Moving to New York nearly three years ago was (and continues to be) a transformative experience in many ways. When you leave your entire support system of family and friends, when you leave behind a lifestyle that is familiar and comfortable, when you leave behind a career you had latched onto as your identity, a lot of crap comes up. And sometimes without your typical fallbacks to look to for security and comfort, you find yourself looking in places you left behind long ago.
Despite being raised in a Catholic family and spending 13 years attending Catholic schools, faith and prayer never really stuck with me, and while I believed in some sort of God or higher power, I had no interest in religion. I wanted to do it my own way. In a way that was convenient for me so it wouldn’t get messy when I bumped up against a belief or teaching that didn’t jive with what I wanted to do or accomplish in my life. The concept of God as part of my life, part of my day to day? Forget about it. That was never even a consideration. To me, God was something big, and far away, and punishing, with far better things to do than worry about someone like me.
But as I settled into my move to New York, I felt lost and exposed, like a hiker with no gear who didn’t make it back to camp at dusk. My life became a scene out of the Blair Witch Project. Fear, paranoia, and panic trailed me while I went along my daily business. Because let’s be honest. NYC can be a pretty scary place at first glance. So I started to pray.
My prayers started quick and selfish. Dear God, please keep me from having a panic attack on this train. Dear God, I am tired and afraid. Please give me strength. Dear God I am lonely and need someone to talk to. If I was so lost that I couldn’t even think how to begin, I would return to an old fallback from my childhood, Our Father, who art in heaven…
Before I knew it, amazing things started to happen. The doubter in me didn’t take much stock in it all at first. But experiences too numerous to count and too numerous to write have made it clear to me that God is a part of my day to day life when I welcome Him in and God does indeed answer prayers. He answers them every day in small, often hidden ways, through every person we come in contact with. We just get so caught up looking for the big shock and awe God, we often miss the little gifts he is constantly sending our way, usually via the people we interact with on a day to day basis. We also miss the little gifts he is using us to send out, through a kind word or smile or a helping hand. Now that I recognize it, it seems so simple, so silly that I missed it all these years.
Like the woman in the airport bathroom, as I am wrestling my then three year old, trying to get him to stop touching everything and hurry up so we don’t miss our flight. Dear God, please give me patience. There she is as we exit the stall and walk up to the long row of sinks, waiting for us with a warm smile and light in her eyes. “Oh I remember those days. They can be a handful. But what a blessing that they can help us see the excitement in the things we take for granted.” What a blessing indeed. Thank you, God.
Like the friend calling out to me on the subway platform, when I am halfway across town, nowhere either of us would normally be at that time of day. Please God. I can’t breathe. I am afraid. Help me make it home. There she is with a big hug, “Hey lady, what are you doing here?” “I could ask you the same question,” I reply. Thank you, God.
And sometimes, I have learned, God is in the moments where you think He can’t be. You find Him in how you choose to react in and to those moments.
Two summers ago, I awoke with an anxious pit in my stomach. I had tossed and turned most of the night and was so exhausted my bones ached. I dragged myself out of bed to boys who couldn’t keep their hands off one another, and couldn’t do what I asked without whining or complaining. The simple act of getting shoes and coats on felt like hand to hand combat. Of course, we were running late and rain was threatening. There would be no bike ride to get the boys to their respective camps that morning.
“Boys, get in the cab.”
Over the screaming of the boys about who got what seat and what seat belt, I told the driver, “Intrepid Museum first. I will need you to wait there while I drop my son off and then take us the rest of the way to Chelsea Piers.”
The driver threw his hands up from the wheel. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” I asked, exasperated.
“There’s no place for me to wait.”
“Yes there is,” I countered. “There’s a drop off lane right in front.”
“Fine, show me.”
As we pulled into the drop off lane in front of the Intrepid Museum, the driver told me, “I’m not waiting.”
“What do you mean your not waiting?” I exploded. “You can’t just leave me here on the side of the West Side Highway. There’s no way to get another cab from here and I certainly can’t walk all the way to Chelsea Piers with my son. Keep the meter running. I’ll be right back.” There is no denying that I was being a total ass at this point, but I thought if he’s going to be a pain in my ass, I’ll be one right back.
