Angry Email: A Cautionary Tale

Angry Email: A Cautionary Tale

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everal years ago my web store, the homespun operation which was to become the Rabbit Room, was run in my luxurious garage. Right next to the garbage can, over by the hot water heater, next to the rakes and the bikes and the folding chairs, I had a little workbench set up with a postage machine, a bunch of yellow, padded envelopes, and stacks of CDs. Almost every morning I’d head out there to fill orders in either my pajamas or, in the winter, a coat and scarf.

Sometimes when I was on the road a lot, Jamie and the boys would fill orders for me—and “fill orders” doesn’t just mean stuffing envelopes. It means emailing people whose packages were lost in the mail, it means calling to order more CDs and/or books, it means refilling the postage machine and driving to the post office and ordering more packing materials. When I had a new CD release we’d sometimes have 1,000 CDs to mail, so Jamie, Aedan, Asher (Skye was just a baby), and I would make a game of it. The kids dove in with gusto and rammed CDs into envelopes, stamped the envelopes with either MEDIA MAIL or FIRST CLASS while Jamie and I threw packages into bins. What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s a lot of work.

When it got to be too much we hired my friend Hitoshi “George” Yamaguchi, then Paul Jones, then Stephen Lamb to help out, and finally Eric Peters managed the store for a while. All those guys will attest to the headache it can be. I should also point out that there’s a lot to enjoy about it, too. It’s fun to recognize repeat customers (who are basically helping us keep the lights on) fun to have the occasional exchange with someone who likes your music, fun to be so closely connected with the process of literally sending the songs into the world for ears to hear.

Years ago, when I was on the road a lot more than I am now, Jamie called me from home to tell me she’d just been reprimanded by someone. Her voice trembled. In between diaper changes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she had trudged out to the garage in the freezing cold to fill orders in my absence. Someone wanted to expedite shipping and Jamie sent a sweet email back saying that she didn’t know how to do that. Well, the customer replied with some pretty harsh words and told her how lame it was that our website didn’t offer shipping options, and how they were used to professional websites and thought ours was a giant hassle. She cried.

I got home, read the email exchange, and was ready to crawl through the modem, emerge into this person’s living room as an Obi Wan hologram, and challenge him to a duel. I couldn’t imagine why someone who liked my music enough to order it from my website would then proceed to chew out my wife for not being web-savvy enough. (I’m still surprised by it, to be honest.) So I cracked my knuckles, rolled my head around a time or two, slammed back a shot of sweet tea, and typed a scathing email. I told the person I didn’t appreciate their tone with my sweet wife, I didn’t appreciate their insensitivity to how hard we were working to amend the situation, I told them I was shocked at their insolence, at their brazen belittling of my wife, and—and—well, you get the point.

My mouse hovered over the “Send” button, just long enough for the Holy Spirit to tweak my heart a little. I shrugged it off and sent the email anyway. I stomped back into the house feeling a little guilty and a lot justified, informed my wife that I had just sent the guy an e-whooping, and refilled my sweet tea. I felt good. Except for the part of me that felt kind of dark. I sauntered back to the garage to finish filling orders and checked my email. The person had emailed me back immediately. I opened the email, ready for a fight, and it was immediately clear that the person hadn’t read my e-whooping. The person had sent an unsolicited and sincere apology. They were repentant and kind, and expressed gratitude for Jamie’s hard work. The person had been having a very stressful day, and goofed up. I felt terrible. I was horrified by the knowledge that any second that person would read my angry words. The Spirit tweaked me again with what must have been a holy “I told you so.”

Then an error message popped up. “Message not sent,” it read. “Server error.” (Server error, indeed.) It seemed as though God had reached into the internet, grabbed my boneheaded email, and flung it back into my computer, sparing the other person quite a bit of pain. Ever since that day, which we’ll call Huge Sigh of Relief Day, I’ve tried to wait days, even weeks, before replying to an email that provokes me. I also try to let someone else read it too and offer feedback. Many times after a few days I realize a reply isn’t necessary at all. The world spins on and the rebuttal that once seemed so vital to the maintenance of my honor turns out to be rather dishonorable instead.

A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11