Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 AM. 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, and 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, and 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 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,” I responded.
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, and 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.
People will forget what you said…
People will forget what you did…
But people will never forget how you made them feel…
Two men were seriously ill in the same hospital room.
One man was allowed to sit up in bed an hour each afternoon to drain
the fluid from his lungs, but the other man had to lie flat on his back.
The men talked for hours, and spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they spent their vacation.
Every afternoon. The man that had to sit up, he would pass the time with
him, by describing what he could see out the window by his bed.
The man in the next bed, by the door, began to live for those one-hour periods so he could listen to the othe rman, tell him what was going on in the world outside the window., as he told him how he was looking out on a park with a lovely lake, the ducks and swans were going by, there were children standing at the water’s edge, sailing their model boats. Several young lovers were wallimg by, arm in arm past the beautiful flowers in bloom, what a nice view there was of the city skyline, way off in the distance.
Day after day, the old man would close his eyes, and see everything he would describe to him, and fall off peacefuly to sleep. And one afternoon he described a parade passing by, and even though the man couldn’t hear the band, he could imagine the flags waving and all the men and women walking by.
Then one morning, the day nurse came in with water to give them their baths, and found the man by the window, had died peacefully during the night, and she felt so sad, as did the man in the bed by the door.
After the bed was stripped and new sheets and blanket were put on, as the nurse put thepilows on the bed by the window, the other man, still layingon his back, asked the nurse, if it was possible that she could put him in that bed by the window. The nurse was only too happy to do it for him. Making sure he was comfortable, she left. Very slowly, painfully, he tried to prop himself up on one elbow, so he could look out that window, only to find the window faced a blank wall.
The man was devastated by what he saw, asked the nurse why would his room mate sit there and describe such wonderful things going on outside the window.
The nurse responded, you didn’t know he was blind? He couldn’t not see that wall. I think he just wanted to help you, and make you feel better, encourage you.”
Epilogue: There is happiness in making others happy, despite our own
situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness whenshared, is doubled. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that
money can’t buy.
“Today is a gift, I bet you didn’t know that is why it is called the present.”