zaslow is a tiny, but an enduring one. First of all, the income provided to my publisher by the success of his book might be one of the reasons they felt flush enough to take a flyer on mine. As my friends said, “A book about thank you notes? Really?” That might have been the publisher’s thought as well, but my wonderful agent convinced them there was something good in there, and a flyer they did take on this complete unknown.

When my book was coming out, my editor contacted Mr. Zaslow. Although I was at that point absolutely nobody in the publishing world (even now am only slightly more), he agreed to read and comment on it. His resulting comment remains one of the nicest things anyone has said about my book. The publisher has excerpted his remarks on the cover of every single one of my books that has been printed since.

Of course, the natural thing to do seemed to be to write him a thank-you note. As I didn’t have Mr. Zaslow’s address, I did just what people do who are trying to contact me. I wrote to the publisher. Of course, it was my own publisher, but that was all I could do. According to my notes, I said something like this:

“I really appreciated that you took time out of your schedule—almost literally at a moment’s notice, to read and write a blurb on behalf of 365 Thank Yous. You were generous with your time, and in your thoughts, and with your reputation, all on behalf of a completely unknown author. I hope to get the chance to thank you in person some day, but for now thank you.”

These are the only words I ever communicated to him. I never got the chance to thank him in person. It would have been an honor.

From every account I have read, Mr. Zaslow’s kindness to me was characteristic of a generously lived live. He seems to have been most helpful to those like me who were struggling for what he had already attained as a writer, and a human being. Four years younger than me, his death made me acutely aware of how lucky I have been to live this long, and how the world seems to lose the best of the human race just when they are most needed.

I suppose I could have left it at that, and have made this blog just the public thank you I never got to make to Mr. Zaslow in person. But in writing to me, my cousin told me how much she enjoyed his latest book, “The Magic Room.” This made me think. Mr. Zaslow had been kind enough to read my book. Reading his book would be the least I could do.

Absent Mr. Zaslow’s kindness to me, I might not have ever read “The Magic Room.” It is not a book that at first blush would attract a male audience. It is the story of Becker’s Bridal, a bridal store that has been the dominant business in tiny Fowler, Michigan for four generations and 76 years. A book about a bridal shop? That’s hardly the kind of thing that would normally catch my eye, which like anyone else’s is attracted to the latest excitement, a hunger game, for example. Yet a book about thank you notes must not have looked very attractive to Mr. Zaslow. A book about thank-you notes is hardly a guy’s sort of book either.

In fact with regard to the purchase of a bridal dress, one imagines the father of the bride, even one who deeply loves his daughter, looking for a way to minimize the time involved. Zaslow’s book describes fathers pacing up and down Main Street in Fowler, blowing their noses and wiping their eyes. Yet I suspect that if dragged to Fowler for such an occasion, many fathers might find a comfortable chair, plug in a set of earphones, listen to the game, and wait to write the check. I might be doing that myself someday had I not read this book.

It took me a while. I was busy at work, reading files that were measured in feet rather than inches each day, and not reading much of anything at night. But I’ve been too tired to read recreationally for most of my life, so I finally did what I have been doing for most of my life: I got an audio copy. I began listening on my long drive to and from work each day. One morning, on the 210 freeway north of Los Angeles I found myself deep in the story of the bridal shop and its patrons, and realized I was crying along with the rest of Mr. Zaslow’s readers.

The Magic RoomMr. Zaslow assigned himself to stand in the “Magic Room” of Becker’s Bridal, a room of mirrors where brides take one last look at The Dress. He shared the moment and the before and the after stories of the weddings of the families he discovered there. Mr. Zaslow was the type of talented writer you could plunk down most anywhere, a mall, a McDonald’s, a rest stop on the turnpike. Leave him for a while and let him talk to people and observe what’s going on, and when you come back he could have a story written, and it would be a good one. The Magic Room is a story like that. No wonder so many people who could get anyone to write their story for them chose Mr. Zaslow for the job.

There are those who wonder at his trip to Northern Michigan that night. But in publishing today there is no group of readers too small. After all, I went to Australia at the invitation of just one. You feel a sense of responsibility to the publisher who has taken a risk on your work to do what is necessary to sell books these days. If you have any doubts about this, just look at how many authors you might think of as aloof are now answering their email, posting to their readers on Facebook, blogging their hearts out. In a proper case, however, this work is not drudgery. When you write a book that is as filled with love as is the “Magic Room,” your readers turn out to be the kind of loving people you most want to meet. And it is a re-inspiring experience to make contact with them. To Mr. Zaslow it must have seemed, like my trip to Australia, the right thing to do.

In the “Magic Room,” Mr. Zaslow’s aim was to discover families whose stories illuminated the ways of love. While the fathers in this story are often distant, divorced or drunk, Mr. Zaslow most wanted to find in these wedding-dress stories the ways in which fathers and mothers express their love for their daughters. And he wanted to discover the kind of man he most wanted for his daughters.

The Magic Room is an important story about good love, but also about how precious and rare it is. While there is a Magic Room in Becker’s, there is also “a room, beyond the view of buoyant brides, dubbed the Dress Cemetery. It’s a sad, crowded place where dresses are piled up after engagements are broken or brides-to-be are abandoned by grooms with cold feet.”

