I drive taxi for a living and I drive the night shift. Passengers climbed in, sat behind me in total anonymity, an 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 responded 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 in the industrial part of the town.
When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., 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 many poor 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 needed 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 acr oss the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. 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 taxi, 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 taxi, she gave me an address, 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 am going to stay in convalescent home."
I looked in the rearview mirror. She was crying.
"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 to take?" I asked politely.
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 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. Two men came and ask her to sit in the 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, DEAR."
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 t hought. 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 drien away?
On a quick review, I don't think I have done very more important things 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 othe rs may consider small ones.