A friend of mine forwards an e-mail to me, Subject: Keep her going – hilarious! I quickly scroll through the body of the e-mail, a series of photos that would bring a smile to any woman's face: a mouse with a lid that flips up to reveal a compact mirror, make-up included; a hammer in the shape of a shoe, part of a tool set that includes a screwdriver that could double as a knife; a toilet seat chained down. All the way at the bottom is an animated woman walking the world for breast cancer.
Someone else forwards an e-mail, Passing the Purple Hat, in celebration of Women's History Month and in memory of Erma Bombeck. An 'angel' has been sent my way. She brings me classic Erma Bombeck reminders about casting off the petty things that keep me from living my life to the fullest. She asks me to pass the purple hat along to women I love. Good things will happen if I do.
I consider forwarding the missive along with the caveat: I don't usually do this (which, by implication means that sometimes I do.) It would be a simple act of good will; take a quick look through my contacts, choose some names, hit send. Instead I find myself hesitating, thinking back to the days when chain letters had to be copied verbatim, no simple hitting of a button to send them along. Copying words makes you think about them, just a little more.
Chainmail, an early form of armor made from small links of steel or iron, was designed to keep a sword from penetrating. Originally known as chain maille (French, derived from the Latin macula, "mesh of a net"), the soldier wearing it might still suffer from the force of a blow, but he would not be cut. The development of plate armor diminished the need for chainmail.
From a linguistic standpoint, the maille that gave rise to armor and today gives us the modern variant in the form of jewelry and handbags, is no more than a cousin to mail, derived from the middle Dutch word for traveling bag (i.e., the kind used by mail carriers). But in a fast-paced communication mode that forces us to read between the consonants, I can opt to slow down, make the metaphoric leap between the mesh of a net and the mail circulating around the world with electronic speed. And instead of hitting the forward button, I might (with only a modicum of guilt at breaking the chain) share a poem by Dorianne Laux:
Sometimes, when we're on a long drive,
and we've talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it's what we don't say
that saves us.