I am not Basil Vangordon. I do not speak Afrikaans. I am not interested in an Abba tribute concert. My email inbox says otherwise, though.
Plenty of junk find its way into my email, like anyone else’s. I delete most of it but love one subcategory, what I call misdirected email. Spammers don’t care who gets their messages, but misdirected email is different. It’s a misdialed phone call, a note left on the wrong desk.
I’ve saved a few hundred such messages over the years. Many of them are very commercial, others rather personal:
“I just wanted to email you and see whats up. I am kind of confused. Why all of a sudden did you cut off all contact with me and stephanie after the wedding? Of course we were a little upset about how things ended up but I thought we all could get past that and still be good friends like we were. I sill hope that we could get back to that point again because I do miss hanging out with you and Kelly. I have tried to text and call and do my best to see whats going on and how we works things out where ever they went wrong. Please reply, text me or call me. I would like to at least communicate with you. It would be nice to have a good friend back.”
And then there’s this one:
“good morning!!!! not sure what to think about Emily’s calling me out last night. I denied I was still communicating with you. Guess we’ll see how the day goes. she is at the farmers market right now. Slept horrible!!! stomach in knots!!! I love you!!!”
I wonder about my responsibility as the receiver of these messages. Most I simply don’t acknowledge. No harm, no foul.
Last week, I got a confirmation of the purchase of rugby tickets (MTN Golden Lions vs. Sharks, Johannesburg, South Africa, venue here). I’ve gotten newsletters (Basil Vangordon is a much sought-after nurse), invitations to workout and have fondue with the girls, and used car offers. For awhile, I was apparently trying to sell a house in Montana. There was a bachelorette party in, I’m guessing, Washington:
“I got two of those totinos pizzas that she likes.”
and a bachelor party at a farm in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa:
“As per brides request there will be no stripper. Honestly, its a waste of money and time and we all know what a ladys privates looks like (i hope?!…if not let us know). We rather use this money for booze, food and other entertainment.”
South Africa pops up a lot. I’ve learned that my last name is a common first name there, so it gets misused in email addresses more than you’d think.
For more than a year, I was taken through the saga of a Christian missionary in Cambodia trying to start a ministry and get the government’s permission to marry a Khmer woman. The wedding was on for Valentine’s Day 2009, then off as the Zimbabwe-born groom had trouble getting his birth certificate. Permission from a village commune chief put the wedding back on for April, which happened, followed by honeymoon photos on Facebook. It wasn’t sweet. She looked awfully young, and he looked awfully creepy, but who am I to judge based on a few photos? A baby boy followed in March 2010, as well as many updates on the progress of the new mission and appeals for money.
“I’ve yet to find a ministry that has need of my services in the area I feel led to serve [children’s ministry]. … Please pray God will give us wisdom in the days ahead as to whether we should buy a car.”
I do reply to some messages when I feel that not replying will cause harm. There was the message to a widow about settling her late husband’s affairs, one for a poor graduate student in Glasgow trying to arrange buses for visitors to a conference and a woman offering a job to a Marine returning from duty. I sent replies to them so the messages could get where they were meant to go.
For a long time, I was getting nearly daily chain jokes and inspirational messages from a woman in Namibia named Anel who worked for a charter flight company. They were no different from the trite ones an older, distant uncle sends you, the kind that honor troops, channel Archie Bunker, or are guaranteed to make you LOL and forward to 10 friends.
All moments of attempted connection, a reaching out. I wonder what the more personal of these senders think of their little missives sent off into the ether, these arrows that went off target. They have sent a note, often dashed off, sometimes carefully thought, about this or that, the real meaning of which always lies underneath: I am thinking of you. You are something to me. Be a part of my life.
In return, they receive only that most awful of responses, a devastating silence.