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"Chasing Stories" mind matters
November 13, 2002
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We are surrounded by stories.

Patrons of a nearby restaurant park their cars along my street. One of them, a man named Bruce, had a favorite school teacher from childhood. His friend Vicki could share memories of her first real vacation. The waitress who serves them likes to gripe about her job. The car Bruce drives once got struck by a morning snowplow. The necklace the waitress wears used to be her grandmother's, who won it in a church raffle. She lost it once in the parking lot, where it lay hidden under snow for months before a young mother found it and brought it inside.

People, places, and objects all have stories, and we love how they intersect. The intersections are valuable, and we choose for ourselves our favorites. We have to choose, because tracking them all is a bit like drowning:

Four years ago, in the same chair where Bruce now eats, a city bus driver eating alone began choking on a piece of steak. He was rescued by an eye doctor who saw him from across the room. The doctor was making travel plans for his anniversary, but his wife would get pregnant within the month and they would instead drive to see her parents in Providence. Traffic would slow near the scene of a car accident, where a forty-year-old woman was miraculously unhurt when her car rolled. The other driver, ultimately convicted of driving with a suspended license, would spend his birthday week in jail. The arresting police officer was Vicki's younger brother.

Intersections are inevitable, because everything has history: the food we eat, the places we visit, the people we talk to. Intersections are important, because without them daily experience would be simple trivia. We don't care where Bruce sits, for example, unless there's something interesting about his chair. We need to relate events to one another.

My favorite example is the Birthday Coincidence conversation. Someone will ask me the date of by birthday, and I'll answer "December 5." In response, I'll be told something like, "Really? My girlfriend's roommate has the same birthday." Or, "My mom's birthday is November 5." Or, "Everybody I talk to seems to have been born in December." Ask yourself why people talk like this, because certainly these coincidences are unremarkable. I mean, who cares?

Small talk or not, we need connectivity to move forward. To ask for a birthday and then say, "Ah," is insufficient. We demand something more. Life demands more.

Stories are generated all the time. Whether we investigate them or not, paths still cross, connections are still made. Each story touches other stories. Simply by being alive, we inflate the richness of the universe. No matter how we live our lives, we introduce connections and data to the world. But in our interactions with the trivia that's out there, and to discover the world's value, we must connect the dots. We must engage the lives and history around us.

Let's keep chasing the stories.

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Copyright 2002 Seth Maislin


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