Recently I met a young woman on a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. She was a cute, vivacious, blond-haired high school senior. She reminded me of my daughter Laura, who is one year younger. The girl had been accepted to Yale and Harvard, and we discussed the pros and cons of going to one school or the other, a subject about which I know next to nothing. The primary wisdom I had to offer was that it was a good problem to have and to assure her that whatever she decided would be the right decision.
The young woman was not a rich kid. Her parents were products of community college. She was smart and had worked hard to earn the privilege of attending an elite school. She made enough of an impression on me that I mentioned her to the cab driver on my midnight ride home from the airport. When I said the girl had been accepted to Yale, the cabbie, an immigrant of the kind who would be flagged at airports, asked, “What’s Yale? A high school?”
It turned out that the cab driver had two daughters, one in ninth grade and one in sixth. The sixth grader was in the life phase wherein each month may bring a new dream. She was planning on becoming a school teacher, he explained, but now she wanted to be a veterinarian, because “she loves animals.” As a fellow father, I assured him this sounded like a good decision, and we commiserated about how often children change their minds.
The cab driver told me his ninth grade daughter had a passion for writing. She had been accepted into the creative writing program at the San Francisco School of the Arts. I know about this school because Laura’s good friend Sayre is enrolled there.
“It is a very good school,” the cab driver said to me, watching in the rearview mirror for my reaction. I nodded; it is a very prestigious school. “She wants to be a journalist,” he said, his eyes still on me.
“Sounds like your daughters are doing great,” I said, getting out of the cab and paying my fare.
“I hope so,” he said, as he hopped back in his cab. “That is why I am working so hard!”
Sometimes the litany of perils to human survival is overwhelming: nuclear weapons, global warming, poverty, disease, injustice, misunderstanding, ignorance, hatred, and war. Some terrible end appears to be creeping closer with each passing day. Most of us try to make a positive contribution, but a significant portion of our energy is engaged in just managing life, staying afloat and avoiding mundane disasters. Our leaders squabble and grab, and when push comes to shove, so do we. Finding a hero, or being heroic, seems the stuff of legend, but in our hearts we adults know that we are awaiting one dismal conclusion or another, our demise. The end is near.
Sometimes this is how I see the world. Then I meet someone like that girl on the plane, or the cab driver, and the experience washes away my bleak, self-centered outlook of gloom. I talk to my daughter, my son, my step-son, daughter-in-law, to people old and young with positive dreams who are doing something to make the world a better place. I witness these great spirits and I know that we are not defined by ignorance, greed, anger, and fear. These uninspired traits will not have the last word. There is much more to say.