A funny thing happened on the way to the airport. I climbed into the taxi that pulled up in front of my hotel, bleary eyed from a lack of sleep and decent coffee thanks to an early wake up call. Still, I was in a cheerful mood, happy to be going home to the people I love.
My cab driver nodded and smiled, quietly detecting whether or not his passenger wanted to engage in conversation. He started making small talk with me about the weather and some big movie shoot that was causing detours around neighborhood streets. It was a pleasant and lighthearted chat.
As we traveled along the expressway, he shifted the conversation to family. I learned that his daughter is 11, and his son, 6. His wife is expecting again in October. Baby number three came as a surprise. They had given away all of their baby clothes and toys just a couple of weeks before they found out they were pregnant. Oh, and it’s a boy.
His wife is the love of his life and he is speaks adoringly of her as the mother of his children and as his partner in life. She works full time, so in the evenings he insists on making dinner for the family while she puts her feet up. A former restaurant chef, he enjoys cooking for her, and is especially delighted to cater to her whimsical cravings.
When they married, his mother told him two things: to always treat his bride like a queen and to always let her handle the finances. He got it half right. Within a few short years, he had made a series of unwise financial choices that left them deeply in debt. They nearly lost everything and he admitted that he would cry on his wife’s shoulder every night. With barely enough to buy milk to feed his infant daughter, he felt so helpless about the situation that he considered suicide just to free his wife from the burden of embarrassment he had caused.
Too proud to accept a loan from his family, including a brother who is a successful doctor in New York City, he decided to sell his home to avoid total bankruptcy. They downsized to a modest apartment in an affordable but less desirable part of the city until they could get back on their feet again. Today, he continues to work hard and takes nothing for granted. He is out of debt and is proud to owe nothing to creditors. More importantly, he said, he has the freedom to buy his children whatever they want and to take his family on nice vacations.
He told me that he may never have a big bank account, but he knows he is a rich man.
Some people do not like “oversharing” because it somehow pushes unseen social boundaries, but I was riveted by his account. By the time we pulled up to the departures area, I felt as if I’d been invited to a place of honor at his table. The man had poured out his soul in a very intimate way. He didn’t expect me to reciprocate and asked nothing from me except to pray for him and his family and said that he would do the same for me and mine.
I wondered whether he revealed himself so openly to every passenger that slid across the backseat of his taxi, but I choose to believe he doesn’t. It seemed too sincere, too unrehearsed for it to be anything less than an attempt at genuine human contact. For a moment, we were just two people headed in the same direction.
What particularly struck me was that the cab driver was not ashamed about exposing his flaws and his fears, his weaknesses and regrets. He was seemed proud of what he’d been through, like Elton John’s Levon, who wears his war wound like a crown.
It made me think about my own story and I recalled the first time I told a room of complete strangers about what I’d been through. It was at a support group for divorced parents. Sharing what happened actually helped me to feel less isolated. I was in a safe environment, surrounded by people who understood what I was feeling without fear of judgement. It was liberating.
When we share with others, it bridges the gap between us. More importantly, by laying bare our experiences, we claim ownership of our past and give ourselves permission to put down what we don’t want to carry alone anymore.
I suppose that is really the point of maintaining a blog such as this. I am putting myself out there because I don’t want to carry around this pain anymore. I choose to retell my story so that I might achieve understanding and perhaps someday, forgiveness – but also in hopes that what I say here might resonate and help someone going through the same thing not feel so alone.
At the same time, I think it’s important not to cling to our stories. At our divorce support group, we would start each meeting by going around the circle, introducing ourselves by our stories. Soon it started to bother me that I was leading with the same narrative. Yes, this terrible thing really did happen to me, but no – it does not define me. I refuse to wear my war wound like a crown. I don’t need my story to be my badge of honor, lest people think it’s the most interesting aspect of who I am.
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts,” Salman Rushdie wrote.
So now, when given an opportunity to retell my story, I try to relay it from a higher perspective – what did I learn from this experience? Why was it a good thing that it happened? How is my life so much better for having lived through this? Why do I feel so happy and grateful today?
I truly believe that by expanding my viewpoint of the circumstances, the more rewarding my story becomes and the freer I am from it.