Life and death in a taxi
Last Saturday night we took a taxi to a leaving party for my husband’s colleague. The taxi driver, after realizing my husband wasn’t Lebanese (happens all the time) spoke reasonably good English. I sat in the back, keeping the past-her-bedtime-baby happy and listened to him and my husband have a typical taxi conversation.
It revolved around two standard questions my husband has learnt to ask after taking taxis to and from work every day for nearly two years:
How’s the traffic? and Do you have children/grandchildren?
They are neutral questions, which don’t necessarily lead to talk of politics, religion, the civil war or, more recently, ‘the situation’. Unless of course the driver wants to talk about these things. Which he often does.
On this particular night the answers were something like this:
-How ‘s the traffic?
–There’s no traffic. The streets are empty. People are afraid.
It’s true that the streets are quieter than normal, fear moving through the city like a virus, curdling all our stomachs.
-Are you a grandfather?
-Yes, I have 14 grandchildren. And 5 children.
My husband asks him more questions and we learn that they all live in Beirut and that his 30 year old son is the only one not married and still living at home. Then he tells us:
In 1983, my wife gave birth to 3 babies, 2 girls and a boy. They were all fine. For 20 years, no problem. Then my son got sick. He didn’t go out anymore, he didn’t study, work, anything. I called many doctors to come but they don’t know what the problem is. He just stays at home all the time and thinks. I don’t know what to do.
I am touched by the way this grey haired grandfather unfurls his life for us, proud and sad, softly, in the safety of his dark taxi cab.
The conversation moves on, but I keep thinking that 1983 was right in the middle of the war, and that when he started his story I was so sure he was going to tell us some tragic event from the time. But I was wrong. His ‘tragedy’ happened many years later, in peace time.
I am reminded again how life goes on, no matter what.
Babies are born in the midst of war, sometimes the people we love get sick no matter what we do. What Buddhism calls the four sufferings of birth, sickness, aging and death exist wherever you are, be it in the safest country in the world, or the place you’ve lived all your life, or Beirut.
It’s not about escape, I realise. And the thought is both a relief and a challenge.