A.C. Snow

Curiosity kills cats and spices up reporting

At the beach on Sunday morning, my wife drove up to the nearby Salter Path United Methodist Church. I remained at the condo to watch the ocean, one of God’s greatest sermons delivered during His six-day work week.

Too often, I suppose, I find myself among the congregates of the church of poet Emily Dickinson who wrote:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome. –

Upon returning from church, my wife said the minister’s sermon touched on the importance of spreading joy, bringing light into other lives.

Before the sermon, a member of the congregation said that he had gotten up that morning feeling dispirited and sad. But when he arrived at church, a friend presented him with a pie, and he already felt cheered by the thoughtful gesture.

I started to ask her what kind of pie but hesitated, anticipating her frequent answer to such trivia questions, “I don’t know. But why does it matter?”

It’s the reporter in me that makes it matter. Details always matter to a reporter.

But I can understand her frustration. Curiosity and the thirst for detail is a hallmark of my trade, both ingrained and taught by my journalism profs.

When my daughter, also a journalist, was visiting recently, we enjoyed quality time sitting around the dining room table and chatting.

One morning, I found myself squirming at the incessant questions for minor details that punctuated her conversation.

Then I remembered. She’s a reporter. That’s what reporters do. They glean the fields of life in search of the “five W’s – the who, what, when, where and why. They then separate the chaff from the grain and serve the latter to their hungry readers or listeners.

I remember when, many years ago, she introduced us to her future husband whom she had met when the two were working as reporters in Greenville, S.C. We had rendezvoused at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

After Adam left to return to Greenville, my daughter asked, “Well, what do you think?”

“I like him,” I said.

“What do you like about him?” she asked.

“He has a nice sense of humor.”

“And what else?”

“He seems intelligent.”

“And what else?”

“He seems very attentive toward you.”

And so it went, on and on, until I blurted in exasperation, “I like the way he hung by his tail from the crabapple tree over by the primate cages.”

Personal versus professional

I turned the tables on her, asking what he liked about me?

She enumerated several complimentary characteristics in the same sort of format, concluding with, “And he liked the way you hung by your tail also.”

There is a difference, of course, in personal curiosity and professional curiosity.

I have a longtime friend who deals with the former in a unique way.

When someone asks a question she considers too personal, she replies in her moonlight-and-magnolias accent, “If you will forgive me for not answering that question, I’ll forgive you for asking it.”

From time to time after returning from the beach, I have wondered what kind of pie it was that cheered the gentleman. Coconut creme? Chocolate meringue? Rhubarb?

About that pie ...

By now, even some of you may be anxious to learn the pie’s identity.

I tried, I really did. I contacted Ms. Peggy Moore, a member of the church’s choir whose name was listed in the bulletin. She called several people. None could identify the recipient of the pie.

I was surprised that no one contacted remembered the incident. It isn’t every Sunday that someone brings a pie to church on a Sabbath morning to cheer a friend.

It is said that curiosity kills cats. But, as noted above, curiosity is an essential ingredient of good news reporting.

Curiosity also provides spice for storytelling. Professional curiosity can be a powerful tool. It can expose scandal, lay the groundwork for needed reform in governments, and can even unseat presidents. It can inspire humanitarian action and illuminate the dark corners of our culture.

I’m sorry that I failed you as an investigative reporter. But the ingredients of that ecclesiastical pie do not matter. What matters is the random act of kindness that inspired its baking.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com