So as I sat and listened to the story, I knew how it would end. I’ve already heard it four times. In fact, I know some of the details they’ve left out in this rendition. I don’t say anything. I try not to roll my eyes. I Io my best to listen, or at least appear to be listening. But in my mind I wonder, “When will I start telling the same story over and over? Do I already do that?”
Too many times, as soon as I recognize the story, my mind shuts off. I stop listening. I’ve already heard this.
To avoid being that guy, I’ll make sure I ask, “Have I told you about…?” Or I begin by saying, “Stop me if I’ve told you this before.”
And yet, there are some stories we enjoy hearing over and over again. As children, we haul out the same book over and over again for mom or dad to read to us. Or we’ll say, “Tell me that story again.”
Every get tired of hearing the Christmas story?
There are some stories I wish I could hear.
I wish I could hear the story of how my mom’s mother and father met. She was a nanny who had immigrated from England. He was a Spanish-speaking machinist who grew up in Costa Rica. While I remember her well, I only vaguely remember him. As I look back at pictures, though, I cannot imagine who these two got together. But there is no one left in the family who can tell me that story.
I wish I could hear the story about the birth and death of my little brother Robert. He was born just eleven months after me but only lived three months. As far as I know, we only have a birth certificate, a picture of his tombstone, and a vague description of him as a “blue baby.” He was always remembered but never talked about.
I wish I could hear more of my dad’s stories from his travels in the South Pacific during World War II. He kept a careful record of every island and atoll he stopped at in 1944 and 45. But like many veterans, he didn’t often share details about those days. All we have are a few of his handwritten letters home.
The people who could tell me those stories have died. They’ve taken their stories with them.
So I remind myself that these are precious moments. I try to pay attention and listen. These voices are leaving stories behind for me to remember and retell.
On my recent trip to Israel, I encountered two very different styles of selling. One bugged the heck out of me. The other got me to purchase something.
After one full day of touring near the Sea of Galilee, our group was dropped off at a diamond store just down the hill from our hotel. We were assured that this was the best place to go if we wanted to purchase jewelry since Israel is one of the world’s leading exporters of diamonds. One of the store managers gave us a quick quick presentation on diamonds on the lower level. He then took us upstairs to the showroom.
A very kind gentleman with a clipboard immediately became my wife’s shadow as soon as we walked into the showroom. There were at least a dozen more like him, all of whom attached themselves to other members of our group. My wife simply wanted to look at what they had to offer and see what kinds of settings they had. Our friend followed us from display to display, from one side of the room to the other, just waiting for a nanosecond pause that might reveal interest in an item. It wasn’t five minutes before she said, “How do we get out of here?”
Later in the week we went to Bethlehem. Upon entering the city, we had an excellent falafel lunch, and then went to the olive wood store next door. We were told that this was the best place to get anything olive wood. It was genuine, handcrafted right there, and was far better than anything we’d see in the markets, which probably came from China.
After a little talk about the different products there, the same person who had waited on us in the restaurant gifted me an olive wood covered bible. Then we were free to look around. The selection was amazing, as were the prices. Once again, we attracted a number of folks who pressed hard for a sale. Each time we paused to look at something, someone was right there to make sure we got something off the shelf. They upped the ante by offering me the special pastoral 25% discount. Time was of the essence, too. When another tour group came in, we were herded towards the door. We bought some Christmas ornaments for the grandkids and headed for the bus.
I wasn’t surprised by those two experiences. I’ve been there, done that before. It’s just annoying. It makes us want to get out as soon as possible.
We had a totally different experience in the markets, though. Strolling through the Arab market in old city Jerusalem, we came across a different kind of store, one that sold antiquities. This store had everything from coins to oil lamps to pottery and other items found at archeological digs. The owner of this store was still opening up his store as he welcomed us. As my wife looked at some of the coins from the time of Jesus, I asked him how long he had worked in this store. “I am fourth generation,” he proudly explained, “And my son works here, too.” When his son walked in a few minutes later, we got to meet him.
He asked where we were from and when he learned we weren’t far from St. Augustine, told us his brother owned a pizza restaurant there. (I found the place on TripAdvisor, but we haven’t been there yet.) My wife had a few questions about some of the coins, and he pulled out a reference book that explained when each was used and where. He never asked us once to buy anything, but had a story about each item that caught our eye.
My wife not only purchased a coin mounted in a pendant, but also bought another as a gift for her mom. Our friends came in and bought something, too. We stayed in his little shop for about an hour altogether.
Later, as we walked by the many, many booths of Menahen Yehuda market, we paused at one booth with an amazing display of spices and dried fruit mixes. The smells coming out of that booth were amazing. When we pointed and asked, “What’s this?” he explained what the dried fruit mixture was, explained how it could be used to make tea or added to wine or eaten as is, and then gave us a generous taste. He did this over and over, working through the sweet and then the savory side of the booth. He told us how long each could be stored. He explained how he would wrap it up to take home. I bought four different kinds of dried fruit mixes, about two pounds in all.
I asked him if he was the person who’s name was over the booth, and he told us that he was almost family, but not quite! I then asked where to find the best coffee and baklava in the market, since there were so many stores. He thought for a moment, then pointed out where we needed to stop next.
Where we stopped next was a little coffee shop. Basket after basket of coffee was on display, and the young man working explained where each came from and which blends were his favorites. He gave us a little sample. You don’t have to work very hard to sell me coffee. I picked out the coffee labeled “Tanzania” and he told me they roasted that one right there. He scooped up some beans, ground them and brewed a nice long espresso for me. Delicious.
Not many steps from there was an impressive display of baklava. No one else was at the shop when we arrived, so the owner explained each variety. and which ones he liked best. He let us try one, too. Delicious! Could we take some home? Absolutely, he said. He handed us a box to fill up, then he wrapped it securely to pack in our luggage.
I’m fascinated between these very different experiences. I couldn’t wait to get out of the first two stores. But I could have hung around all day at the last three places. I’ve read a lot recently about how to promote your business or sell your product by telling your story. I got to see that method in the markets of Jerusalem from some vendors who did it extremely well!
I had the first appointment of the day when I recently took my car in on a Friday morning for some routine maintenance. With computer, journal and coffee in hand, I found a table when I could read, write and wait. Other than a few service people, the place was mostly empty. Over the next hour or so, I watched as the receptionist, sales, finance, managers and, eventually, a few customers arrived.
As I eavesdropped on casual conversations about their plans for the weekend, one outburst caught my attention. “I’m ready for this day to be over!” He passed by so quickly I never got to find out anymore details. But I thought to myself, “What a dismal way to begin your day!” The sun is barely up, and you are already yearning for dusk.
Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he had a funeral to attend, a root canal scheduled or knew he was about to get chewed out by the boss. So he just wanted to get it over with.
I wonder if he’s the only one. Are there others who just want to get life over with? What happens to your soul when each day crawls by with nothing but boredom, pain or loneliness?
When I catch myself just wanting it to be over (and yes, sometimes that happens), I remind myself that I really don’t know what this day will be like. I don’t know who I’ll meet, what I’ll learn, or what will arrive in the mail. I have to remember that what I dread usually only takes up a small slice of a day rather than defining the whole thing. Most compelling stories begin with a person with a problem who learns something about themselves and creates new possibilities. I want to be a part of such stories, so I don’t want the day to be over until I’ve experienced all of it. In other words, give me a big slice of today!