One Last Drive

One taxi driver picks up a fare that changes his life.

BY: Kent Nerburn

 
Every so often one of those anonymous e-mail passalongs is reunited with its source. We are delighted to be able to identify the author of "One Last Ride" as Kent Nerburn, in whose book "Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis" (HarperSanFrancisco Publishers) this essay is found. We are republishing it in its original version. Thanks to Kent and HarperSanFrancisco for permission to reprint and to Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality and Health Magazine for identifying the source.

There was a time in my life twenty years ago when I was driving a cab for a living. It was a cowboy's life, a gambler's life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement, and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the cab.

What I didn't count on when I took the job was that it was also a ministry. Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity, and tell me of their lives. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and made me weep. And none of those lives touched me more than that of a woman I picked up late on a warm 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 partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a someone going off to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at the address, 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 short minute, then drive away. Too many bad possibilities awaited a drive who went up to a darkened building at 2:30 in the morning.

But I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needs my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab? So I walked to the door and knocked.

"Just a minute," answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman somewhere in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like you might see in a costume shop or a Goodwill store or in a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.

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.

Continued on page 2: »

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