Unless there is another book or two on his computer–and here’s hoping that there is–The Magic Room is as close as Mr. Zaslow came to telling what is probably his most compelling story, his own. In searching for the ways a parent can express love for a daughter, the most important discovery of the book, indeed of his life, is that we must express it now, while we can. In a passage that seems even more compelling to me now, he tells the story of a judge in Illinois, who made a point of always telling his daughter he loved her:

“One Friday night in 1995, as his eighteen-year-old daughter headed out the door with her friends, he said to her, ‘Remember I love you.’ She replied: ‘I love you too, Dad.’ She died hours later in a car accident and the judge told me how grateful he was that his last words to her were a reminder of his love.”

I thought of this story this week, as I said goodbye to my twelve-year-old before she embarked, at 3 a.m. Wednesday, for her class trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Zaslow tells the story of how he put little notes for his eight-year-old daughter in her lunch bag each day, just to remind her that he was thinking of her. She threw away the lunch bag, and as any parent knows an eaten lunch is a small landfill of detritus to throw out, plastic bags, and wrappers and such, but Zaslow’s daughter saved every note. This was a surprise, he writes, but not to me. I have written notes like that, and I know they are not thrown out.

Though it was not meant to be so, “The Magic Room” could ultimately be viewed as a tragedy. Zaslow goes to the wedding of every one of the brides he writes about. Yet he will not get to watch his daughters get married, and to see that they have a proper dress. To view the book as a tragedy would miss the point Mr. Zaslow was trying to make. I doubt that he ever missed a chance to show or tell his daughters how much he loved them, and it is evident in this book. I have no doubt his daughters will think of him on the day they buy their dress. While Mr. Zaslow will not get to buy his daughters a dress at Becker’s, they will know he loved them.

So once again, I say thank you, Mr. Zaslow. Thank you for writing a book to show fathers the way to love their daughters, and the importance of doing so today.

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A Grateful Heart

(As seen in Parade - January 1, 2012)

I’ve received quite a few nice notes and letters from people who saw my piece in Parade. That piece was necessarily much shortened, because of space limitations, so I thought I’d share an earlier draft with those who have taken the time to come to this page. Here goes.

Knowing that you had to work on Thanksgiving, of all days, I thought I’d express my gratitude that you have taken the time and made the effort to learn my name and greet me each day in a way that makes me feel like a person instead of a number.  It’s a small thing, but on any given day, it can make all the difference.  Thank you!”

I sent this thank-you note to a barista at Starbucks who had brightened my day, and many other days before and after, by remembering my name with a smile every morning.  It was one of the special things for which I was grateful at Thanksgiving of 2008, the year in which I had vowed to write a thank you note every day of the year. It nearly brought her to tears.

Strangely, the idea for this year-long act of gratitude had come to me on a day when I was desperately looking for something, anything, for which to be thankful, New Year’s day of 2008.  On that day, I went for a walk up the Echo Mountain trail in Pasadena, California, where I lived.  At 52, I owned a law practice, but after working hard at it all year I found I had earned nothing.  Actually, having lost money, I earned less than nothing.  As a result, I could not afford to pay Christmas bonuses to my employees, a failing that greatly embarrassed me.  My firm was losing its lease, and I could not afford a new one. After a divorce, I was living in a cheap apartment instead of my own home. Even the hopeful aspects of my life had just deflated with sudden and despondent developments:  A woman I had been dating ended our relationship suddenly before Christmas, and a million dollar jury verdict that would have bailed me out was nullified by a judge’s ruling.

In the mountains, I heard a voice I did not recognize. Wherever it came from, it did not seem to come from me. It told me I needed to learn to be grateful for the things I had, rather than to focus on the things I wanted, or the many things I felt I had lost.

It took a little more than a year, but by the time I had written the 365 thank you notes I had set out to write, my life had been transformed in ways I could not have expected. As I saw how my children, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even baristas had blessed my life and as I acknowledged their impact by writing to them, my blessings seemed to multiply. When I was grateful for clients paying their bills, they paid faster.  When I thanked lawyers for referring clients to me, they referred more.

The benefits were not just economic.  As my barista later told a reporter who came to ask about the note I wrote to her, “So when I saw this, I realized that what I do really counts.”  By showing others how their lives had meaning in mine, I found them reflecting back to me that my life also had meaning in theirs. I gained an overall sense of peace, a belief that my life was, and had been, a good one.  The change did not happen overnight.  My note to my barista was thank you note 260.

Almost without intending to do so, I started to change my life in ways that would make me more worthy of receiving thank you notes myself.  For example, having been thankful for my office manager’s constancy in our business crises, I was reminded she had lost a son to leukemia. I began to run marathons to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which gave me an opportunity to write thank you notes to those who donated to my runs.  And those notes helped me finish writing 365 notes.  (I’ve now done three of these marathons.)

