March 7, 2010


It may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down. – Luke 13: 9

Sometimes I think we’ve put the cart in front of the horse when it comes to Lent. We identify Lent with penance & fasting, giving up something. However, such practices are only the means, not the end. The goal of Lent is transformation: to become a different person, to lose our self-centeredness & the habit of measuring everything by our needs & feeling in order to become a caring, compassionate person. In short, Lent is a call to become more God-like – an enterprise not limited to a fixed time period. A “good” Lent is characterized by the extent to which kindness & charity become second nature to us. Here is a story to make the point:

On a late August night, a night-shift cabbie was called to pick up a woman from a small brick complex in a quiet part of town, & he assumed that, as usual, he was being sent to pick up some hung-over party-goers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a worker headed to an early shift in an industrial part of town.

When he arrived at 2:30 am the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Now, under the circumstances, most drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, & then drive away. But this cabbie was different. He had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation or people who needed assistance. So he got out, walked to the door, & knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. He could hear something being dragged across the floor &, after a long pause, the door opened. There was a small woman in her eighties wearing a blue print dress & a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, looking for all the world like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

He got a glimpse of the apartment that looked as if no one had lived in it for years; the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks, knickknacks, or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos & glassware.

“Would you carry my bag to the car?” the woman asked. So he took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman who took his arm as they walked slowly toward the curb. When they got into the cab, she gave him an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” he answered.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said, “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.” When he looked into the rearview mirror he noticed her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” The cabbie then quietly reached over & shut off the meter. “What route would you like to take?” he asked.

For the next two hours, they drove through the city. She showed him the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They drove through the neighborhood where she & her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. They pulled up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask the cabbie to slow down in front of a particular building or corner & would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was lighting up the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.” They drove in silence to a small convalescent home. Two orderlies came out. They were solicitous & intent, watching her every move. They were obviously expecting her. The cabbie opened the trunk & took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” he said. “You have to make a living,” she protested. “There are other passengers,” he responded. Almost without thinking, he bent over & gave her a hug. She held him tightly. “You gave on old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand then walked into the dim morning light. Behind him, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

Now let the cabbie finish this story in his own words:

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.” Then he added, “We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around the great moments. But truly great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.”

Transformation, you see, is the goal of Lent & It’s Lent’s small acts of kindness that get you there. AMEN!