Sunday, November 2, 2008

Taxi Cab Compassion

A Cab Ride I'll Never Forget

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. One night I took a fare at 2:30 AM, when I arrived to collect, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once.

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 knick-knacks 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 man," 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 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. "Oh, there are other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. Our hug ended with her remark, "You gave an old woman a little moment of joy." After a slight pause, she added, "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.

[ Original Story by Kent Nerburn ]

posted at

Compassion was one of the Buddha's greatest lessons, and the beauty of compassion is that everyone is capable of it, no matter what the siuaation is. A taxi cab driver's compassion is more personal and profound then a charity dinner. Don't get me wrong, those charity dinners do raise tens of thousands of dollars for good causes, but compared to this story, it just seems so impersonal. I guess I would rather be a poor taxi cab driver giving direct compassion then a millionaire throwing money at charities.
Everyone has their own way of expressing compassion, and there are a thousand different ways to do it. How nifty is that? :)

What's your favorite story of compassion?


Jordan said...

My favorite story of compassion is the one unfolding before me moment by moment.

But I really like the one you sited here too!

Take care,

TaraDharma said...

Jeez, my eyes are glistening with tears and my heart is full. What a beautiful example of love and selflessness.

Gosh, though I rarely think about it in terms of compassion, just plain old love really, I help a friend of mine who is 86 and very frail. She needs everything done for her, personal care, feeding, all of it. I visit every two weeks and visit with her, indulge her every whim, feed and clean her, and cuddle her to sleep at night. She has been a rock for me all my life, the least I can do is be there for her now. It's a honor, actually.

Uku said...

Great story! Thank you

molly said...

Wow. I love the story. I felt it. Thanks for sharing.

I have been a nurse for many years, so I have many tales of compassion. Usually they involve looking into the eyes of the elderly. But the most intensely personal story of compassion for me came when my husband of four months stepped up to the plate to take care of me when a life-altering illness set in just under 2 years ago. I had always taken care of others, and when I needed to be taken care of, he was the angel who stood by, dealing and holding an amazing space for me, not pretending that everything was okay, but just being there as I suffered. The details are too personal to repeat here, but suffice it to say it moved me, big time (and he still moves me).

Anonymous said...

yeah, that made me tear up too:)