Awakened by these experiences, I decided to write a book,  “365 Thank Yous,” which was released in a new trade paperback edition called “A Simple Act of Gratitude” just after Christmas.  Because the book is personal, and frank about some of the problems I had, I became concerned about “going public” in this way, and considered not publishing the book at all.  Thanks to a trusted friend who encouraged me, I decided to go on. “You have to publish this,” he said.  This is bigger than you. It’s not just about you anymore.”

From a reader:

“After hearing about your 365 Thank Yous experiment, I felt inspired to follow in your footsteps, and take on a similar project of writing Thank You notes to the people who have had a positive impact in my life. I was especially intrigued at the idea of envisioning people going to their mailbox and finding a mysterious envelope, and wondering what the heck it might be…and then opening it, to find out that some person from their past (who they may not even recall) still thinks about them today, and feels grateful that their lives had crossed paths.”

A few days after the book was released I found something new among the junk mail and bills in my mailbox, my first handwritten thank you note from a reader.  The next week, there were more.  Then the publisher sent a whole box of them.

One of the first letters I received told me of how the signals of gratitude I sent could ripple farther out.  She told me she had chosen to write the first of her 365 thank you notes to me.  “I am starting with you so that you know, in my mind, you have pushed a domino tile and from it will branch many more tiles that will grow in all directions and that will allow us all to win at this game of life.” I felt humbled by these letters, realizing again that the message that was spreading, like the voice that I heard on the mountain, was not my own. It was something bigger.

So many of my readers have inspired me. A woman living in a nursing home because a stroke had paralyzed her “on my R side” told me that she praises “the Lord I was born left handed & Ive taken it upon myself to write Birthday & Thank you cards to All the Staff…”  A woman whose husband had been paralyzed for 20 years in a car accident wrote of how she had been “thankful that he was not killed.” Her children had “grown into “very empathetic” people “with a very personal perspective on individual abilities.”  Although she never thought she would have been able to say it, she was writing to tell me “I am now grateful for our experience and the depth and meaning it has brought to our lives.”

My readers told me stories of how important people were thanked before it was too late.  A woman in Omaha thanked a priest who changed her life 22 years ago, and her letter arrived to comfort him a few days before he died.  When she went back to thank a teacher, “She saw us and the flowers, put her head on the desk and cried she was so happy.  She said she had been a teacher for 23 years and no one had ever thanked her.”  I am grateful to hear of such moments, though I know I am not the one responsible for them.

When I write to my readers now, I try to express to them my hope that they will find, as I did, that the love and gratitude they express to others will return to them someday. Having just written my 860th note, I can say that I learn in new ways all the time that gratitude is a pathway to the peace that we all seek in life, the peace which passes our understanding. I still feel calmed in my dark or stressful times by writing “thank you” patiently and neatly to those who have helped and comforted me.

John Kralik's father, 87, writes his own 365 thank you notes.

After my book came out, my father became one of the many who began to write their own 365 notes.  Now 87, he was a surgeon for over fifty years.  He has discipline and focus far beyond mine, and will soon complete his first 365 notes.  His collection of notes is more beautiful than mine, and his journey has reconnected him with a lifetime of friends, colleagues, high school classmates and patients who have lived as long as he has by following his advice.  Having written a book, I suppose I am now the writer, but his notes have an uncluttered elegance that training cannot imitate. For example, his notes thank those who have journeyed with him for as many as “eighty years of treasured friendship.” Writing to a new friend (yes he’s making new friends) who had taken him and my Mom out to dinner, he described the evening as “presidential.”  Reading these notes, I found a curious phrase recurring, as when my Dad thanked my niece Megan for sending flowers: “They brought us implausible joy.”   My current favorite of my Dad’s thank you notes is the one he wrote to the doctor who performed his recent cataract surgery:

“Thank you for my new eyes.  The stars are brighter.  The ocean waves are whiter.  I can see clearly for miles up and down the shore.  I can see the cargo ships on the horizon coming in and out of the river.”

Even when you’re eighty-seven, perhaps particularly then, being thankful can bring you “implausible joy.”

My life today is generally a happy one. Both my circumstances and outlook are much improved.  But as we all must know, moments of despair are inevitable.  Just last week, the friend whose encouragement gave me the courage to publish the book suddenly left the world without warning or goodbye. On my desk lies a thank you note he wrote to me last year to tell me I was “the most generous person” and another in which he assured me that the voice I heard in the mountain on New Year’s Day in 2008 had “confirmed the possibility that one could change one’s entire life for the better.” I pray that the note I wrote to say that his support for my writing was a gift I could never “fully measure or repay” did not go unread or unremembered.

At times like these I return to the pattern that brought me out of darkness four years ago. As I sit as my desk, I see that there is a pile of notes from readers to be answered, and, on a legal pad, a scribbled list of kindnesses and gifts yet unacknowledged.  I think about the many to whom I owe ungiven thanks, realizing how their struggles are so often much greater then mine.  I take out my pen and what remains of my old stationery, and begin to write.  Every note includes the words “Thank You.”

How to write thank you notes.

1.  A Grateful Heart.

Of course, at the beginning of my journey, in January 2008, I did not have a grateful heart.   So many things were going wrong that I felt I had nothing for which to be grateful.  Yet starting with thank you notes for the Christmas presents I had received a few weeks before, and, note-by-note, I became more able to see the good in people around me.

