I want to share three stories that yesterday evening’s shift at work inspired. This will take three posts
The second of the three stories my Thursday evening shift at work inspired, is also about a passenger. But this time I’d only transported her once before. Only a few days before actually… on Tuesday.
On that Tuesday, I had been waiting in the neighborhood, taking a break before her scheduled pickup time. I was trying to time it so I would pull up exactly to the minute, but the area was more unfamiliar to me than I’d expected and on a narrow, rural road and sided by lots of vegetation (making house numbers extra hard to see) so it took all of five minuets longer to find the place. Still… we are allowed up to a thirty minute “window” before considered officially late, and nearly anyone who regularly rides The Handi-Van would be happy to have a van show up only five minutes after the appointed time.
This woman was certainly NOT happy. As I pulled up and got out of the van to be sure I was in the right location, she was just emerging from her house. It was set back from the road and she had to cross her fairly large front lawn. As she did so, she called out to me in a curt voice that came off as a reprimand. It felt… condescending.
“I was just calling your office to tell them you were late.”
I said nothing at first. Long ago I learned to never argue such things with a passenger but then… I guess I needed to learn the lesson again. She approached, panting a bit as I operated the lift for her to board the van and as she did I made the mistake of doing just that.
“I’m sorry, wasn’t your pickup time scheduled to be seven o’clock?”
“Well, it seven now.”
“No it’s not.”
My sense of professional propriety returning to me, I said nothing more. In fact, I said nothing more for the entire ride and neither did she. I took the woman to her destination and dropped her off without incident but when I got to base, I did one more thing of which I’m not particularly proud in retrospect. I recounted it all (complete with tone and terminology designed to elicit proper snickers and scoffs) with my coworkers in one of our usual after work venting sessions.
That was Tuesday.
On Thursday (the day these three stories are all inspired by) I again had this woman on my manifest. I’d just dropped off the woman from yesterday’s post. I’d just left all that hate that I felt I’d enabled and because of this, I was vowing to do better. To be a better preemptive listener and not let any conversation (should there be one at all) go into topics of potential contention.
This time, I arrived a few minutes early and my passenger was waiting for me. This time, I kept to my usual professional routine and greeted my passenger with the proper pleasantries (as I always do) but this time being sure to do so without any embellishment. Operating the lift and assisting her to board the van, I said nothing about our having met just a few days ago. Very likely, she did not remember.
As she boarded, I focused on my passenger’s movement so I could be ready for anything she might need from me. I watched her struggle to walk. She did not use a walker but had one of those wire mesh baskets with wheels so many of our passengers use. She leaned on it like a walker (in my opinion she needed one) when she could, but getting on the lift she struggled with it because the wheels were not big enough and they got caught in some of the gaps in the lift’s metal mesh.
I assisted intently and helped with her basket as she reached for the handholds on the lift and (when she got there) in the van. The woman groaned with every move and panted for air constantly. She sat with a louder groan and leaned forward for a few moments, struggling for air. I could see that she was not in any pain or distress that she wasn’t expecting. She was used to this. This was her life and pain and physical distress were her constant companions.
I secured her basket, speaking calmly. I informed her that we would be picking up another passenger along the way and that she would be the first drop off. She thanked me and we started on our way. As soon as we began to move, the woman asked me a question. She wanted to known if I knew another driver who had become friends with her and her family and did odd jobs for her. I did not.
My passenger then launched into a story… rather a narrative, a run-on monolog that (while it began with how she’d become friends with this other driver and how much he had helped her over the years) became more a listing of all the pain and struggles of her life. A litany of pain and death and more pain. Of continuously struggling to breath, asthma was a theme, as was the death of her son who struggled with it… as did she.
The story went on and on and I listened. I listened, making brief audible comments to ensure she knew I was listening. It became a kind of meditation for me, and the focus was on my passenger and her pain. We got on the country highway and the sound of the van made it impossible for me to hear the details of her story. But her story continued, unabated. Her voice became a drone in the background and, although I tried very hard to actually hear her so I could keep my brief comments pertinent, there were times when this was impossible and I had to just guess.
The story of pain went on and on as we approached the town of our next pickup and I now felt like I had entered a kind of trance. I could see the Buddha on the road and I ran him down.
Then the story of pain simply stopped. We got to the next town, picked up my next passenger and we went to the woman’s destination.
As she disembarked, I assisted her and she again groaned as she moved.
She smiled and thanked me for my service.