The sad man trudged alone in the dark of a miserable, gray night when a sudden shock of yellow caught his eye.
“Taxi!” he yelled with his hand raised.
The right tire of the cab sloshed into a puddle just before reaching the curb splashing murky water all over its fare, adding insult to his already dank prospects.
“Where ya headed?” the cabby asked pleasantly after the man settled in his seat and shook off some of the dampness of the road.
“There,” he said sharply. “Just away from here.”
“Well, I can drive anywhere or nowhere,” the cabby reasoned. “But it would help to have a destination.”
The man looked into the small mirror, locking eyes with his driver. “I don’t care, really. I just have to leave this place.”
“Okay then. I’ll shut-up and drive.”
He lowered the gearshift and edged onto the empty lane. They drove unhindered for several minutes under green traffic lights and beside dark buildings on streets as quiet as the cab’s interior.
The man in the backseat reconsidered. “I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that here…” He paused, then noting a profound sympathy in the cabby’s eyes continued. “Here hurts too much.”
“I’m sorry. Let’s just get somewhere and maybe we can figure out where you want to go.”
They drove on in silence until the unspoken words mashing around in his head poured out. “All this time I thought I knew. I thought I had it together. I’ve never been without a plan before. I run a company – a company I started from the ground up and I have a great big, happy family. I don’t just flop around helplessly without a plan. I always thought life would be the same way… that everyone would be happy and things would work out in the end.”
“That’s not how endings work. Life has a way of interrupting plans,” returned the cabby knowingly. “So does death.”
“I know that now,” replied the man sadly. “But how do I get back? How do I get back there? Back before the pain… where it was good.”
“Oh, you can’t go back. Back is to the pain. Back is where life broke things. What you knew before the pain is gone and ‘back there’ is no place you want to be. You want to go ‘there’, not ‘back there’.”
“Have you been there?”
“Yeah, I’ve been there.”
“Can you take me? Right now? I’ll pay anything!”
“No, I can’t take you there. I’m sorry. I wish I could.”
“But you know the way?”
“I know the way I got there. My way. But everyone has to get there on their own – by their own path.”
“Some cabby you are…”
Because of the somberness of the conversation, they both tried to stifle their smiles. But neither could. They laughed – a momentary respite from the gravity of the ride.
“Let’s pull over here and see if we can find your ‘there’ on a map,” suggested the cabby as he wheeled under the protection of an overpass. He reached into the crowded glove box and fished for the map he wanted before slamming it three times until it held fast. Sheltered from the elements by concrete and rebar, the two exited the cab and met at the front of the car.
“This is the map someone gave me,” the driver said as he unfolded it and spread it over the hood.
After looking it up and down, the man said in extreme disappointment, “It’s blank.”
“Not really,” replied the cabby. “You see it’s got this ‘H’ for here and way on the other side it has a ‘T’ for there.”
“That’s it? Not really helpful. What about all of the white space in between? Are there roads? Water? Mountains?”
“I’m sure there are all of those things, along with valleys, swamps, and quicksand. But nobody can predict what difficulties lie ahead of you so they couldn’t very well put them on the map. The key isn’t the obstacles you face. The key is the legend,” he said as he pointed to an inscription on the bottom right.
“All it says is ‘F’ with an arrow pointing upward.”
“That’s right. Forward. You have to move forward. That’s the only way to get to ‘there’!”
“And no one can help me?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m here, aren’t I? Unfortunately there are a lot of us who have made this journey before you and many making it alongside you right now. We’re a close-knit group – the friendliest lot of losers you’ll ever meet. If you get tired, one of us will carry you for a while. That’s how it works. You’ll never be alone in this. And when you’ve made your journey, you can have my hat and drive the next guy. I wish it were different, but they just keep coming.”
“When I get there, will I be whole again? Will the pain be gone?”
The cabby looked down at the pavement wishing he didn’t have to answer this hardest of questions. “I’m sorry, but you’ll never be whole again and there will always be pain. Things can never be the same. The ‘there’ you thought you were headed to doesn’t exist anymore. That ‘there’ is gone forever and the new ‘there’ will always contain some measure of pain from the past. You are forever changed.”
They stood together in sadness, each mourning the loss of their former good.
“I want my wife to come,” said the man resolutely. “I want her to be in this cab with me and we will get there together.”
“No, she can’t get there with you. She has to go in her own time and in her own way. Although you are experiencing the same pain, you can’t travel side-by-side. You can’t pull her along. Likewise, she can’t push you. You will be together through the whole journey but you will go at a separate pace, hit different impediments, and take different routes. Does that make sense?”
“Not a bit…”
Another shared smile.
“I’m just saying that you will endure this pain together, but handle it differently. You have to lead by taking the first step forward. You know that, don’t you?”
“But I’m scared…”
“You should be.”
“I don’t know where to go…”
“How could you?”
“What if I take a wrong turn with them behind me? My wife and my kids, they will see every mistake.”
“You will veer off-course and indecision will become a fast friend. But you’ll right yourself and your wife and children will see you and respect you for moving. They have no clue where to go, either. They’ll follow you, I promise. Making mistakes is part of this journey. Just remember that you’re not alone.”
“I feel so alone.”
“Feelings can betray.”
They stood in silence as the pounding rain slowed then finally ceased altogether.
“I’ve got one more thing for you,” said the cabby sincerely.
“I hope it’s more help than the map…” replied the man with a hopeful smile.
“It is. It is all you need.”
With that the cabby wrapped the man up in a strong embrace and held him while he wept. “It’s love. Love is the only thing that can get you there,” he whispered.
The two stood together until the man was ready and finally took out on his own into the cold night with no foreseeable direction for the first time in his life.
* Written for my friend, Michael upon the death of his beloved son, Grant. I love you and will do anything to help you find the way to there.