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                                              Taxi Ride

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, 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 such 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 80s 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, "Can 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 rearview 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

"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.

 From "Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace"


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