And sometimes not having a story is the story.
Let me give you an example.
Today was a day so busy – everyone moving to or from something, and even the gathered groups in waiting are in stasis, with any outsider’s approach treated as an interruption – that the person most eager to chat is on his way into the men’s room, pausing briefly as he views me scribbling with a pen, to ask, laughing, “You taking a survey?”
Among all the sparkling movement of scarves and high heels, suits and even a kilt, there was one spot of stillness. Sitting at a marble table in the lobby, a man sat with a drink for upwards of an hour. He watched. He sipped. He sat back in his chair, casually observing the chaos around him. I approached, asking if I could sit in the empty chair adjacent.
We moved easily into stranger conversation. I don’t mean “stranger” as in “more bizarre” or “unusual,” but the conversation that arises between strangers: talk of weather and casual observation of immediate actions.
“I haven’t been down here for thirty years,” Tim tells me. “I went to Marquette, but I’ve been in Green Bay ever since. It’s changed so much, but I forgot what a great city it is. I’ll have to come back down here soon.” We chatted about Green Bay – one of his kids goes to a school that is in such close proximity to the stadium that whenever a Packers game is played on a Monday or a Thursday, the kids get out early because of traffic. The players also regularly visit the schools. “It’s still very much a small town, though,” Tim adds, “nothing ever happens – and that’s okay.”
Conversation meandered over to technology, his concern about being born “about 10 years too late” borne out as he explains his restriction of smartphones or laptops for his kids until they’re heading off to college (as one daughter will be doing so next year, maybe to Tim’s alma mater, maybe also to MSOE). We talked about books, how much he enjoys people-watching, the importance of communities, and his plans to travel the U.S. in an R.V. when he retires – “I’m never going to touch another flake of snow!” – and more.
A couple appeared abruptly from behind a crowd, and Tim greeted them with enthusiasm, “Hey! I know these people!”
“These people” being Todd and Lori. He is a special education teacher and she is an E.R. nurse. The three of them bantered about the wedding they attended earlier – the bride is someone Tim and Lori worked with – and about how the groom wasn’t quite what they imagined, but in a good way.
Tim teases Lori for having left his workplace for other pastures, saying “I’ve never gotten over it.” She ribs him right back, “you didn’t call looking for me, either!” It turns out that she sought work that offered hours allowing for her autistic teenage son to have someone home nearly all the time. Although his verbal development may be in toddler years, he is quite adept at going online to find Disney videos and other musical shows and movies that make him happy. Todd explains why, “the melodies,” his hand punctuates the up-down pattern of most catchy Disney tunes, “da-da, da-da, da-da. Their predictability is soothing.”
After ten years in the U.S. Navy, Todd used his medical background to find work in the special education field. Having worked with all ages, he’s currently helping 18-21 year-olds in independent living: “they live as a group in an apartment setting, go off to their jobs in the morning, come home for lunch – sometimes we go out – it’s wonderful. I’m lucky. From the first day of work, I said ‘this is it. This is what I’m meant to do.’ ”
As the crowd dissolved, the threesome noted they should probably head up to the reception. We say goodbye.
The word “story” comes to us through Middle English and Anglo-French, from the Latin origin historia. Merriam-Webster defines “story” in several ways, including “history, an account of incidents or events, an amusing anecdote, a fictional narrative shorter than a novel; a widely circulated rumor; a lie; a legend, or romance; a news article or broadcast.”
This clearly wasn’t a “story” in a strict definition. But, the connection of humanity in moments without story, can shine brighter than any memorable “account of incidents” or “amusing anecdote.” It is in these moments where we find our best selves. It only becomes a story, when someone else, like me, tells it.