I'm very passive agressive about email. And if it wasn't bad already, during this busy time it's gotten very, very close to the point of no return. It's not that I don't want to attend to the emails I receive (and I certainly get twitchy when I think my own sent emails are being overlooked); it just gets a little overwhelming at times. You see, when I'm busy, I scan my inbox for messages that may contain need-to-know information, like the time of tomorrow's funeral arrangements. If I'm feeling especially accomodating, I'll zip off a "thanks, got it" or "ok, see you then" reply. If I'm feeling like the top of my head might blow off if I have to do one more
The wish-I-could-read emails are next in priority. If the first two categories are low in quantity, I might just have time to at least scan the titles with a sigh of longing. The DailyOM, the
And finally, there are the why-do-I-still-get-these emails. The e-newsletters I signed up for once upon a time that I'm no longer interested in but can't seem to unsubscribe from. The snopes.com-immune forwards that contain the email addresses of at least 9,284 people and enough dancing smiley faces to choke a horse. The requests for my social security number and $5,000 even though I'm sure I wired that information three or four times already.
But occasionally I'll get an email that haunts me in a way that's different from the usual how-will-I-ever-answer-them-all way, and I'll save it, and I'll go back to it, and I will wonder again and again if I should answer it, and if so, how, because it struck a chord in its desperation and I've been to that place and I know how it feels to need to reach out and feel a connection with people after a loss.
A few months ago, I received the following email.
I JUST WANTED TO LET EVERYONE KNOW ON MY MOTHERS FRIEND LIST, THAT SHE PASSED AWAY THIS MORNING 11/09/07 FROM CANCER. IF U WOULD LIKE ANY INFORMATION PLZ, PLZ FEEL FREE TO CALL ANYTIME. IM HER DAUGHTER MY NAME IS ELIZABETH DONT HESITATE TO CALL ANYTIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT
It was a local number. I don't know who this woman is, even though the girl listed her mother's name in the subject line. I have searched my memory's archives. I have asked around. I looked through the other people listed in the "To" section to find someone recognizable. I was in this woman's email address book and I don't know who she is.
I thought about replying to say I was sorry for her loss, but I don't know how to say it without sounding distant. I thought about explaining that I don't think I knew her mother, but that seems cold. I realize it could be a joke. Or a made-up forward. Or a mistake in coming to me. But it pains me to leave a message like that unanswered, no matter how passive-agressive I can be about email.
So I sent my heartfelt sympathies to the universe in her mother's name, hoping that in some small way, it will reach this girl in her hour of darkness. Whether I know her mother or not, I can speak her name in affirmation. In sisterhood.
I can do it every time I come upon that email. Busy or not, I can make time for that small thing.