I thought I was going to bed. I had turned off the computer, I had switched off all the lights. I was sure I could find my way to the bedroom by memory. But I guess my memory cells were tired that night, because I misjudged where I was and my left little toe parted from the rest of my toes and ran smack dab into the bedroom doorframe. Surprisingly, I didn’t say anything profane or profound. I didn’t say a word. I just hobbled to the bed and rubbed my little toe until it quit hurting.
Which took awhile. And just long enough for me to start thinking about things. And since my best thinking place is the back porch, I went there (in the dark and past several lurking doorframes).
It had rained that evening, and as I stepped out on the porch the coolness of the wet concrete under my bare feet changed the rhythm of my downcast thought pattern. I just stood there, taking deep breaths of the cool night air. Everything around me had been washed clean by the heavenly rain. The pine trees were radiating their earthy aroma. The grass sent up its sweet scent. And the world was silent, completely silent. In the far eastern sky I could see mute flashes of lightning that lit up huge clouds. I suddenly realized my little toe was no longer hurting and my body was completely relaxed. But my mind? It wasn’t even close to being ready for sleep.
And so I found myself sitting in front of the turned-back-on computer, a cup of hot tea on the table in front of me. Which led me to writing about……the misunderstood email.
It happens like this. I’m ‘talking’ to someone new on-line. At first, there is a hesitancy on my part and my guard is up - you could say on ‘high alert’. And I’m very careful what I write before I click ‘send’. And then with more exchanges a rhythm and flow generally develops. The chat is light and airy, just a few sentences zapped back and forth. But, that same airiness and flow has the tendency to make me forget something very important. I don’t truly know the person whose words I am reading, and they don’t know me.
And so I say something they misinterpret. Or they do the same in reverse. And suddenly we’re both left out in left field, wondering what the other person meant with that last remark. So we stutter, we back off, and we say “gotta go”, and we click off the conversation. Then we must decide for ourselves whether to reconnect later, or will we just say “who cares”, hit “delete” and go on to the next unread message in the Inbox.
Laying aside all the imposters, all the scammers, predators and miscreants, I believe it is imperative that I remember I am having a real encounter with a real person somewhere out there in the real world. True, our conversations are mute but for the clicking of the keys. True, we are looking at a screen and not into each other’s eyes. True, there is no physical proximity. But in that same truth, I am touching, and perhaps altering, another person’s life (for good or yikes! for bad) with my words and thoughts.
And yes, part of me relishes this type of communication. For writing has always been my trusted companion and I am very comfortable relating my thoughts and feelings with words (until I say something stupid or give the wrong impression).
And yet, the other part of me feels blind when I’m in the middle of ‘talking’ with someone and there are only words. With no nuances, no inflections, no smiles or grimaces, no laughter or voices, no touches, the part of my brain that would pick up on such things were we talking face to face (or even on the phone) is short-circuited. Thus comes the frustration I sense and feel when I’m responsible for a miserbly misunderstood email!
But, hey! I’m an optimistic person, so I won’t (I can’t) end this thinking session on a down note. For I believe there is a space of grace that lies between the benefits and detriments of getting to know someone via an email.
I’ve groused over the detriments enough already.
If it weren’t for the computer and the little black letters on the screen, it’s quite likely I would have never physically encountered many (or any) of the people I have said “Hi” to through an email. Nor the people who are becoming and have become more than just a wave accompanying that casual greeting. And, unlike seeing a stranger on the street, nodding my head, and hurriedly walking on by, an email gives me the opportunity to go back and touch that person’s sleeve and have a real conversation with them.
And who knows? In that space of grace and in spite of misunderstood emails, a lifelong friendship just might be forged. Or, at the very least, and hopefully, I will have gently and positively touched and forever altered their life ….even as they will have touched and forever altered mine.