Try to say one true thing about why you appreciate the gift you were given.  If there is still room in the short note, say one sincere thing about the person who gave it, and what that person means to you. Don’t forget to say the words “thank you.”

2.  Recalling Turning Points.

After thanking all the people Emily post recommends, I began to look beyond my immediate day-to-day circumstances for persons to whom I needed to write a thank-you note.  For example, I began to look back, and to write notes to the friends who rescued me from self-destructive behavior in my youth, to the doctor whose operation saved me from a life of pain, to the doctor who told me to stop drinking.

Inevitably life has its periodic rough times.  By going back and thanking these people, I connected with better times and renewed the friendships forged then. This enabled me to take a longer, more balance view of the difficulties I experienced in the near term.  Even at eighty seven, perhaps especially at eighty seven as my father has found, you will be amazed at those who likewise remember you with gratitude

3.  The Basics: Of Pen and Paper

Handwrite your notes, in pen. Write neatly enough that someone else can read it. Perhaps because it is becoming somewhat of a lost art, handwritten notes feel special, and real, as if the person who wrote it is there with you.  Many who received my notes saved them, as if they were a precious gift.  When something is typed by a machine, people always wonder whether it comes from you, or from the machine.

Most of my notes were written on very simple off-white note cards, which had only my name printed on the cover.  This had two helpful effects.  First, with my name printed on the cover, people who could not read my signature knew the note was not from a madman.  Second, because it was not a pre-printed thank-you note, the words “thank you” had to actually be written by me, over and over, and the person could be sure it was my gratitude being expressed, not that of the greeting card company. I felt the words as I was writing them, and it helped to change my point of view.

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The Wall of Gratitude

In my book, I describe how I tracked my first 365 thank you notes with a spreadsheet that included the name, address, the reason for my note, and the text of the first draft of my note.  When I was done, I tried printing it out, but it was no longer printable in any reasonable way. To fully view a print of the spreadsheet, I would have had to paste the partial printouts on a wall, and it would have covered most of the wall of a large room.  This, in a way, was my wall of gratitude. It listed the hundreds of people who had helped, cared for and loved me over the course of that year.

I have continued the spreadsheet, and it is more than twice as big today, a constant reminder of the good things in my life.  Viewing this wall, on my computer or on paper, I see that the life I was ready to cast aside was filled with blessings I did not bother to see.

Now with the help of Hyperion, I would like to create a virtual wall containing and pushing forth to the world the gratitude of my readers.  This is a place that you thank people that you cannot thank elsewhere, because they are no longer with us, or because you have lost track of them. This is a place where you can make your thanks public, to thank publicly people who have helped you, but you didn’t get a chance to catch their name. Maybe they will see your note.  Maybe they will respond. Maybe your life will change.

When You Can’t Write a Regular Old Thank-You Note

Some of the people who most deserve our thanks are no longer in our lives. For example, it was my grandfather, who first taught me the value of thank you notes. When I wrote him one, he sent me a silver dollar. When I wrote him another, he sent me another silver dollar.  But I stopped there.

As I learned through the thank-you note project that underlies this book, we receive silver dollars all the time, though many are emotional gifts or gifts of love. By being thankful for them, we open our lives to the possibility of getting another gift.

Sometimes, there are thank-you’s that you can’t write a note for. One of these is related in my book. One of the attendants at California Adventure’s Hyperion Theatre took me back in after one of the shows, and we searched row after row of seats to find my wallet. But when I asked for his name, he was shy. I don’t blame him. The kind of person who is always losing their wallet could be a little kooky. So anyway, I’m thanking him here, and in the book.

There could be other reasons you cannot thank someone. Perhaps they’ve moved from the country, or you’ve lost track of their address. Try doing it here, and see if you get another silver dollar.

Click to post a thank you.

Keepsakes:  Post a copy of your favorite thank you note.

So many of those who had received my notes told me how they still had them, where they posted them, and how the notes had inspired them to write thank you notes of their own. Perhaps you have a favorite Thank You Note that you have saved. Post it here and tell us what it meant to you, or how it affected you.

Click here to post a Thank-You Note and/or your story of how a thank-you note affected your life.

Did you receive one of my Thank-You Notes?

I did not save a copy of my Thank You notes.  The original notes are in the hands of those who received them.

From my view, the thank-you notes I wrote started a chain reaction of gratitude that eventually reached back to me, enabling me to receive the gratitude of others.

If you received one of my thank you notes, you have your own perspective on what happened. Post a copy of the note here, or just post a story of how the thank-you note affected your life.

Click to post a copy of the thank you note you received, or a story about how the note affected you, or both.

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Don’t Forget to Say So

In May 2011, Alice Beard of Abilene Texas was sitting beneath the dryer at her local beauty salon, and reading the Guideposts magazine story about my year of writing thank you notes. My journey sounded familiar to Alice.

Years ago, Alice had started an annual event at her Church.  It was called “Say So Week.”   As Alice explains it, “We’d been watching the news, and reading the newspaper, and everything was just so depressing.”  When good things happened, or when people did good things for each other, there was never any mention.  “It just seemed to me that no one ever was saying Thank You.”

