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Thursday, July 10, 2014
The New York City Cab Driver Who Changed My Life in 10 Minutes
The (New) World Trade Center: Tower 1
My last night in New York City the cab driver taking us to dinner asked me where I was from. “Texas,” I said defensively. Everyone thinks Texans are wealthy because we are from the “Land of Bush and Oil,” so I deflected and asked him where he was from. After more prodding, he started
to tell me his story, and it moved me to tears.
He grew up in poverty in Bangladesh but left for New York City 25 years ago at 40 years old. His family wasn't able to come to the U.S. for 12 years. It took him that long to get legal
citizenship and safely bring them over.
He labored long hours for years as a bus boy in a
restaurant at an age when his body was already tired. His English was broken, but from what I understood, he said the restaurant
owner noticed his work ethic, asked him work as a cook and soon after applied for his green card. He said
after five years he took an exam and then got approval for citizenship. The mere memory of that day un-furrowed his brows and brightened his eyes. He missed his family and could now move them to New York as planned. All this time, his wife and six children were
living back in Bangladesh—a country so poor he said most people work 12
hours to earn one American dollar.
Once a legal citizen, his family moved, and he hoped to
provide them with a world of opportunities. He started driving a taxicab. He
said, as a cab driver, his extended family at home considers him wealthy, so he
sends a few hundred dollars back to his to them in Bangladesh. It was obvious from his tone that this act was his pleasure, not a burden or obligation.
He said he spends his life suffering for
others and future generations, as he felt he should. His frame was small, his head and face, bald, and his eyes big, sweet and brown. He looked like a boy with wrinkles. He didn’t feel sorry for
himself, but painted a picture of self-sacrifice most of us Americans can’t
comprehend. The Dalai Lama calls the U.S. the most individualistic nation in the world—a culture that tends to fend for themselves and nobody else. But
Mother Theresa reminded us through her selfless acts that joy is found in serving others. When we serve
ourselves it is never good enough.
The cab driver became passionate and said first generation immigrants in
America never have it easy so why would he. He then asked about my forefathers. I said my family goes back six or seven generations. He reminded me they probably didn’t have it easy when they
first came from Ireland and Scotland to have what I have today. I was humbled.
In just one generation, he changed the direction of his family's path. He said in the U.S. all you have to do is work hard, but in Bangladesh working hard still ends in suffering and poverty. His hard work is manifest in his six children’s success—his eldest son has his MBA and works in
finance, his daughters got their education degrees to teach, and his younger
twin sons will soon finish their masters in chemical and electrical engineering.
I learned in my tour of the Financial District that the
first immigrant processed through Ellis Island was 15-year-old Annie Moore. She
traveled alone with her two little brothers for 12 days at sea. Her parents
were already in New York looking for work and new opportunities. They eventually
reunited, but the road wasn't easy. She married young, had 11 children but only five lived into adulthood. She died at 47 of heart failure. I can't help but wonder where her descendants are now. This New York Times piece gives us some clues.
The cab driver said if he were born in the U.S. he would have
studied hard to be a doctor. In Bangladesh he said he was a shaman-like character helping
cancer patients and treating other ailing people who couldn’t afford medical
care. This guy was not just a cab driver. The bus boy is never just a bus boy, a mother not just a mother, and a CEO never just a CEO.
Everyone has a story, we just have to ask the right questions. We all have something to learn from our fellow humans.
After ten minutes we arrived at the restaurant. I tipped him and said "thank you for sharing your story."