Thoughts: On Not Being Sherlock Holmes


I was having coffee with a friend just before Christmas. We were talking about our parents and growing up, and he commented on what a good storyteller I was. “Why,” he asked me, “don’t you write more stories about people?”

That’s a good question, and I have been thinking about it off and on for the past six weeks or so. My life is a kaleidoscope of characters. People wander in and out of my circle all the time. Some stay. Some just pass through.

I have discovered that I have “one of those faces”. You know what I mean, on of those faces that says “I know you never met (or barely know) this guy, but it’s OK to tell him your life’s story.” Sometimes I come out of a conversation with a near stranger that leaves my head reeling. OK, more than sometimes. My head does a lot of spinning.

It’s gotten worse over the past year or two after I began pastoring my tiny little church in Southwest Vermont. I wear my little Methodist lapel pin on my jacket and I swear the thing is like a billboard saying “go ahead, spill.” I’ve had perfect strangers come sit at my table in coffee shops and say “You’re a pastor. That means everything I tell you is confidential, right?” (Gut contracts. I nod.)

And out comes the story.

Don’t get me wrong. I am honored by whatever it is that causes this to happen. I like to tell myself that I must seem like a safe place to dump your deep darks into. Of course, it could be something else, like they were desperate and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that they tell everyone and I was just next in line. When you have no idea why something happens, you can’t discount anything.

But whatever the reason, I tend to keep most of the stories to myself. That is not always easy. I am a writer after all and OMG the stories! I swear I could write TV dramas or Sitcoms. Day in and day out.

But I don’t. In fact, you almost never ever see me write someone else’s story, even if it wasn’t told in confidence. And there’s a reason.

There was a time I was accused by most of my friends and family and church family of being wise. This would have been back when I was in my late thirties and into my forties. When people started calling me that, I was flattered, but really didn’t believe it. But over years and years of that well meant moniker being applied to me, I began to believe my own press.

That, of course, is always dangerous. Because in the end, as many people do at some point in their lives, I came unraveled. My marriage ended. I fell into a long black depression. I began to question everything in my life. So much of what I had thought, about myself, about the people around me, turned out to be flawed.

Wise? Nope. I was far to broken to be wise. I just stumbled through life for a few years.

I had once thought I was pretty good at reading people. And maybe I am. Sometimes. In time. But certainly not on first or second impressions. I’ve had to unlearn my tendency to simply accept people as they present themselves to be.

Not that everyone lies to me. I’ve just learned, probably way later than most people, that people have many, many layers, and I likely won’t see them until there have been a lot of conversations. A LOT of them. And even then I often won’t know the whole story, until I have heard other stories from people around the person I am talking to.

They tell me what they tell me. They tell me what is on their mind and heart in that moment. They tell me how THEY see things. They tell me what they want me to know. They tell me what they think will persuade me or move me to see things the way they see them.

And the whole story takes forever to come out. Frankly, I am not sure I ever get the whole story, even when I look at all the layers, at all the version, at what other people say too.

I suck as Sherlock Holmes.

I wish I was better. I love Sherlock Holmes. I have read Conan Doyle’s originals. I’ve read and still read hundreds of the pastiches of his work. I adore the old radio show remakes. The black and white television series from the fifties. Lots of the different movies. The BBC series.

That whole concept, of being able to see a person, and in that first conversation deduce them to the core of their being? I would SO love to have it, It would be so useful. I’d make so many less mistakes. I’d do so much more good.

I used to know someone who claimed they could look across a restaurant at a couple and tell the whole dynamic of their relationship.

I wish.

But I am stuck with myself and that I still tend to take people as they present themselves. So I am often, very very often, wrong. You think I’d have moved past initial acceptance, having been so wrong so many times. But some silly romantic, naive part of me that has taken, oh, fifty some odd years to get past. Or sort of get past.

Now? I just listen. I accept people as they present themselves. I accept the things I learn that modify first impressions as I learn them. My concept of who and what people evolves for a long time. I feel like I am constantly learning, and that my time with people is far more about that learning than it is about things like judgment.

I may in time, see patterns in a person that I come to count on. I may in time feel like I have seen enough to kinda understand who and what they are. But I am always, always aware that I could be very very wrong.

So, I don’t write much about the people in my life. Better to write my poems, or essays about feelings and things I notice about life in general, or fiction. I get enough wrong in life already. No need for me to add to the mess.

But you Sherlocks out there? Just now I am as bamboozled as Watson. I watch you in sheer amazement. I always will. I’m right behind you. Probably way, way behind you.

And that’s OK with me.

Be well. Travel wisely.


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