It’s All in the Details

Melissa Weiler Gerber - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As heard on the This I Believe Podcast, August 31, 2015
Melissa Weiler Gerber

Melissa Weiler Gerber believes that "the little things" are a big deal. From remembering someone's birthday with the perfect card to receiving a handwritten note for a special occasion, Weiler Gerber believes that paying attention to the little things can elevate ordinary experiences.

Themes: gratitude

I believe in details. I know this runs counter to well-meaning advice that seeks to liberate us from sweating the little stuff. I am painfully aware that my conviction places me at risk for lost sleep and moments of distraction. Dare I say it may even make this forty-one-year-old a bit old-fashioned. So be it.

It’s in my blood. My grandmothers remembered everyone’s birthday and acknowledged all sicknesses, deaths, weddings, and other major life events with handwritten notes. My father, a lawyer and one-time English teacher, edited my early writing diligently and, along with my ninth grade grammar teacher, instilled in me the importance of a comma, the difference one word choice can make. My mother wrote a special message on the paper napkin in my lunch box each birthday during every school year.

Details bring me joy—the feel of quality paper, the heft of a rocks glass, the foam on a well-made latte. These are little gifts that lift my spirit and elevate ordinary experiences. But I also recognize that my commitment to particulars has a dark side. I feel compelled to try on three pairs of the same size jeans before making my final choice. I have to read every greeting card in the store to find just the right one. And discovering I’ve committed a typo nearly kills me.

Yes, it’s hard work to focus on details, but focus I must, for details are fleeting—the circumstances of a first kiss, a lost loved one’s laugh, that shortcut we always used to take. Unless purposefully tended to, the components of even the most important of life’s events are apt to fade and then disappear.

Okay, I’m a bit obsessed, but let’s face it, it’s the sum of all these details that add up to the whole person we are—the eyeglass frames we select, the unique flair of our signature, our choice of seat on a roller coaster—these things provide each of us with our own unique identity. They tell the world in a million tiny ways who we are, what we value.

This is why those things play such an important role in relationships. Taking the time to notice, acknowledge, and recall details makes those around us feel appreciated and understood. We draw on the best of our humanity when we slow down enough to listen—really listen—to a story being told. I certainly notice when someone does that for me.

And so, I pledge to try my best to remember whether you like the toilet paper to roll under or over, whether you are a cat or dog person, and the date of that big birthday you have coming up. I’ll be grateful if you remember that my ears are not pierced, I like peppermint tea, and chocolate is always the right answer. Yes, I believe in details.

A lawyer by training, Melissa Weiler Gerber has spent most of her career advocating for underserved populations. Weiler Gerber serves as the president and CEO of AccessMatters, where she works to transform access to sexual and reproductive health in the five-county Greater Philadelphia region. Previously, she served for over a decade as the executive director of Women’s Way, a nonprofit organization advancing women’s equality, safety, self-sufficiency, and reproductive freedom. A cheerleader for urban living, Weiler Gerber enjoys working, playing, and raising her children, Bea and Oscar, in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. Her essay appears in our new book This I Believe: Philadelphia, which can be pre-ordered by clicking here.

Originally produced by Elisabeth Perez Luna for WHYY in Philadelphia as part of their local This I Believe series