At one point in his life, writer Kent Nerburn had been a cab driver on the night shift. He had no idea when he began that the cab would become a “rolling confessional” as passengers would spill out their stories from the back seat.
One night, he found himself waiting outside a darkened fourplex at two-thirty in the morning. Only one light appeared to be on in the building. Many drivers would have honked once or twice, then driven away. But Nerburn thought differently:
I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on the cab as their only means of transportation. Unless the situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to try to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needed my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab?
Thus, he went to the door and knocked.
A voice answered weakly: “Just a minute.” When the door finally opened, he saw a frail elderly woman dragging a small suitcase. Nerburn could see that she was vacating her home. The walls were bare; the furniture was draped with sheets. She asked him to take her suitcase, give her a few moments alone, then come back to help her to the cab.
Once inside the cab, she gave him the address she was going to and asked him to drive through downtown. That wasn’t the most direct route, and he told her so. But she replied that there was no hurry—she was going into hospice. She didn’t have long to live, and had no family to care for her. She just wanted to see the sights one more time, to reminisce, before going to her final destination.
Quietly, Nerburn reached over to the meter and shut it off. He decided to take her wherever she wanted to go, for as long as it took.
They meandered the streets for two hours. She showed him the places that had been important to her, sharing memories of earlier, happier times. At length, she grew weary and asked to be taken to the facility, where orderlies put her in a wheelchair. She tried to pay him, but he refused, spontaneously bending down to give her a hug instead. She held him tightly and said thank you for the few moments of joy he had made possible.
Then they wheeled her away, and the door closed behind her. Nerburn writes:
For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten a driver who had been angry or abusive or impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and refused to engage the woman in conversation? How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?
Personally, I’ve never been a cab driver. But I have been a passenger, and I’ve seen drivers treated like menial servants. A little impatience at the end of a long shift is understandable.
Yet Nerburn chose patience and kindness instead. It started with giving his passenger the benefit of the doubt and taking the few seconds needed to walk up to the door and knock. In so doing, he treated an unseen stranger as a fellow human being—indeed, he treated her as he would have wanted his mother to be treated. At that moment, he didn’t know what his simple act of courtesy might bring. When the evening was over, however, and the door closed behind the woman in the wheelchair, he realized what a response of impatience would have cost them both.
Reading his story, I’m left wondering two things.
First, why is it that even in our closest relationships, let alone with strangers, we so often leave the meter running?
And second, what would happen if God were the same way with us?