So Alice decided to start something. “I decided that for one week every year, we would make sure that, at least for each day of that week, we would say ‘thank you’ to someone who had done a good job, or just done something good that we appreciated.  We could call, write, or just tell someone in person that we appreciated what they had done.”

What Alice started at her little Church in Abilene became “Say So Week.” “And every year, everyone would join in.”  At first “everyone” meant those who attended her church, the Grace United Methodist Church in Abilene, but eventually it spread to the entire town.  Grace Church passed out ribbons to all those who participated.  The mayor of Abilene got in the act, and would issue a proclamation.  So did the governor.  “I even got a real nice letter and a picture from the President.”

But something happened to Alice, and as a result, “Say So Week” has died out in Texas.    I won’t tell you Alice’s age.  I’m not sure she told it to me.  Still, one thing Alice said to me made me think she’s a bit older than me.  It was when she told me how her heart attack had left her with no energy, and no choice but to cut back on her activities.   Unfortunately, that included projects like “Say So Week.”

Without the driving force of Alice’s personality, “Say So Week” stopped happening.  Now Alice’s heart suffered another, perhaps more serious injury.  “I couldn’t get anyone to take my place.  It broke my heart when our group broke up.”

Reading the article in Guideposts this May, however, Alice was thankful that I seemed to be carrying on the message she had tried to start with “Say So Week.”  She wanted to say so.  She doesn’t have a computer, and doesn’t use email.  She was not content with just a handwritten note.  So she tracked down my phone number, and called me.  She was a little surprised when I answered the phone.  “Well,” I told her, after she told me her reaction to the article, “I actually wrote a whole book about this.”  Alice didn’t get out much.  She didn’t know of a book store in Abilene.  Apparently there is no Barnes & Noble in Abilene.  By that time of the year, I knew it would be pointless to ask about Borders. Without a computer, she had no access to things like Amazon.

So I went ahead and sent her a copy.  Alice liked it.  “Sometimes,” she tells me, “you just meet people and you know they feel the same way you do.  That’s the way I felt when I read your book.”  This unlikely contact between a writer in California and a retiree in Abilene even got the attention of “Miz Cheevus” a columnist in the Abilene Reporter-News.  I guess the news is not always so depressing when Alice Beard is around.

I hear from Alice every once in a while.  Alice is one of those people who have not forgotten how to say thank you, and I’ve got two of my own lovely thank you notes from Alice to prove it.

Recently, she called to let me know how she’s getting involved at Grace Church again.  During the Halloween season, she worked with others at her Church on a “Pumpkin Patch,” for the benefit of the “Noah Project,” a charity that helps battered women find a safe place.  Long before Halloween, Alice called to report that Grace Church’s Pumpkin Patch had raised $1,438 for the Noah Project.  “We had to get those pumpkins early because of the drought.”

Lately Alice sounds considerably energized.  She tells me that next year she’s going to get Say So Week going again in Abilene.

In the mean time, let’s all say so.  Thanks for the reminder, Alice.

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A Letter From Prison

It’s not unusual for judges to receive letters from prison.  There are the complaints about violence, lockdowns, harsh conditions.  There are the protestations of innocence.  There are intricate and confusing procedural motions drafted by jailhouse lawyers with the time to pursue the minutest points imaginable.  Scarier subjects can also be covered in such letters.

These letters are often handwritten.  Computers and printers are scarce in custodial situations, and, for some, typing is harder than writing.  There is often a studied and artificial neatness to the handwriting, a neatness that does not occur as often with those of us whose egos have not been destroyed, and who still write with the boldness of their dreams.  In prison, one is learning to write, and live, within lines drawn by others.

So I was not surprised to receive a handwritten letter from prison, though it was somewhat surprising that the prison was located in Arizona.  It did not seem unusual for the letter to be labeled “personal and confidential.” I figured this prisoner was hoping that by labeling it in this way there would be a greater chance to get the letter by the clerk.  In this case, he was right.

But this letter was different. After addressing me formally by title and last name, the letter then re-launched by addressing me by my first name.  “John, I’m writing you to thank you.”  Apparently the Guideposts’ article about my book had reached into an Arizona prison.  Having found it, one of the prisoners was writing to tell me he had found my story uplifting, and encouraging.

The letter writer told me that he was about three years older than me, “though definitely with a lot less gray hair.” That Guideposts’ picture does make my hair look frighteningly white. Of course, that is the way it looks.

Although he doubtlessly knew I would be reading his letter in the ease of a judge’s chambers, the prisoner’s first concern appeared to be to comfort and assure me.  “I do believe that the voice you heard was of the Holy Spirit doing what He does best and that is teaching, guiding, and reminding us what we should do in truth and faith.”

My correspondent seemed especially concerned about the part of the Guideposts’ article revealing that even now, with all the good fortune that has befallen me, I often do not wake up happy.  He assured me that “If Jesus was in your heart, you would.”

The writer was touched by the story he read in Guideposts about my daughter and me living in an apartment of which I was ashamed. He sought to assure me of her love.  He knew from his own experience living in similar or worse places, that children just want to be with their Dad, “playing ball, watching TV, or going to the park.”

