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As my friend, Mike and I cross-country skied our way through the water today, he told me a story about his daughter. It surprised me both because of him telling me something personal and because of the nature of his story. None of it jibed with what I thought Mike’s story was all this time. Over the years I had formed a particular story-line about his life and who he was and all that. Then, today, easily and without hesitation he changed my narrative. He told me another part of that same life that didn’t fit the smooth, normal, no-problems version I had created. It stopped me cold in the water. I said something like, “Oh, that’s sad.” But he just smiled and said, “We do what we have to do.” All I could answer was, “God love you and her.”

But more than anything, his story made me realize, again, just how much each person carries around with them in their day-to-day life. Good stuff, bad stuff, heart-breaking stuff, joyful stuff, loving and hating stuff. I forget that sometimes, especially when I’m immersed in my own sludge and can’t see anything or anyone beyond poor-me. What a waste that has been. How many stories have I missed in just the past seven months or so  because I’ve been sunk within the darkness, not allowing any light or air or story to reach me?

Mike’s story made me want to open my ears and eyes again. I’ve forgotten during this time what a good listener I am when I’m present in heart and soul. It is then, and only then, that I can accept people’s stories  like the gifts that they are — both for the teller and this listener. I knew that was true for Mike today in the pool. There was something good in the sharing of that story about his daughter. I could see the relief in his face that it was out of him for a moment and sent over to me.

Here in this cafe on this sunny afternoon, I look around at all these folks sitting in front of laptops, or scrolling down their phones or reading a book, or talking and laughing with friends and wonder what are the layers of their stories. I want to become a miner of stories again. I want to chip away at a vein waiting for the kernel of gold or silver to appear, a gem of a story or maybe just the right story to hear at that time. And, I believe that it is in the hearing of other people’s stories that my own tale will become richer and, I believe, happier.