My very first fare on my very first day upon completion of my training was the indomitable and noble Ms N. She is a regular rider in the night and known by all the drivers. She is one of the creatures of the night who is a friend to all, or at least most.
Ms N is in her mid seventies but you would never know it. She can carry her own groceries, works out, has a grip like a vise, dark hair, sharp wit and more spunk than most people I know in their twenties. She lives on a limited income bestowed to her by social security for the most part. Her favorite hobby is her art. She is an artist who to this day is still learning and trying to perfect new techniques.
Though she goes to a variety of destinations, her favorite exists on one corner. On this corner there are three different grocery stores and a pancake house. Just down the road from this intersection is a drug store. She is a fan of two of the grocery stores, the pancake house and the drug store. She is friends with everyone there.
In the world of the drivers we all do our best to look out for her. Some more so than others. There is one driver that in his off time has painted the interior of her house and fixed some some run down items in it. There is another driver who is also an artist. She once shared a picture of her when she was young by a lighthouse. Not surprisingly, she was stunning in her day. He asked if he could borrow the photo and painted a version of it for her which hangs above her mantle to this day. Most of us just talk to her and exchange life stories with her. You cannot carry her groceries, she has that covered, but if your cab has a spotlight, she really appreciates it if you shine the light on her porch and wait until she is inside before you leave.
The kindness is also a two way street. She loves to showcase her art. There is a driver who, like her, has and loves cats. One night he showed her a picture of his cats and she is in the process of drawing a picture in charcoals for him. She has asked me about my daughter and her interests and is drawing a very special Christmas present for my daughter. This is what she can give and do for others and she does it with great joy and determination.
There was one night that I was called to pick her up at one of her favorite grocery stores. I pulled up and could not see her through the window. I called dispatch and let her know I could not see Ms N. Usually she sits near the window talking with friends pretending she cannot see you until she is good and ready. Dispatch called the store and within a few moments the cashier came out to my cab to tell me she was not there. For most customers we would call this a 'no load' and move on. Not Ms N. I was concerned and so was dispatch. I asked permission to check out her other favorite spots and see if she got confused or misspoke. Sure enough, there she was with her cart waiting at the other grocery store across the street. I felt my body relax knowing I had found her and she was safe. She demanded to know what took me so long and with a smile I told her I was waiting on some woman who wasn't where she was supposed to be. She told me I should not wait that long on people and I just grinned and said, yes ma'am.
Why the night? Why these places? It does not take a genius to figure it out. She is lonely and these are the only places she can find community and friendship. There is a part of me that wants to shake a fist of anger at the church. In a city that spans seven zip codes with well over 1000,000 people that boasts over 200 churches which has signs claiming all are welcome, she has to pay retail for her community. This breaks my heart in some ways. I used to think the church is not there caring for my favorite widow.
I am wrong. The church is there. The institution is not there. The Christians are not necessarily there. The cabbies, the cashiers and the waitresses are there. Sharing gifts, art, passion, concern, conversation and love. The work of the people is there and the love is as strong as her grip. The night does not need eucharist, worship music or clever signs. We have each other.
May we all follow the example of St Noble and her indomitable spirit.