His story of his sons’ love had a tragic ending.   Like so many of those who write to tell me they are encouraged by my book, this writer had endured a sorrow far greater than the petty difficulties of which I complained in my book.

“I was in the County jail on February 10, 2002 when my son was murdered outside of his mother’s home in East L. A. He had just checked in at Camp Pendleton after serving a tour of duty as a Marine in Afghanistan.   He went to visit his mother at the house he grew up in. After returning from a party for his brother, he was approached outside his mother’s home and was shot and killed. He fought so that those who shot him had the freedom to do so. Apparently they still have their freedom. I don’t know who they are but I have forgiven them.  My son did not die for his country; he died because of his country.”

A few months later, a stepson was also gunned down.  Even in this sorrow, the writer sought mercy rather than retribution: “I don’t know if anyone has answered for the murder of my boys, but whoever has the duty to judge, I pray that judge is merciful.”

Reading the letter, I learned that the faith that so sustained this man in his cell had not been easily won, and was discovered only through incarceration.

“Lord knows I have failed… I basically took everything in my life for granted… When I was put in jail, I didn’t want to deal with anyone. I gradually started attending church services at the county jail. I’m now playing the keyboard, guitar and singing in the services. I find most days I wake up singing a song to the Lord. I don’t want to be here, but wherever I am, I do thank my Lord for giving life to me.  He’s given peace and joy along with his love.”

Although it did not come early, his letter made clear that faith had not come to him too late.  Unlike many who are in his position, this writer did not deny his responsibility for his own actions.  And although the letter gave me plenty of advice, he was not writing out of bitterness, or to complain. “I live a content life. I regret a lot of my past, but I look forward to the future.”

In closing, my Arizona correspondent again sought to encourage me.  “You have a good life,” he assured me, and went on to note that if you have “a good outlook on life and love it, then it will love you back and make you look good.”

On the day I opened this letter, I received some urgent advice from an Arizona prison cell.  My friend told me to wake up happy.  I’ve been trying to do so ever since.  I hardly have an excuse to do otherwise.

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The Promise of Hope

I met Ed Grinnan, the author of the new book The Promise of Hope, through my friend Michael when the three of us were undergraduates at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the mid-’70’s.

The Promise of Hope, Edward GrinnanIn those days, when the teaching fellows went on strike, the University was essentially shut down because the professors refused to cross the picket line.  Michael, who had a used Oldsmobile with a throaty engine, killed the time by leading me on long road trips with shifting destinations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Canada.  As Michael’s  Oldsmobile rumbled down empty two-lane roads, we talked ceaselessly, fueled by a chain of cigarettes, which we called “pleasure sticks” (as that was how they were marketed), and coffee, which we referred to as “The Sustainer of Life” or sometimes, just “Sustainer” as in “Let’s get some more Sustainer.”  Michael was Neal Cassidy inventing an adventure and a story with each new mile. I was Jack Kerouac, quietly taking notes for a series of articles for the student newspaper that would capture the ambience of the class-free semester.

With nothing to distinguish me other than these short pieces in the paper, I was one of thousands on Michigan campus whose status as a writer was defined only by desire rather than accomplishment.  I wanted to write a book, of course, and I figured that running would have a place in that book, as I was running a lot in those days.  But every kind of running I was doing in those days was a kind of running away, and eventually I ran away from that calling.

One day, Michael introduced me to another of his friends, Ed Grinnan.  Unlike the rest of us, Ed already was a writer, having been ordained as such by the faculty panel that gave out the Hopwood awards, the Michigan awards that certified the talent of an aspiring writer.  And so it was with some reverence that I met Ed, and we embarked on our evening, the goal of which was, as I recall, to have a drink in every bar in Ann Arbor. We succeeded, of course, Ann Arbor not being that big a town. I listened raptly as Ed and Michael talked up storm.  But by the time we stumbled home to our respective apartments, most of what was said was forgotten. If I had remembered it, I probably would have put much of it in the novel I never wrote.  Then again, I’m pretty certain no one would have read such a novel had I written it.

Ed Grinnan and John Kralik

Ed Grinnan and John Kralik, about 1980.

Ed and I had a few similar meetings in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s as I finished law school  and began my career.  As I was beginning my career in Manhattan as a Wall Street lawyer, Ed’s promise as a writer was beginning to deteriorate under the weight of his increasing devotion to alcohol.  During one of our meetings in that era, Michael photographed the two of us, as we were about to head out for an expedition doubtlessly devoted to an attempt to have a drink in every bar in whatever jurisdiction lay outside the door.  When I left Edward that night, or rather when our weaving paths separated, I was unaware that in the coming years Ed’s talent would nearly be drowned by more of what we had consumed that night.

I envied Ed that night, surely I did.  Although Michael and I longed to create tortuous and dazzling works of literature, Ed was unlike us, we thought, for we knew for sure that Ed had the talent to do it.  For that reason, unlike us, he would not need to suffer through the drudgery that is the writing of the law, the interrogatories, the objections, the briefs, the memoranda.  I did not know what dark and brilliant plays Ed was writing, but I was sure that he was writing them, that he would be famous, and that his plays would be published and viewed by many.   Perhaps his work would show the truth that human suffering was unavoidable, that human defeat was inevitable, as I believed in those days, but his work would nevertheless be a defiant triumph that would enable him to keep the good times rolling.

