Monday, September 29, 2008

A Story for the Soul

Dooce linked to this story by Kent Nerburn today and I've just now staunched the flow of tears such that I can write about it. It's called "The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget" and here it is in full:

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.

It was a cowboy’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss.

What I didn’t realize was that it was also a ministry.

Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a moving confessional. Passengers climbed in, sat behind me in total anonymity, and told me about their lives. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, and made me laugh and weep.

But none touched me more than a woman I picked up late one August night. I was responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partyers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a worker heading to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.

Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away.

But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation.

Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute”, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing”, I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy”, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers”.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

“You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware - beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

I've been writing a lot lately about soaking up the moment, but before I had Landon that wasn't something I wasn't very good at. I loved lists and countdowns- I bought a palm pilot when they first became popular but quickly abandoned it because I missed the satisfaction of x-ing through the days in my calendar, bringing me ever closer to the Next Big Thing. After watching Landon grow and change so much in the past year I've slowly kicked my countdown habit. At first I had to actually force myself to relax and enjoy the moments of non-productivity; I had to remember how to just play. But I'm a quick study and tonight while I sat on the driveway and flipped through the Wall Street Journal while Landon ran around with arms flapping in big circles around me, all I could think about was making the lazy evening last. I don't fear the passage of time- there's much to look forward to, but I don't egg it on anymore either.

I think this story is mostly about how much our actions can affect others- how giving a little of yourself can mean so much to someone else, but for me it's also reminder of the bittersweet passage of time and that it's the everyday moments that make up the majority of the memories of years gone by.


  1. That's such a beautiful story. I'm glad you shared it.

  2. I can so relate to this post today. I have recently begun to experience a great sense of peace with decisions I've made and the direction in which my life has taken. After almost two decades in a very stress-filled industry I decided one day to pack my office and leave - just like that. I drove home that day and decided to quit letting other people's stress be my own. I quit biting my nails after a lifetime of doing so, I lost 20 lbs., I completed a licensing program for a new career and basically started fresh. That was one year ago and things couldn't be better. I have re-learned to "smell the roses", I open doors for little old ladies and help them reach items on upper shelves at the market instead of rushing by like I don't see them. I initiate conversations with complete strangers and have even made a few friends. I don't rush to and fro anymore. I read for pleasure and cook because I enjoy it. I still have to work - don't get me wrong - but my whole outlook on life has become incredibly clear. Life is short - you best take advantage of it while you're still here. I'm getting married next month - Nov. 1st - after being widowed and a single mom for 15 years. Life is good, I'm good and I'm glad to share my happiness. No regrets - ever.

  3. Thank you for that story. I hope it true, but even if not, I still felt compelled to cry. Life is a dichotmy -- I love reading your posts and connect, but was in complete disagreeance about Palin.... But, you know what? That's ok.

    I am a working Mama. I am not a SAHM. Love them, but that's not in my job description. Though, as I am older now -- 37 -- I would opt to raise my 1 year old twins.... But didn't opt for my older .... Fuck this. I'm typing a life history.

    I enjoyed the taxi story and cried.

  4. this story is's hard to believe we will all be at that stage some day. that's one reason I want 4 kids- I never want to be old and alone.