Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 29, 2014

You know who you are: Thanks for the thanks

Me at the Main Building ... this was from Year 1.

Me at the Main Building … this was from Year 1.

As I trudged to the office today on a beautiful Blagoevgrad afternoon, I thought: Really? The office?! What is wrong with you, son? Why aren’t you on your bike, idiot?!? … Anyway, that’s what I was thinking …

Usually, when I enter AUBG’s Main Building, I stride up the steps, enter the third floor and head straight for my office. Today, I turned left instead of right. I wanted to check my mailbox. It’s a habit and I’m a creature of habit. Occasionally, I’ll discover some official document in there. … More often than not, it’s empty. Still, I check.

Today, instead of being out in the sunshine, instead of smelling the roses, I dragged my sorry and forlorn ass into the office. The semester is drawing to a close. Must. Do. Work. And then I found this:

Happy day at the mailbox.

Happy day at the mailbox (ignore the misspellings). It’s the thought that counts!

I opened it and my heart melted just a little. Someone — I won’t say who — offered a simple and genuine note of appreciation for what they’ve learned, and what I’ve offered: “support, inspiration and tolerance,” they said. (I’m going to pause here for a second and apologize to the sender of this note for using it as a focal point of this blog post. I just wanted to try and explain its significance. I hope you’ll forgive me.)

On days like this, weeks like this, it’s hard to put into words how this simple gesture touched me. But words are all I’ve got so I’ll give it a shot.

We have just emerged from our fourth Thanksgiving in Bulgaria. It’s at times like these when my mind drifts to holidays of yesterday. Those cold, late-November days in the woods hunting with my dad and brothers. Mom’s savory meals. Traveling as a family unit with Melody and Jenna. The laughter. Hell, even the acrimony (it’s a family after all). And I miss all of it. I wonder: Will it feel the same when we return? Have I romanticized the good? Shrouded the bad? When will we return? Will we ever return?

Then I remember what we’ve learned in these four years in Bulgaria. We’ve learned to be thankful for small gestures like this thank you note. For nights like last night, when we had our own savory and laughter-filled “pot-luck thanksgiving.”

The crew at our ex-pat Thnaksgiving celebration (not pictured, the turkey and one half of our hosting couple, Lynnette Leonard -- the photographer in this one).

The crew at our ex-pat Thnaksgiving celebration (not pictured, the turkey and one half of our hosting couple, Lynnette Leonard — the photographer in this one).

Our hosts (from left), Mark and Lynnette, with friends Tracy and Liza.

Our hosts (from left), Mark and Lynnette, with friends Tracy and Liza.

And I think of the lessons learned from others who so eloquently put pen to paper and share their own moments of thanks. To my former colleague and now frequent pen pal Heather Munro, who writes so beautifully and whose life and travels and photographs have touched my heart on so many occasions, like here

Or my former colleague and long-time pal John Moore, who nearly died, reinvented himself and every day makes the world a better place through gestures large and small with things like this … one of the truly amazing people I have been lucky enough to call “friend.”

And so I thank this student for going to the trouble of writing this thank you note. You touched my heart. You reminded me — at the perfect time — to appreciate this day, even if I spent the best part of it in my stupid office. You reminded me to be thankful for that — and for this journey, no matter how long it lasts and no matter where it ends up.



  1. Nice story Mark, sometimes it is the little things that remind you to take a breath and think! I,m one of the lucky one’s, everyday I wake up thankful and happy for where I am, the friends I have, and the place I call home. Never loose sight, there are some out there that are blind to things like that!!

    • Yup, Hank, we must enjoy the short ride we get on this rock. Hope to see you when we’re up there around Christmas. We want to do some sauna sitting! 😀

  2. What a beautiful post, Mark. Your musings about family Thanksgivings past — and the contrasts with your present life in Bulgaria — were a powerful reminder that in life we always have to make choices … and making choices inevitably means giving something up. So I’m very grateful for the student who took the time to give you a tangible reminder that your choice to teach in Bulgaria is making a HUGE difference in his/her life, and for your other students. So hats off to you as you savor the old memories, live the hell out of your time in Bulgaria, and look forward to a long and joyous future full of wonderful new adventures.

    And on a more personal note: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind words. I am deeply touched … and honored.

  3. Thanks, Mark, for a wonderful post. And, thanks to “Professor Wollemann” for his teachings to a “young” (sorta) news assistant who uses them to this day. As always, I am very grateful.

  4. […] travel. You go to work. You teach your awesome students (thank you AUBG students!) and stay up all night making documentaries with them. You find a good shoemaker (thank you, […]

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