Some years ago, there was a little old lady with whom I got on fairly well. We emailed every now and then, she took me out for lunch occasionally, that sort of thing. I was very fond of her and always enjoyed our conversations, but after moving to Osaka I fell out of contact with a number of my Tokyo-resident acquaintances.
Years went by, and while I thought of this little old lady – let’s call her Y-sensei – fairly often, I somehow never got round to dropping her an email to catch up.
But then, about six weeks ago, I decided to stop faffing about and finally sit down and write to her. So I did!
The email bounced.
My mind, as it so often does, immediately leapt to the worst conclusion. Had she died?! She was in her early 80s (young by Japanese standards!) and always full of vim and vigour, but you never know. Especially right now. I’d had her postal address once upon a time, but it had evidently got lost in one of the several times we’d moved house. I googled her name.
Now, Y-sensei was both a researcher and a professor, and I knew her area of research so papers under her name were very easy to find. Other ways of contacting her, however, were less so. I googled a bit more, and found a paper on which she was listed as a senior author published only a year or so ago. Okay, not bad! Still alive in 2019! But now what. I enlisted my husband’s help.
After a little more searching, the best we could come up with was the email address of Mr. W, one of the people who had published a paper on which Y-sensei was also listed as an author. This most likely meant that she was a teacher of his, or in some way connected to the laboratory in which he researched. But… would it be okay to contact him, especially since this was completely unrelated to work?
We mulled this over for a while, and in the end my husband (somehow now deeply invested in the wellbeing of a person he has never met) decided that learning whether or not she was still alive was more important than potentially annoying somebody with whom neither of us had ever interacted. Besides, he said, the worst that could happen would be that Mr. W would ignore us or send a cross message in reply. So, as politely as possible, he sent an email explaining that I had fallen out of contact and was concerned that Y-sensei was doing well, and would he mind terribly letting us know if she was doing okay. Nothing else – no asking him to send a message, no asking for her contact information, nothing like that. Simply, the email I sent bounced and I just wanted to check that she’s alright.
Would he reply? If he did, how would he reply? Was it okay to have done that? How would you feel if you received an email like that? I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
And then yesterday, he replied! Y-sensei was doing well, he said. She’d helped him out a lot when he was still a student and even now he valued her input and ideas. She’d changed email addresses only a couple of years ago but he would gladly pass on our message.
Cue a huge sigh of relief.
Even if she didn’t want to get in touch, just knowing that she was doing well was enough! I was thrilled. I went to bed last night feeling much better.
This morning when we woke up, there was an email from Y-sensei herself. As fate would have it, she had been thinking about me just a couple of days ago, so to suddenly get an email from Mr. W with a message from me was a huge (and welcome) surprise! That honestly made my day. What excellent news!
This time, we were very lucky. Thanks to my husband’s tactful emailing skills and Mr. W’s kindness, things went far better than I’d expected. But I won’t lie, we kind of overstepped boundaries to achieve this result, and I do feel a bit guilty. As someone not directly involved, what do you think? Am I overthinking things (again), or were we wrong to reach out to Mr. W to ask after Y-sensei?
In any event – don’t keep putting off getting in touch with that person you’ve been meaning to contact! Email them today!