The Promise of Hope recounts a night a few year later when Ed had sunk so low he had no money to drink.   Desperately, he called our friend Michael, because Michael was more a brother than a friend.  He tried to borrow just $20.  Then just $10.  Then just $5.  Each time Michael said no, knowing that the money would go for alcohol.  And alcohol only.

As the book recounts, the night Michael refused Ed a loan was not even close to what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “the bottom,” the place an alcoholic must reach before wanting a better life for himself alone, and not because of what others have decided is the right way.  That would come later, and I would encourage readers to discover it for themselves in The Promise of Hope, which is uncompromising in its honesty about the years during which his great gift was squandered, and nearly lost.  Along with his life.

Although I did not know it then, Ed’s drinking had its roots in a childhood tragedy he writes about only now.  Knowing it now, I’m not surprised that he nearly drank himself to death.  Really, it’s more surprising that he stopped.  The Promise of Hope, will make the reader glad he did, and perhaps give hope to the many others who must make the same journey, and must rise above tragedies greater and lesser.

As The Promise of Hope recounts, Ed eventually found his way back, and found faith. His faith allowed him to accept how a job at a magazine named Guideposts, a magazine devoted to hope, faith, positive thinking, could turn into a lifetime of commitment to these values. Today Ed writes his own messages of inspiration and comfort for Guideposts’ millions of readers.  Today he is the Editor in Chief.

Now it turns out that Ed has fulfilled the promise of his early years, and has published a book. It is far different, however, from what we expected him to write.   Ed’s The Promise of Hope may instead be the book God wanted him to write, and it exhibits Ed’s gifts as God may want us to see them.  Through the interweaving of Ed’s story with stories of the many inspirational people he has met and written about at Guideposts, he illuminates the factors or “keys” to personal change.  These are Honesty, Willingness, Imagination, Commitment, Faith, Forgiveness, Acceptance, Resilience and Love.  In some cases, one of these is enough.   Most of us recover through some combination of them. Using individual stories to illustrate each of the keys to change, he shows how all of them were at work in his own journey.

Largely, human change is longed for much more than it is ever accomplished.  Anyone who has sat through a 12-step meeting knows that it is the connection to others that gives the program its power, and makes change possible. One begins by noticing that there are others with the same problem, that one is not alone. By recognizing the honesty in others, we grow to be honest ourselves.  By seeing the courage of others we are inspired to show courage ourselves.   Eventually there is recognition and acceptance that a higher power may know a better way than the ego demands. So too, it was for Ed as he connected to others through his work at Guideposts, and eventually came to save himself.

I used to believe that people did not change.  In his book, Ed notes that he used to believe that too.  Some years ago, I used one of those programs that select the music you like based on the music to which you’ve been listening.  For me, the program seemed to choose strings of hopeless, depressing music.  There was a lot of Neil Young.  A lot of Nine Inch Nails.  “Whiskey Lullaby,” a double suicide drinking song, kept coming up.  These days, the song that keeps coming up is Montgomery Gentry’s “Some People Change.”  I guess I still believe that most people don’t change, but I now think that some people do change.  I’ve seen it happen.  Ed Grinnan is one of them. If you need to change, you might want to read his book.

You can order it at http://www.guideposts.org/



or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites.  It should be in your bookstore too.

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Thank you, America

A financial firm asked me to write a thank-you note to America.  It seemed like a good week for that:

Thank you, America, for always showing the courage
to endure and rebuild, no matter the loss.
Thank you, America, for having the grace to temper
the drive to succeed with the
desire to help the less fortunate.
Thank you, America, for having the passion for justice,
but the ability to suffer
when justice must wait.
And, thank you always for the strength to forgive,
and the willingness to go on.
Always to go on.

silver dollar from my grandfather

A silver dollar from my grandfather.

As we digested news big enough to affect the way we viewed many aspects of our world, sifting through blogs, cable commentators, newspapers and talk radio, many of the county’s best qualities and persistent defects were on display.  Yet the good outweighed the bad in a way that made me feel certain that it will survive and thrive.

Here’s the link to American Values Investments.  www.americanvalues.com

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Gratitude Goes a Long Way


In my book, “365 Thank Yous,” I tell the story of how I recovered from business and personal losses suffered in 2007, a year I felt was the nadir of my career as an attorney. I was inspired to pull myself out of this low place by writing a simple thank-you note once a day, for a year. As the result, things got better, no doubt about that. Yet I also viewed things differently. I was more grateful for the many good things in my life, which my setbacks had caused me to stop noticing.

Among the treasures of life I was overlooking were many good friends with whom I had lost touch. One, Paul Smith, had been there for me throughout my career, both as a friend and a lawyer. At the time of my book, Paul was with Hughes Hubbard & Reed, where I began my legal career. This excerpt tells part of the story of how I reconnected with Paul, and how I was inspired by his courage.

