I talk to cabbies

I talk to the cabbies.

Where are you from?

They answer: Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, Jamaica, Mississippi.

What brought you to DC?

A better life.

Then they tell me about the people they knew before they came to D.C.. The sisters, the cousins, the aunties, the brothers. They speak about how they miss their mamas and their daddies, some haven’t seen their parents in decades.

They ask me where I live.

Oregon, I reply.

What brings you here? they ask.

My father’s name is on the Wall.

He was killed in Vietnam? they ask.


How old where you? That’s the most frequently asked question I get by anyone who learns of my father’s death: How old were you?

It was the question the Gold Star President asked me last night on the lawn in front of the Capitol. She, who had lost her beloved son to a roadside bomb.

I was fortunate, I replied. I was nine.

It is how I feel now, although, it was not how I felt for much of my growing up years.

The little boy I met later, standing on the folding chair, was younger, six or seven.  Her daddy died, too, his mama said.

When I was young like you, I said.

His eyes grew wider. He stared, looking for signs, I suppose, that I was a young girl, once.

His daddy died at war but not in the same way as mine. His daddy took his own life, unable to cope with the survivor’s guilt he felt over his own identical twin brother, who lost a leg to an IED.

As I watched the flags waving, I wondered, do the men and women who send others off to war — do they ever experience survivor’s guilt?

Twenty-two suicides by veterans every single day.

That’s the number now.

That’s a classroom full of kindergartens, all grown up.

The cabbies I talk to, a lot of them know war and its repercussions. Many of them fled their own homelands because of war and how it ravaged the country economically, spiritually, physically. They have sisters who’ve been raped, aunts who were mutilated, friends who were tortured, brothers who were killed.

They listen to talk radio, these cabbies, and they think a lot about the politics of this country, and the politics of the country they left behind.

Human nature isn’t much different, culture to culture.

Corrupt people in power can ruin it for all the rest of us.

The cabbies grow quiet when I tell them my father’s name is on the Wall.

They offer their condolences with heavy sighs and gracious words usually couched in some commentary about war and its ills, or politicians and their wrongheaded approach to foreign policy.

In our grief, we agree.

I feel a kinship with the cabbies who fled their war-torn countries. I don’t know the horrors they endured as children, as teenagers, or as young adults. But I know enough about war to imagine.

Part of any remembering is imagining.

When we lose our ability to imagine what life must be like for another, we lose an essential part of our humanity: empathy.

I saw it in that young boy’s eyes as he stood there on that folding chair searching my face for the young girl who like him was fatherless.

And I see in the dark eyes of the cabbies as they glance in their rear-view mirrors at me.

What  is it you see in the rear-view mirror, looking back, imagining, remembering?










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  • AFRoger

    Today I see the immediate reflections of the folks who came out despite the rain to pay their respects and bow their heads, place hands over hearts at the Garden of Solace, the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I see also the age, the wear and seasoning of life reflected in the faces of these aging veterans and their families. I see the warmth of Veterans Day last November in DC contrasted with the cool moistness and breathtaking green of Memorial Day in Oregon in May. I see stories still unshared, untold. And I see lives of service that have sprung forth from unlikely places.
    I also see today in my own face the sorrow over loss of a dear friend on Saturday. He was 50, but I first came to know Kevin when he was an energetic, wild kid barely out of high school and I became his supervisor and mentor. What an example of faith and fatherhood he became, a supporter of my ministry that will be nearly irreplacable. In one stroke of accidental tragedy it feels like I’ve lost both a brother and a son. But I know nothing is ever lost in God’s kingdom. Nothing. Nothing.

    • Oh, Roger, I am so so sorry to hear about your loss.

      • AFRoger

        Thank you, Karen. “My” loss is nothing. It’s not having Kevin with his family and in his community. That’s the irreplaceable part. In our little ministry alone, Kevin’s contribution was the equivalent of 5-10 others. It becomes a loss if we bring no others into the now vacant space. It becomes a gain if more people come forward to continue down the trail he blazed. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it also bears much fruit.”
        True enough, and comforting enough for those of us on the outside. It’s a very different view for his family on the inside.