Last week must have limped in on sore feet. No full moon, Mercury not, as far as I know, in retrograde, but something odd in the air. Something more than the autumn nip, although I’m hard-pressed to name it. At any rate, last week I received similar-themed emails from two women I know. One of these women is a friend; we’ve known each other a long time, have seen each other through many of life’s vagaries, live in the same city and see or speak with each other about once a week. Let’s call her Abbie. The other woman was my best friend in high school. Even then we were mismatched in a number of ways, but united by our adolescent geekiness and uncommon love for a certain singer of the time. We’ll call her Beth.
Beth moved to the southern US in 1980 or so. We have spoken on the phone perhaps 5 or 6 times since then: on milestone birthdays; when her husband died; during the US election campaign that resulted in Barack Obama’s presidency. Beth and I are political opposites, separated by geography, time and interests. We call each other on our birthdays now because we cling to some sentimental memory of our young selves and because we have both experienced and recognize the fragility of life. We have become, in a strange way, a constant for each other. Beth recently got connected to the internet and has become a forwarder of cyber humour, images and chain mail.
Abbie is a teacher. She’s smart, funny, kind and has – even she says this about herself – infinite patience. Abbie knows when to speak and when to listen – a rare quality. She is the kind of friend who is there when you need her, both physically and emotionally. I love and respect her very much.
Neither of these women will read this blog unless I direct them here which I probably won’t because no matter how I approach this particular topic it’s bound to smack a tiny bit of scolding. I am comfortable with a bit of scolding when it’s warranted and when it’s valuable, but we all know it’s seldom valuable no matter how warranted. By golly, I wish I could conceive of a photo or two to accompany this rant, but alas… Anyway, these emails came within a day of each other and I went through a few ch-ch-ch-changes before hitting the delete key and mostly getting on with other concerns.
Back in the day chain letters came by snail mail and were cruder: “Mary Ellen Yablonsky sent this letter to 20 of her closest friends and within 15 days met the man of her dreams, had her book published and won the Irish Sweepstakes!” – “Clarabelle Bibb meant to ‘get around to it’ but didn’t forward this letter. She was struck by lightning while hanging her wash. She will never sing or dance again.” Yes, back in those days I would clutch said letter and writhe in superstitious paranoia, reluctant to succumb to what felt like manipulation, angry at whoever sent this missive to my mailbox, and terrified that there might be even a grain of truth to the – threats is what they were – that terrible things would befall me and everyone close to me if I didn’t do what the letter directed. I admit to performing a few ritualistic burnings. And, I made a point of telling anyone who cared to listen to please not send them to me, that they freak me out. I loathe and do not forward them. Ever.
So imagine my surprise and chagrin when into my email box landed these two different but similar chainmail “invitations”. They are more sophisticated now, better written, and appeal to our acknowledged good fortune at having loyal and invaluable women friends. How could we not want to forward a letter of love, support and appreciation to 8 or 12 or 20 our closest female friends? They’ve been with us through thick and thin and will be with us until we draw our last breath. Why wouldn’t we show them that they are not only held in highest esteem but that they belong to an exalted canon of such precious friends? Oh, how I writhe!
Abbie’s letter asked me to imagine eight women I’d like to invite to dinner, to send them a copy of this letter telling them how important they are to me and what pleasure we’d all derive from sitting down to dinner together. It directed me to copy her into my invitation so she’d know she was one of the recipients of my dinner invitation. According to this email I had – no kidding – 5 minutes to respond. The “or else” was implied but not specified.
The odd thing was that Abbie and I had eaten dinner together two nights earlier. Granted, all those other women weren’t present, but I knew she had seen at least 6 of them a week earlier and they’d eaten together at a social gathering. More than eight of the women I might have put on my list have planned a get together in a couple of weeks. We’ll see each other face to face, full volume, full hearts.
The message from Beth was slightly more disturbing. This one was laced with Hallmark-ish stuff about Really Good Friends and the Importance of Really Good Friends. This one demanded I make sure to let twenty – TWENTY! – close women friends know how much they mean to me, a message that was also to be delivered in the next five minutes. The “or else” was clear. In rhyming couplets it stated that if I didn’t do this in 5 minutes and if I didn’t include the sender in my reply she’d “take the hint”.
I have been given to understand that these things are really phishing expeditions, a method retailers – and perhaps more insidious organizations –use to gather addresses for their databases in order to bombard us with less friendly propaganda than an alleged invitation from a friend to invite her to dinner in cyber space. This is probably true, but I don’t care as much as I care that my friends, particularly the ones I see relatively often and share intimacies with, carelessly forward vaguely threatening directives without consideration. Hey, invite me to dinner. I’ll probably say yes. Let’s tell each other how much our friendship means – from your lips to my ears and vice versa. And if it takes more than 5 minutes to do that, well, I can wait.