Monday, November 17, 2008

Passing forward a kindness

The cabbie arrived at the address where someone had requested a taxi. He honked but
nobody came out.

He honked again, nothing. So he walked to the door and knocked. "Just a
minute," answered a frail, elderly voice.

He could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the
door opened.

A small woman in her 90'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. The driver took the suitcase to the cab, and then returned to assist the woman.

She took his arm and they walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking him for his kindness.

"It's nothing," he 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

He answered quickly. "Oh, I don't mind."

She said "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

The driver looked into 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."

The cabbie quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What route would you like me to take?' he asked. For the next two hours, they drove through the city.

She showed him the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They drove through the neighbourhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had him 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 him 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."

They drove in silence to the address she had given him.

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 they pulled up.

They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

The driver 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," he said.

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers"

Almost without thinking, he bent and gave her a hug. She held onto him tightly. "You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

He squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.

Behind him, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

He didn't pick up any more passengers that shift.
He drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, He could hardly talk.

What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end
his shift?

What if
He had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

We are 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.

Now consider the allegory: The old woman is a wounded trooper. She's closing the door on her life, just as that trooper is looking back on his prior life--before his injury took away his hands, or his eyes or his memory. His new life has yet to open, because he is still looking back, unable to move forward, because he can do nothing for himself. He can only focus on what was, and what will be is too hard to think about.

You are the cab driver. You can go about your day, focusing on "important" things, things that likely won't matter in a month, a year, or a decade. Or you can stop,ever so briefly, and help that wounded hero. He's already taken stock of what was--he needs help going through those doors into what he does not know.

You can help him--a voice controlled computer can help him bridge the gap between what was and what will be. It can help him realize that he can still be a part of the world as he sees it, that he can still do things he used to do.

It isn't the grand things and achievements in life that define us. It is the innumerable small things that determine how we affect and effect the world around us. It doesn't take much, you CAN make a difference.


No comments: