WHAT MY UBER DRIVER TAUGHT ME ABOUT GRACE

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A few weeks ago, on a typical weekday morning, I got up early at 6am for a workout. I had left my car at my office (not typical), so I had my husband drop me off at the fitness studio, only a few blocks away from home. When class ended at 7:30am, I was hungry, still tired, and it was raining. I was annoyed on so many levels and had no choice but to call an UberX, simply because I just wanted to get home fast, eat breakfast, start my day, and of course, not ruin my hair.

A few minutes later, up rolled a beat-up Camry with one headlight. I immediately felt ornery, judging this shitty car, and frustrated that I had to get inside of it. I opened the backseat door and plopped myself down as the driver, a young man in his twenties, welcomed me with an unnecessarily loud voice in his thick African accent:

“MORNING!! DID YOU CLOSE THE DOOR ALL THE WAY?! ARE YOU SURE? COULD YOU CHECK YOU CLOSED IT RIGHT? I HAD SOMEONE IN MY CAR YESTERDAY NOT SHUT IT ALL THE WAY AND TOLD ME IT WAS BROKEN, BUT I SWEAR IT’S NOT BROKEN, BUT IT MIGHT BE BROKEN NOW BECAUSE HE DIDN’T SHUT IT RIGHT. CAN YOU JUST DOUBLE CHECK…”

I seriously wanted to die. I checked the door, mumbled it’s fine, and quickly whipped out my iPhone and pretended to be very, very, very busy and preoccupied, demonstrating overtly (although passive aggressively) that I was clearly too busy to engage with him on any level.

He kept going.

“THIS RAIN IS NO GOOD, YAH? IT DOESN’T RAIN LIKE THIS EVER WHERE I AM FROM. I COME FROM WEST AFRICA....IT NEVER RAINS LIKE THIS THERE. AND I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU COULD GET UP SO EARLY TO GO WORK OUT, IN THIS RAIN. IN THIS RAIN OF ALL THINGS! YOU JUST WORKED OUT, RIGHT!? I ASSUME BECAUSE YOU ARE IN WORKOUT CLOTHES, AND I PICKED YOU UP SO EARLY. MAN, I DON’T KNOW HOW ANYONE CAN GET UP THAT EARLY TO WORK OUT, I HAVEN’T DONE THAT SINCE COLLEGE…”

At this point, I felt compelled to finally acknowledge him, only to hopefully get him to stop talking. I responded with polite annoyance: “Oh yeah...where did you go to college?”

“UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS IN CHAMPAIGN.”

That was where I went to college… (Suddenly, his voice didn’t seem so loud.)

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “I studied biology. I am going to be a doctor, and I just applied for my loans for medical school.”

I asked him: “Oh wow, that’s really great. Is that why you came to America, for college…?”

He responded: “No ma’am...I actually came to America to go to high school.”

“Oh cool,” I replied. “Where did you go to high school?”

“Sullivan High School,” he plainly said.

That’s where my mom taught as an English teacher for twenty years… I found myself half-shocked, half-excited, and suddenly WIDE AWAKE, as I spit out the words:

“Wait, really?? My mom taught high school there. She taught English…”

“Who’s your mom?” Mr. Uber Driver asked.

“Her name was Mrs. Zweig.”

Mr. Uber slammed the break, whipped his head around to the backseat, looked me right in the eyes with a BEAMING smile, and exclaimed: “Your mom was MRS. ZWEIG?!?!? She was my favorite teacher!!! She wrote my recommendation letter to college! She helped me get into school! Will you please tell her I say hello? Please? Tell her I am going to be a doctor, will you...?”

Cue the tears of embarrassment, subtle shame, and total humility.

As I got out of the car, I thanked Victor (I learned this sweet soul’s name by now), told him I was going to report back to my mom immediately, and left him with the confidence that he will most definitely get those student loans…to which he put his hands in prayer position, held them up high in my direction and said: “Amen, Miss. Thank you.”

I watched him drive away in his beat-up car, beating myself up for judging the car, the loud voice, the conversation, and my absolute judgment about someone I didn’t even know. Victor was a reminder that I need to slow down, get present, acknowledge my neighbors—all of them—and find our connections.

We are so busy getting in our own way, wallowing in our self-indulgent thoughts, spewing “I’m sooooooo busy,” feeling important, distracted, and rushed, that we often miss these sacred moments.

What does it take to get present, to wake up to the miracles that surround us every single day? To acknowledge that we have free water that falls from the sky, food that grows from the ground, and that we are loved by someone, somewhere, at all times?

This was a reminder for me, but we all have the capability to display grace. To be nicer. To be open. To make it a habit in our relationships, in business, with strangers, and especially with ourselves.

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