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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website, PlantingDandelions.com

It began like this,
if that tells you anything.

My cab pulled up to the house a little past the appointed time, at 4:30 in the morning on Thursday to take me to the airport. Patrick and I kissed goodbye in the darkness while the driver, an unusually tall white man with a hunched back and long, grey hair and beard put my my carry-on in the trunk. I got in. The driver got in. Instead of turning the key in the ignition he rested his hands on his thighs and spoke to me.

"I've got no gas," he said. "I've been two days in a homeless shelter, and they gave me a car with no gas, and a lady just ran a red light and hit it, and now the computer is all messed up. I'm broke, I smell bad, I'm hungry, and I need this job. I'm embarrassed to ask this, but can you pay for some gas? "

Crap. I don't have time for this, I thought, defaulting to the place most of us go when confronted with variation #19,775 of "down and out, need cash." I tensed. In the first place, I was annoyed. It would take another 30 minutes to get a new cab. But below that, there was fear. Maybe this guy wasn't the cab driver. Maybe this wasn't his car. Maybe he was drunk. I looked out the car window at my house. I had gotten away without the children waking up. I took a long breath, checked in with my gut.

Ten dollars isn't going to break you, it said to me. You can afford the benefit of doubt this time. Let's see where it goes.

"There's a gas station just up the street," I said. "And an ATM across from that." In for a penny, in for a pound. "Let's go."

As we pulled into the gas station, he lamented the recent closing of a secondhand bookstore around the corner. "They had great chess books," he said.

"Do you play?" I asked. "My nine year old does too."

"Oh, encourage him," he said. "It's a great way for him to learn to think mathematically."

Apprehension melted to curiosity. "Where are you from?" I asked him. What's your story?

His name was Christopher. He was from Washington, and was a Harvard educated mathematician. He met his wife on a vacation to Jamaica, an island fling. "You'll be back," she teased him. "I don't think so," he said. He came back and they were married within a week.

He was department head at a New England alternative prep school, where his wife worked as a registered nurse. Then he took a job in Washington, D.C., to work on Tomahawk missiles. His wife didn't want him to, he said, but he was thinking of their future.

"I chose the money," he said. "It was the worst mistake of my life."

In 1982, he told me, his wife was murdered. She was eight and a half months pregnant.

"And then I kind of flipped out," he said, almost apologetically. "That's a long time to be still not over something, isn't it?"

"I don't know how you ever get over something like that," I said softly, thinking his child would be twenty six now.

"I saw you and your husband kissing goodbye. It made me think of her. How long have you been married?"

"Ten years."

"Do you still love him?"

"So much."

"Man, cherish that."

Christopher drove the rest of the way telling stories about his wife, most of them sweet and funny, some of them ribald. For sure, he was still not swimming in the mainstream. There was no telling how much of his story was factual. But I took it to be true. When I gave him the fare plus an extra ten at the airport, I noticed for the first time that his eyes were rimmed below with half-circles the color of purple eggplant skin.

"I'm the richest man in the world," he said, smiling at the tip. The ride had cut deeply into what I had for my San Francisco ground transportation. I'd figure that out later. Or it would figure itself out. I had the feeling that from the time I said "let's go," this whole trip had taken the nearest exit off the straight and narrow.

"Take care, Christopher," I said, unknowingly leaving my favorite, coziest sweater on the back seat.

"Good morning, Ms. Pittman," the counter clerk said. "Anything to check today?"

Yes, I need to check my judgement. Also, fear and defensiveness—the reflex to close myself off to others because they're different or wounded somehow. While we're at it, let's jettison the urge to clamp down on curiosity because I might feel something, might lose something. Can I leave all that here? Because I'm going to a conference to be with 1,000 people who each have their own story, and I don't need any of it there.

"I think I'm good to go."



(I had a YouTube clip of Aimee Mann's video for "Save Me" here, but I guess it must have been bootleg because YouTube pulled it. Sorry, I do try to respect artist's copyright and abide by fair use. I thought the song made a nice coda to the post.-k.)

Labels: ,

29 Comments:

Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

Wow. That was quite something.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Table Mountains said...

every once in a while i run across a breathe of fresh air on the blogs. i found it here today.

12:07 PM  
Blogger CelticBuffy said...

What a reminder to slow down & cherish what we do have, not keep looking towards what we don't or we want.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Jennifer H said...

I just wrote yesterday about how, even though it wasn't always the case, I have learned to love and seek out other people's stories.

Now, if only I could learn so well to abandon my judgment. I'm glad you heard his story.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

Unreal.

1:15 PM  
Blogger MetroDad said...

I don't even know where to being. Your writing and that song get me every time. May this be a reminder that maybe there are times when we should all check our judgement at the door.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Sheri said...