When we finally reached our last destination, I paid my fare with my credit card using the electronic screen and swiper in the back seat. I even threw on a 30% tip, because even if he was being a jerk, I didn’t need to be a jerk back. As “Thank You Payment Processed” flashed across the screen, I started to exit the cab, my three year old in tow.
“Excuse me, how are we going to finish this,” the driver asked me.
“What do you mean,” I responded, confused.
“I mean you didn’t pay me. You need to pay me.”
“I just paid you,” I replied, incredulous.
“No you didn’t. A receipt didn’t print up here.”
“A receipt never prints up there unless I ask for one. Besides, it said my payment was processed back here. Maybe your machine up there isn’t working,” I snapped.
“No. You need to give me cash,” he demanded, his words thick with distaste for me.
“I am not paying you again. I already paid you.”
“Then I will call the police,” he threatened.
“Fine, call the police, ” I said as I slammed the rear passenger door.
With that he exited the vehicle and started charging at me and my son, enraged. I grabbed my son and threw him behind me, no longer fully conscious of the venom the driver spewing at me, words like thief and liar swirling in the air around me. As another driver ran up to intervene, I stood frozen. And then, I started to sob. Heaving, uncontrollable sobs. Sobs of brokenness and defeat. Now, a real New Yorker probably would have flipped him the bird, told him to f-off and walked away. But, not being a real New Yorker, I was terrified and desperate to prove that I was none of the things he was saying about me.
As security rushed over, I pulled up my online banking on my phone. There it was. $11.03. The transaction was already in my bank records. I had paid. It wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t a thief. Maybe I wasn’t a very nice person, but I wasn’t a thief. As one gentleman escorted me and my bewildered son into his class, and another waited for the police to come deal with the cab driver, I couldn’t stop sobbing. The city had finally had its way with me. I instantly understood why New Yorkers have a reputation for being so tough, so hardened. But I didn’t want to be hardened. I didn’t want that to be me. With my son safely in his class, I walked out to the sun-drenched pier and sat on a bench overlooking the Hudson River. My tears flowed freely again and I began to pray.
Dear God, I can’t do this. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this. I’m sorry for the way I treated that man this morning. I am sorry I didn’t take the high road. Please forgive me for being rude and unkind. I don’t want to be rude and unkind. I don’t want to be afraid of this city. I don’t want to be afraid of the strangers I need to rely on to live here. I want to believe that people are inherently good. That we are all in this together. I want to do my part to bring the best out in others. Forgive me for not doing my part to bring the best out in others today. Please help me. Please show me what to do.
As my time for tears and reflection and rambling prayer ended, and I scooped up my son from his class, my stomach turned at the thought of getting in another cab, but there was no choice today. We had someone to meet and the bus/subway option wouldn’t get us there fast enough. Please God I need strength. I am afraid. Please protect me if that angry man is still waiting for me.
As we approached the curb, a taxi pulled right up and the driver put the car in park and started to exit. Terror overtook me. Dear God, it’s the same driver and he’s back to finish me off. But the fear dissipated when I saw his warm eyes and was greeted with a smile that was like a wave crashing over me, forcing me to relax and go with the flow. As he walked around the car to open the door for me, I started to breathe again. A cab driver getting out to hold the door for me? Well, I never…
As we turned out of the parking lot and began our trip home, the driver looked at me in the rear view mirror and said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s it like to have a son? I’m going to have my first son in September and I have no idea what I am doing.”
I caught his eye in the mirror and smiled. “Its the absolute best and hardest thing you will ever do in your life.” He smiled back and started peppering me with questions. We spent the next 25 minutes sitting in unexpected traffic, talking about children, and being a parent, and how nobody knows what they are doing at first, and how your life changes (the good and the bad), and fears and insecurities, and what kids like to eat, and everything in between.
When we finally reached our stop, he put the car in park, turned around and gave me that huge smile again. “I’m Richard,” he said. “I’m so glad I picked you guys up today.”
“Oh Richard, you have no idea,” I said as I shook his hand, tears of gratitude filling my eyes.
Thank you, God.