Kent Nerburn is a noted writer, speaker and all around gifted man who has allowed his rich life to shape everything he does and says. I hope one day I can go and listen to him, maybe even share a cup of coffee. He says that the most formative experience of his childhood was accompanying his father while working for the Red Cross as ‘first-responder’ to many natural and unnatural disasters in Minnesota. Clearly, many life lessons were learned from those nutritive moments.
Earlier in his remarkable life, Kent drove a taxi for a living. He would write later that the main reason he wanted that work was so that he wouldn’t have a boss. He would also admit that those months in the cab turned out to be a real ministry. You see, he mostly drove the night shift and he christened his cab a moving confessional because of his passengers who would board, sit in a dark and safe place and, on more than regular occasion, opened their souls and emptied their lives upon the canvas of the heart of this fledgling author – disguised as a taxi driver – in a way that truly amazed, stunned and moved him. And then there was that call at 2:30 am from dispatch downtown one night in August. His first thought was that this was going to be either a few drunk partiers who may or may not have enough to pay him, or someone whose life had just fallen apart, or maybe a shift worker dragging himself to the factory downtown. Tonight, however, would be very different. Newborn wrote the following.
“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, and 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 90s 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, 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. ‘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.”
Every time I have rushed through my day, trying to accomplish as many of the details that I frenetically scribbled upon my phone the night before, it is always the same result at the end of the day: tired, exhausted and wondering where the day went. I truly believe that if we take just a little more time realizing who are the most important people in our lives and mix that with the thought of those who are the most neglected people in my world, I believe we will have discovered something quite remarkable. The mixture, I think, will create a miracle.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” (Flavia Weedn)