Stories and food, that’s all we really want. Maybe a drink. As we sat on the tarmac, delayed for a transatlantic flight, everyone around me poked at the screen on the seat-back in front of her, hoping to get them going with the promised movies or television series. When the plane took off, and those little monitors were finally in service for something besides eardrum-busting announcements, we all tuned in.
The only other airplane service that comes close in anticipation is the food, lousy as it is. We sit like baby birds in the nest except for open beaks, waiting for the meal cart to lurch down our lane. But really, mostly it’s the stories we’re hungry for. Once those screens are rolling, even the promise of a hot meal with a complimentary glass of red or white takes second place to the narrative world that we’ve begun to inhabit.
It didn’t completely surprise me, then, when that evening’s dinner conversation, at a table of scientists – immunologists and oncologists – turned to stories, namely how relating the facts of data and the results of experiments and clinical trials were so much more compelling when packaged as stories than simply as a list of details. Even the pursuit of highly specialized knowledge becomes a quest for meaning, a personal investment in the narrative arc of investigation. Suspense and hope, surprise, and the desire to find out what happens drive the best research. And stories remind us of why it matters.