When I landed in Paris a few days ago, the taxi driver and I chatted as he drove me to my hotel. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I was on my way to South Sudan to work at a hospital there.
“When is your departing flight?” he asked.
“Very early on December 12th,” I said.
“I can pick you up,” he offered.
“I would need to be picked up at 4:30 a.m.,” I said apologetically.
“It’s no problem,” he assured me.
Sure enough, he picked me up at my hotel at 4:30 a.m. He told me he’d driven his taxi until midnight the night before and he was worried that if he went to sleep he’d be too tired to hear his alarm, so he went home and stayed up until it was time to take me to the airport.
I was humbled and grateful. I thanked him profusely.
“What you’re doing matters to the world and I just wanted to help,” he said.
When I landed at my first destination in East Africa last night, my taxi driver helped me load a large duffel bag filled with medical supplies into the trunk of his car.
As we were driving to my hotel, he asked, “Did you bring cancer medicine in your bag?”
“No,” I said. “It’s mostly antibiotics and malaria medicine. Why do you ask?”
“Because my mom has cancer and I’m trying to get her medicine, but it’s too expensive,” he said softly.
My heart sank. I apologized that I didn’t have anything in my bag that would help his mom.
As he dropped me off, he handed me his card and asked if I would call him if I needed a ride around town or back to the airport.
I asked him for a few extra cards so I could give them to the front desk of my hotel and try to get him more business so he can help his mom pay for the medicine she needs.
This morning I left the hotel to get coffee.
It was just after dawn, but the streets were already bustling. There were people playing drums on almost every corner, sidewalk merchants selling fabric and DVDs and jewelry and produce, and shop owners opening up for another busy day.
I noticed people enjoying pastries and tea at cafes. Neighbors chatting with each other in front of their apartment buildings. And moms with babies strapped to their backs, and young people wearing school uniforms, and businessmen/women rushing to meetings, and people with twisted limbs sitting on worn blankets, asking for spare change.
As I walked back to my hotel, I thought about the two taxi drivers I had conversations with this week, and about all the people walking the streets of this East African city together on a damp December morning.
And it reminded me that everyone we encounter is a fellow pilgrim. And often, it’s not the grand gestures but the small kindnesses that make the going easier.
We may not be able to cure cancer or fix any number of issues that loom large over our world. But we can go it together. We can exchange kindnesses with our fellow travelers as we make our journeys, and demonstrate compassion with tangible gestures all along the way.