Great Moments Unaware
by an Unknown Author
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, 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 partiers, 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 80s 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
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
"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
"It's nothing", I told her. "I just try to treat
my passengers the way would want my mother treated".
"Oh, you're such a good boy", she said.
When we got in the cab, she gave me and 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 rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening.
"I don't have any family left," she continued.
"The doctor says 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
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 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.
PEOPLE MAY NOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID,
OR WHAT YOU SAID, ...BUT
THEY WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL.
from the October High Holiday 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine