Anyone who met my dad has a story about him. And he met a lot of people. He saw lots of people on a regular basis. But he also made friends with people he knew for a short time. He nearly always went away from the interaction with a story about the person’s life, a bit of news, or an odd connection he’d discover about something or someone they had in common. My dad was always searching for and collecting stories, connecting the dots.
(I sometimes wonder what stories people who had short encounters with him took with them, and what they shared with others. Like the guy outside Macy’s in Manhattan. Did he go to work and say, “I had the strangest conversation today with a country boy who was standing outside Macy’s while his wife and daughter shopped. He looked completely out of place but acted as if him being there and saying hi to people as they rushed by was absolutely normal.”)
For as much as he talked and shared stories, he listened well. He had absorbed a lot of information throughout his life. Like all of us, some of it was probably useless, but I was often surprised at how what I thought was a useless fact, brought up at just the right time, resonated with someone just enough to make a connection.
Maybe that was the point: connections. Dad rarely started a conversation out of the blue. He listened for springboards, bouncing off what someone else would say. People remember him because of his stories, but the stories stuck because he engaged people. He went along with the flow of the conversation, not trying to force it but simply using it to journey with someone, whether it was outside a department store in New York City, during biweekly treatments, or over coffee before the sun was up.
People were important to him. People often listened, because he listened to others. He collected stories, then wove them into others’ stories. If he was in a crowd with someone who seemed to be talking just to hear herself/himself, he wouldn’t engage. (In fact, you might even catch him rolling his eyes and moving his hands as if to say, “Blah, blah, blah. Will this chatter ever stop?”) Dad shared lots of words, but if the words themselves were the goal, he was out. If the interaction between two people was the goal, he was in.
Too often, we have an agenda to sharing our stories and knowledge. We want other people to know what we know. We want to share what’s going on in our lives. But the best way to do that is to listen to what’s going on with others. That’s when the dots begin to show up, the dots that are similar to our own, the dots we can connect.
And if we can’t connect the dots with others, what’s the point?
If we don’t connect the dots, it’s just a lot of “blah, blah, blah.”