My friend Clark and I went to school together, and during the last few years of school we developed a deep friendship.
We lost touch for a few years, and reconnected over the phone in 2020. Since somewhere in that year, we've spoken almost every month.
After realizing it was a bit silly that we hadn't actually seen each other in-person and given we only live an hour or so away from each other, we decided to plan a day together.
Quality time is my love language, so I was deeply looking forward to this day with Clark.
The day before he was supposed to come and see me, I sent him a text to just confirm that all was good.
Then I sent him another text on the morning of our planned meeting.
We had planned for him to come by at 9:30am, and at 9:00am I still hadn't heard from him.
What I'd like to share in this post is two things.
First, I want to tell you about the stories that I made up in my head about why I hadn't heard from him.
Second, I want to tell you what I've learned from those stories since.
At first, I tried to think of very simple stories.
His phone died. His phone was out of range. Something was wrong with my phone. He had lost his phone.
These were all phone stories.
Then as time went on and the 9:30am meeting time loomed closer, the stories started to change.
He is really sick, so sick that he can't even respond. Someone in his family is sick, so sick that he can't respond. Something bad has happened that has caused him to completely de-prioritize our time together.
These were no longer phone stories, they became human stories, and increasingly dark ones.
The explanations started to get more complicated, and I found that my possible responses were also getting more complicated.
At first, I was willing to accept that he would just send me a text later in the morning saying he was still on his way but his phone died.
Then as time went on, I started thinking about how I would drive to him, and check in on his well-being. I didn't even know his address and he lives in a city of over a million people.
The story about the stories
Reflecting on the stories I made up, I realized that many things increased with time.
The level of complexity in the stories, the darkness of the stories, and probably the thing that stood out to me the most ... my level of willingness to get personally involved.
This last dimension was the most interesting to me.
As time went on, my commitment to actually do something about the situation was escalating and the things I was willing to do were evolving at the same rate of complexity as the stories.
As a reminder, all of this was taking place in a 30-minute time window between 9:00am (when I still hadn't heard from Clark) and 9:30am (when Clark was supposed to show up).
The reason I wanted to write this post, was because I wanted to try and answer the question of why my level of willingness to get personally involved escalated over time.
I think the answer to this question can help explain why the stories were as complex as they were.
The answer I've come to is a simple one.
I care deeply about my friend.
I have absolutely no idea why our minds work the way they do. My belief in this particular case is that because I care so deeply about Clark, my mind began to invent stories that would provide me with opportunities to really demonstrate the fact that I care deeply about Clark.
The stories made me willing to drive to a city of a million people, to find a single person. If that's not a demonstration of caring, I'm not sure what is.
What happened at 9:30am?
As the time got closer, I sat by my window and waited unknowingly.
By that point, I was willing to accept anything and willing to do anything.
Then, at exactly 9:30am, Clark pulled up to my house.
It turned out, for some unexplainable reason he just didn't get my texts. He showed me his phone and I showed him mine. Neither of us could explain it.
Often, stories are just stories.
But they do tell us things.