Even if his story was 100% false (which I don't think it was) you did a wonderful, kind thing. What a great example. I'm trying to check my judging too, so I can set a good example for my children.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Jen Ballantyne said...

That was a brave thing to do Kyran and yet I guess it shouldn't be should it. A wonderful lesson in your story, thank you. Take care Jen B

1:47 PM  
Blogger Reddirt Woman said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this post. A favorite sweater, to my way of thinking, would have been a small price to pay for this life lesson.

Thanks again,

Helen G.

1:51 PM  
Blogger beth♥ said...

Touching. Thank you.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Mrs. G. said...

You earned a star in your human being with a beating heart crown for this one.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Chookooloonks said...

Holy moly. I think you just became my new favourite read.

K.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I found you via Thursday Drive. Amazing post. So well written. I absolutely love the paragraph in italics at the end. I could stand to lose a lot of that on a day-to-day basis.

I'll be back.

8:41 PM  
Blogger JCK said...

Wow. Just ...wow. Am over here from Jennifer H. Will be back.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Another excellent post! You painted such a visual image with your words that I felt as if I could feel the seat of the cab beneath my backside this morning. I really connected with the part of your message about suspending judgement and staying open when fear and one's own agenda can make our world smaller.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Mama Goose said...

Lovely. So glad there are good souls like yours in this world.

9:45 AM  
Blogger yemisiblake said...

Hello Kyan,

This is a true experience that makes a touching story.
I've had a similar experience here:

http://yemisiblake.squarespace.com/blog/2008/5/2/telani.html

Thank you for sharing. Reading this had made my day.

Best,

Yemisi

9:53 AM  
Blogger anndeo said...

Your writing brings me out of my sadness of just losing my mother in an accident. I had a similar experience in Atlanta where a shuttle driver opened up to some exasperated travelers (my family) about being a refugee from Sierra Leone, coming here after with his sister after rebels killed her four children and husband and burnt her village to the ground. I'm glad I found your blog.

11:51 AM  
Blogger CrazyCath said...

What a lesson for us all. Well done.
Fantastic post and absolutely awesome writing.

Over from Jennifer's.

2:13 PM  
Blogger seantimberlake said...

This is one of the best-written things I've seen in a long time. Touching, heartfelt, truthful, transformative and meaningful. I feel honored to read it. Thanks!

4:45 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

Although I mostly just compliment you for the way you wear a trenchcoat on Flickr, I should add that you are a very special writer who understands the human spirit. And also look good in a trenchcoat.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I'm glad that you took the chance to help him and listen to his story. Even if it was a lot of imagination, or even if he didn't need the money, you have passed on the blessing of your intention of compassion...that's something that can never be lost.

Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Assertagirl said...

That song would have been the perfect piece for the end of your post. It's fun to read all the silly and photo-centric recap posts, but it's stories like these I enjoy the most after the conference is over.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Sometimes following Jesus' admonition to 'do unto the least of these' provides us with an amazing return on our investment. Thanks for sharing. (And I trust you made it to your hotel none the worse for the wear.)

12:04 AM  
Blogger Julie @ Letter9 said...

There's just something so apropos about all of this happening at 4:30 in the morning, isn't there? What an interesting story.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Squeaker Sullivan said...

I made my 'cry face' - you know, that typically unattractive expression that the muscles in your face constrict into right before you burst into tears? Yeah, that was me right then.

I am in love with you and your writing.

1:27 PM  
Blogger michelle said...

Kyran-
I've never told you this, but this post seems to be the one to reveal in. I am ashamed to admit that I had you clumped in with other "Cathedral Moms"...I know you know the ones to which I refer...until I began reading your blog. At which point I realized that I was JUST AS GUILTY of labeling people and putting up a wall lest I be judged. You are so very cool and I never let myself even think of approaching and getting to know you. Shame on me. I have learned the most valuable lesson thru your blog and I will never let myself put up that wall again. Thanks - M

9:03 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Michelle,

that lesson is one I have to keep learning again and again. I guess I will my whole life. Fortunately, I have great classmates. Including some of "those" moms who I told myself were unapproachable and have turned out to be kindred spirits after all.

thanks for your honesty and courage. I can't tell you how happy it makes me.

9:22 PM  
Blogger SusannahS said...

I just found a link to you thru Paul Deal's blog,Ransom Note Typography, and I was reading thru your posts when I noticed you mentioned Little Rock. Cool, I thought, That's my town. And then you mentioned the secondhand bookstore--and I'm betting it's the one that was behind the grocery store in that shopping center. The one that is only a few blocks from my apartment.
Sometimes I am simply amazed at how the internets work.

3:32 PM  

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