Dear Carolyn: Eight years ago, I sent my nephew a check as a gift for his graduation. I never received a thank-you note.

Recently, I have been contacted by nephew's mom, explaining that the check was misplaced and recently turned up, thanking me for it and insisting I not replace the check.

However, I believe the true intention of nephew's mom is for me to send another check. I believe I should not feel guilty if I do not send another, as I've already spent the energy, time and stamp to send the first check, and it was misplaced, not through any fault of mine. In addition, eight years have passed. Thoughts??

— Unsure in Wisconsin

Unsure in Wisconsin: My main thought is that I would not choose to live in so dark a place as the one you live in.

The same facts you gave also fit this narrative: Your nephew’s mom found the check, realized you never received any acknowledgment for your gift and felt terrible about that. So she decided to let you know what happened — and took the extra measure of insisting you not replace the check, just to make sure you didn’t misinterpret this long-overdue appreciation for your gift as a shakedown.

It really isn’t that hard to frame things, and people, in the most forgiving way available to you with the facts on hand.

You will give people breaks they don’t deserve sometimes, sure, but I’d rather be wrong occasionally than preemptively aggrieved and suspicious all the time.

Wouldn’t you? If you’re unsure, would it hurt to try busting that rut, to see how sunlight feels?

It would give you as much of a break as anyone: You ask whether you “should” feel “guilty” for not replacing the check, which you frame in terms of energy expenditure vs. joy of giving, and describe as lost “not through any fault of mine.” So, bad feeling, grousing, blame deflecting. You’ve got yourself under the negative cloud.

Yet this version is available: If you want to replace the check, then you can! And enjoy a second, belated round of the good feeling you (presumably?) got from sending a young relative a gift. And if you can’t or don’t want to replace the check, then be thankful his mother was gracious enough to anticipate that possibility and insist you not do so, thus preempting any guilt.

Whichever option you choose, please don’t stop there. If you’re leaving this much goodwill on the table in such a small life transaction as this — and seeing so much ill intent and feeling — then I’m confident there’s more goodwill out there in plain sight that you’re allowing to escape your notice. Hardship inspires humanity, too, so now’s actually a good time to retrain your eyes to see that.

Dear Carolyn: I know others are lonely, these days particularly, and I feel bad saying this, but I hate running into my neighbors. I already often feel waylaid getting into my car, but now it's even worse because my new friendly puppy pulls to go say hello on walks.

I make a point to visit with elderly neighbors, but several other middle-aged folks (as I am myself) are relentlessly chatty. One just launches in with hardly a hello, then you're left wanting to escape but not be rude. Another posts himself on his lawn once he notes you're out, so you have to pass him coming back.

My husband says I should just call out, "Sorry, gotta go," and keep walking, but I have trouble doing this. Your thoughts would be so appreciated!

— Waylaid

Waylaid: I fear you won’t appreciate them, because I agree with your husband. (Plus am typing out loud to leash-train your puppy.)

“I have trouble doing this” does not mean you can’t do this. What it usually means is that it’s hard for you, so you don’t want to do it. Which is your prerogative, but it does mean having unwanted conversation with people who are chatting relentlessly through your time (which actually is rude). It’s either-or here.

And the neighbors aren’t the source of your stress, you are, in your discomfort with making that choice.

But we all have choices: Be willing to feel rude and claim your time with a kind, “Sorry, can’t!” or be willing to burn precious personal space at the altar of your guilt.

For the morally torn, there’s always internal compromise: For every X times you breeze by the lonelies, stop once to chat, for a duration of your choosing, not theirs.

You are not obligated to do this. But if you see it as an act of compassion to listen to people who apparently don’t feel heard (or see boundaries), then it’s worth doing — and it may feel like more of a privilege than a nuisance if you treat it as a choice you make, on your schedule, for your reasons, as opposed to one they wait in ambush to make for you.

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