During 2007, my supposedly unendurable year, as I whined and obsessed about the problems in my life, my friend Paul, who had been a mentor of mine from my first legal job, an attorney who always remained under consummate and disciplined control, stopped making any sense in the middle of asking a question at a deposition. He had a brain tumor.

After brain surgery and chemotherapy, he had quietly resumed work. But I had not talked to him since I heard the news. I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. What should I say, “Is it inoperable?” “How was that surgery?” So I succumbed to insecurity about what to say and did not call.

In 2008, the word got around among Paul’s friends that the tumors were back and had spread. He had another surgery, more chemotherapy, and again things seemed all right. Some months later, however, word got around that there were more tumors. Seven of them.

I needed to overcome my cowardice and get in touch with him. Paul’s skill as a lawyer always made me view him as one of the naturals, a man born with an understanding of the role of a lawyer, and a sense of what a lawyer should be doing in a difficult situation. When my own interests were on the line, and I had to have a good lawyer, I turned to him. He had seen me through times of weakness and trouble.

I could not let this friend slip away.

Throughout my thank you note year, when I felt that I had nowhere to turn, and didn’t know what to do about a situation, I wrote a thank you note, and that’s what I did here. On the June 30, I finally had the courage to write to Paul:

“I was sure sorry to hear of another tumor. I am praying the chemo will once again do the trick. When I was a young lawyer, you showed me how to do and react to so many things. Now you are setting an example of courage and fortitude that I hope to remember if I am ever faced with a challenge so severe, and I feel once again grateful to know you.”

The next day, I got an email, “Thank you for your kind note.”

With contact re-established, I felt I could call and see how Paul was doing. He was willing to talk openly about his disease. The tumors were back and they were growing. Now he needed to find new treatments because all the normal ones were plainly not working. He was embarking on a series of “clinical trials.”

Paul Smith running the Long Beach MarathonPaul explained that he had not changed his life. He continued to work. Sure, you could drop everything and go off on your bucket list, climb a mountain, see the Taj Mahal. Yet while he was doing that, his wife would have to go on with her job as a district attorney. His teenage son would have to go on finishing high school. If he were traveling the world, his family would have to go on without him, all the while thinking of him. They needed to see that his life was going on so that they could feel comfortable going on with theirs. Paul’s strategy struck me as so sensible and so right.

Incredibly, one of the ways in which he was going on with his life was to run marathons. He planned to run the Long Beach marathon in October.

* * *

..[A]s the race neared, I checked in with him to see if he would still be running it and he was matter of fact. “Of course,” he said.

No one in his family found anything very remarkable about this. To me it seemed like a world record miracle. He had been on one clinical trial after another all year.

On the morning of the Long Beach Marathon, I walked up and down Ocean Blvd watching people of all shapes and sizes, alone and in crowds, finishing the marathon. I was beginning to think I had missed Paul. It had been a couple years since I’d actually seen him; maybe he’d changed so much I hadn’t recognized him when he’d run by. But then I did. He was thin. He’d lost some hair; even from his beard. But he looked fine, running easily and comfortably in the last mile. I ran along with him for a while, talking, and then I got some pictures, then he was gone.

A week later, Paul and I had dinner with some friends. Paul picked up the tab that night, so I wrote him a thank you note, which concluded: “Your strength is a great inspiration to me in my much more trivial adversity.”

Excerpt from “365 THANK YOUS: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life” by John Kralik © 2010. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

* * *

Paul Smith and John Kralik running in the Long Beach Marathon

Paul and John run a half marathon.

Paul inspired me to start running again myself, and later, we ran a very fast and fun half marathon together. Ambitiously, we planned to run the Long Beach Marathon together in October 2009. But as the day neared, Paul’s tumors began growing again, and as he tried increasingly toxic experimental drugs, he began to experience neuropathy in his limbs that left him unable to run. Soon, he couldn’t walk either. That October, I ran the Long Beach Marathon for both of us. I felt very alone.

By late September 2010, Paul was just trying to make it through to his 58th birthday. When I spoke to him, for what turned out to be the last time, he asked “When is that book coming out?” Although he had previously said that he did not need to read the parts about him, he said he would like a copy for his birthday. A copy was overnighted to him, and his wife read it to him just before he lost consciousness. His wife told me he approved of what I had written.

When he died, just after his birthday, his family asked me to read the parts about him at his memorial service. Just before I did, Paul’s son came up to me. “You gave this to my father. And he saved it, and now I’m giving it back to you.” He gave me a letter I had written to Paul more than 15 years ago to thank him for being my lawyer in a difficult case. Of course, in those days I had a lot to learn about gratitude, so the letter included some self-congratulations about my paying the bill in full, but I also wrote of how proud I was to be represented by him, and thanked him for being there at a time when my own skills as a lawyer were both ineffectual and unavailable. I had concluded by saying that he had been there for me as a lawyer and a friend, and that I would never forget it.

And I was grateful. Because of my thank you notes, I did not forget Paul.

John Kralik is judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He previously was a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Miller Tokuyama Kralik & Sur, and Kralik & Jacobs.

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