When I listen to a story, I find myself drifting off in with the details. It is not that the storyteller is doing a bad job. Very few are able to hold my attention. I have come to realize that as important as I think trivia is, I do not always appreciate it from anyone else.
Two stories reminded me that the bits of a story matter. First, a colleague for a project I depend on announced his departure. Other than “personal”, there were no details. As I asked around, I figured out that nobody really knew the real story. They could guess, but it was clear from their answers that they did not know. I took the initiative and sought out his boss. Over a coffee, I was blunt.
“Why is he leaving?”
“It is personal.”
“I know that part. Without betraying confidences, can I ask why?”
“His four month old son is quite sick.”
“Why is he still here?”
“He is committed to the project and said he would work out the month.”
Details matter, even when I do not know.
A second colleague waved through the glass door, signaling that he was leaving in the middle of the afternoon. I was busy, so politely acknowledged his gesture without giving it a second thought. Minutes later, a short email arrived in my inbox.
“My two month old son is not well. We are taking him to the hospital.”
I wondered what was so important that I could not allow him to talk to me before he left. These details matter, even when I ignore them.
I think of other stories where I miss the point. When one author recounts how “we went on to Caesarea and stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of ‘the Seven.’ Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.9) I wonder if I got the point. It is as if I am eating so quickly that I miss what I am eating. I forget to taste. I ignore the texture. I refuse to experience the wonder found in eating.