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A Lesson in Listening

It was storming early one morning in Nashville.

There for my nephew’s graduation, I was headed out for the day’s events when I met Gail. In her mid-50’s, Gail had a backpack on her shoulder, a nylon bag in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, all stuffed so tight an index card couldn’t be added. She needed a ride to the Belmont area of Nashville which, she explained, was only 15 minutes away. I had 45 minutes to make it to my nephew’s graduation.

As I considered helping her, the devil on my left shoulder was fighting with the angel on my right: Drive a complete stranger across town? Well, it is pouring down rain and I do have the time. Are you crazy, Anthony, what if she pulls a gun on you? It’s the nice thing to do. You drove all this way to Nashville and you’re going to be late to graduation?! I stifled my head voices and said to Gail, “Okay, let’s go.”

She lifted her three bags into the back seat and sat in the front seat. As we drove, she told me her life story pausing only to give directions and offer to cut the ride short – she could see my eyes drifting to the clock on the dashboard.

Gail is homeless and was heading to Belmont to a Methodist church that would help her with a job. She is estranged from her kids and has no family near Nashville. As we passed the massive homes lining Belmont’s streets, her story became more incredulous with details of ornate furniture stored in Canada and family members moving to Europe. Gail could sense my unease about being late and her voice quickened with it. Like the voices in my head arguing over whether to give her a ride, Gail’s story was both forlorn and hopeful.

After 20 minutes, we made it to the Methodist church and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. She gathered her three bags, thanked me twice, and walked to the church. She asked me for nothing.

I drove to the graduation, arriving early.

I want to feel good about driving Gail, but I don’t. I wish I had pulled over the car, shut off the engine and looked her in the eyes to listen to her story. Was her story incredulous because of its absurdity or was it so because I was listening with one eye on the road and one eye on the clock? She asked for a taxi driver – what she really needed was a friend.

A good friend once told me every encounter is an opportunity to serve. That stormy Saturday, I was a taxi driver and an on-time uncle. I wish I had been a friend to Gail.

Thanks for all you do.

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Submitted by Anthony Romanello.

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