Editor’s Note: I have got an extraordinary gift for you today – in the form of a story written by the awe-inspiring Kent Nerburn. Enjoy and share it with others if the story touched your heart like it did mine.
By Kent Nerburn
“We may not all live holy lives, but we live in a
world alive with holy moments.”
~ Kent Nerburn
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, and 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 these 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 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 boy”, she said. When we got in the cab, 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’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”.
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, 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.
Editor’s Note – Tina:
I recently brought a copy of Simple Truths with me on vacation. I opened the book one blissful morning, parked myself on the beach and didn’t lift my head until it was finished. I hung on to every word, savored the depths behind every sentence, and reflected on its subtle meanings.
The book was so simple, so rich, so deep and so beautiful, that I have decided that it was THE perfect gift for anyone I cared about. Just like the story above, his book spoke directly to my Soul and opened up my heart. It’s just over 100 pages, and I highly recommend it. If you like the types of articles we produce on this site, then I think this book will make you happy.
Here’s what Echkart Tolle had to say about Kent:
“Kent Nerburn reveals to us that which lies beyond the surface appearance of reality. His writings are permeated by stillness. In a world gone astray. They are of inestimable value.” – Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now (which I recommend to everyone!)
I am currently reading The Hidden Beauty of Everyday Life and plan to read Small Graces and Letters to My Son next. Care to join me? Share your thoughts about this and other books on our facebook discussion.
Author’s Note – Kent:
I’m deeply moved and honored that Tina would see fit to publish my essay, “The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget”. This story is excerpted from a longer piece in a book of mine, “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the spirit of the prayer of St. Francis”.
In that book I tried to create a meditation on St. Francis’ transcendent prayer of the same name by reflecting on each line and finding a moment in my ordinary life where I had the good fortune and grace to be able to do something that was worthy of the spirit of the gentle saint from Assisi.
Like all of us, I muddle through life trying to create more happiness than sadness and struggling to be kind. Often I fall short, as we all do. But on a rare occasion, something luminous happens.
Such was the case on the night many years ago when my job as a cab driver brought me to the door of an elderly woman in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The rest of the story is told in the piece above Tina is sharing with you.
It has been my great good fortune to have this small essay about this small moment travel around the world many times. I hope it serves as inspiration to you, and reminds you that though we do not all live holy lives, all our lives have holy moments when the best of who we are shines through.
Sometimes that doesn’t seem like much, but we never know when the touch we make will touch the lives and hearts of others.
If you find this story meaningful, I hope you will look for some of my other stories in Letters to My Son, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace, Small Graces, and The Hidden Beauty of Everyday Life. In those books I try to reveal other moments where the life of the spirit shines through the most ordinary moments of our everyday lives.
I hope your journey through the wondrous adventure of life is going well, and that you always stay present to the beautiful moments that meet us unaware in the most ordinary circumstances.
Thank you again, for taking the time to read this story, of a simple moment that has found a voice all around the world.
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