Revelation Frees Understanding
My wife and I had a fight. Not unusual for married folk, but we both take our fights to heart more than is healthy, I think. Anyway, on that day we fought, I picked up a young lady, an inspirational lassie to be sure. As I always do, I wait a moment to see if the rider opens a conversation. I feel it out. In the case of “Cupcake Girl” (you will understand in a moment), she did not immediately open a conversation, but, somehow, I felt she wanted to talk …
“So, you are a Cal Poly student?” I asked while slightly adjusting the mirror to capture part of her face. I like to make eye contact without compromising my driving when talking to my “Pax” (Uber code name for passengers).
“Actually, I am a returning student. I just came back from taking some time off.” Her quiet response contained an honest sensibility in a gentle package. “I did some traveling to think about things.”
My first thought was to ask her where she traveled, but the part about “think about things” suggested strongly that was not what she wanted to talk about. Before I could ask another question, she offered more.
“I don’t really want to go to school.” The words came out strong and sure, so much so that I felt compelled to respond quickly and in a tone, perhaps, that might be construed as direct.
“Then why are you here?” She did not seem to mind my frankness, as she responded just as quickly with an equal directness that spoke again to honesty.
“I came back because my parents want me to go to school and I love my parents. I don’t want to disappoint them so I am here.”
And with those words, the conundrum of myriad students across the ages came bursting into the light. That unto itself was then and is now a worthy topic for any writing about college, but her words, the way they smoothly filled the air inside the car, the way they radiated so much more than a literal interpretation, and their deep resolute underpinning, forced my thinking toward one very obvious question, the answer to which I was wholly unprepared.
“What would you rather be doing?” I asked without missing a beat in our rhythmic flow, a conversation that might have seemed rehearsed to someone tuning in.
“Bake cupcakes to raise money for cancer patients. I want to start a non-profit.” Throw away the words “hesitant,” along with “indecisive,” as well as “ambivalent” and you can then begin to describe the certainty behind her words.
I was taken aback by her response. For just a moment, silence, and then, a cascade of words told the story of a young girl who in 8th grade baked her first cupcakes for cancer patients, who continued doing that right through her first year in college as a young woman, and who was now doing it still as a returning student. Without bluster or self-hype, she painted a self-portrait filled with long strokes of compassion, bold splashes of spirit, and sprightly dabs here and there that highlighted her zest for life.
Listening to her, my mind’s eye saw a positive and beautiful person, but, as it is in life, dark shades often color the real picture. Cupcake Girl was split between two loves, her parents and her desire to follow her own light. In her bright portrait were dark wisps of fear, hints of angst and emotional pain. My earlier spousal spat flashed in then out of my awareness.
I was moved. I wanted to build her up, to support her, so I told her my truth – I saw her as one of the admirable ones, the “front-line” people who work the trenches so few will enter.
“Our community needs people like you and I thank you,” I told her with great care.
Her next words corroborated my sense that something within her challenged her goodness. The muted darkness I felt earlier now appeared quite openly in her honest words.
“No, not me, don’t thank me. I do it because I like to eat cupcakes. I am selfish.”
Her honest but discounting words moved me to feel her angst and pain again, and, once more, I came back to me. “Was my selfishness the reason my wife and I sometimes fight?” Quickly putting that aside, my thought went to making Cupcake Girl see this differently, so I told her my version of how selfishness, if applied in the right way, can be the ultimate giving, the finest form of divinity, if you will.
“Do you know the name Mother Theresa?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“You know, she was as selfish as selfish can be. Every person she fed, comforted, and held in her arms as he or she died is a testament to her selfishness,” I said in a subdued tone. I could see her in the mirror looking intently at me. I could see she did not understand.
“Everything Mother Theresa did, she did for one reason and one reason only. Her god commanded her and she knew that if she deeply followed the commandment, she would be with her god forever in the most beautiful place she could imagine – heaven. She was looking out for herself by looking out for all those around her.” Her eyes opened a bit wider, a smile formed on her face, her chin dipped a bit as her head indicated she now understood.
After that ride, I went home. My wife and our friend Kit were sitting in the living room. The soft diffusion of late morning light coming through the window bathed my wife. I walked to her, bent over, and kissed her long on the forehead. When finished, I said, “I love you.” She looked at me and said laughingly, “Where did that come from?” I sat down across from her and Kit and told them the story of Cupcake Girl. The only difference is that when I was done telling the story, I added the following.
“Talking with her reminded me of the difference between being selfish for the right reason and being selfish for the wrong reason. When we fight, usually it is about one or the other being selfish. In those moments, we don’t want to take care of others; we only want to take care of ourselves at the expense of the other. That is the difference.”
The other thing I told them that I have not told you is Cupcake Girl spoke words that did for me what I think my story of Mother Theresa did for her. When the ride ended, she opened the door, started to leave, and then she stopped. Half in and half out of the light, she turned back to me and said with that same gentility and honesty,
“Thank you. I learned more in this Uber ride than I have in the time I spent at Cal Poly”.
P.S. I picked up Cupcake Girl again sometime later and she had a pink bucket of cupcakes she had baked to sell at a Bohemian wedding, but this is another story …
Tune in and don’t drop out,
Mr. Uber Driver