My 2nd First Step is a blog by LaRue Cook, a former senior editor for ESPN The Magazine. His posts chronicle his new life as a driver for Uber and lyft.

A Lesson from Kumar's Mother

A Lesson from Kumar's Mother

One phenomenon of Uber is more and more people calling in rides for someone else, which can be a bit discombobulating for me and the person I’m picking up, as was the case when I showed up to get “Kumar” at an assisted living facility on the outskirts of downtown Knoxville. Instead, out walked a tiny, bespectacled woman wearing a sari. I figured that she was kin to Kumar and didn’t ask any questions, but she continued, in rather broken English, to insist how it was that I knew Kumar.

“Work friend? You go to school with my grandson?” she asked, still hesitant to climb in my backseat. I explained that Kumar was paying me to drive her home, to an affluent suburb about half an hour away. She opened the back door and situated herself. “This no cab,” she said.

I did my best to relate the concept of Uber, although I saw Kumar’s mother in the rearview simply cock her head to one side, like a little ol’ pup, same as my own grandmother does when I talk about what I’m doing for a living these days. But Kumar’s mother seemed to be more relaxed now, and I kept on with the ice-breaking: “Visiting family?” 

“My husband,” she said. “Stroke, months ago. We could not make trip to Holy Temple for first time in very long time.” She sighed. I glanced back to see her bunching up her Sari, rubbing it between her hands. “Do you know India?” she asked.

I said I’d never been, but that I had fallen hard for Mira Nair’s Punjabi comedy, Monsoon Wedding, while getting my minor in cinema studies—the enchanting language, the intricate color schemes, the pomp and circumstance, which I said reminds us that our customs, albeit oceans apart, connect us more than we’d care to admit.

“Yes, yes. Hindu, like that,” she said. “God is good—I have prayed every day and visiting my husband every day. He walks again, saying some words. The doctors said he would do nothing.”

I told Kumar’s mother that I hoped her husband would be well enough to reach India again.

“God will make it so,” she said.

As the drive wore on, she and I learned that we’d both lived in New York City, and we fondly recalled our time there, hers spent on the Upper West Side, running a printing company with her husband; mine in Queens, the Roosevelt Avenue stop, where she agreed you could find some of the best Indian food this side of Delhi. A couple of years ago, Kumar’s mother and her husband retired and, as is the custom, moved South to be with Kumar, which I now knew as her son, and his two grandsons.

“Do you have wife and children?” she asked. I considered deflecting with an old adage or cliché, but there’s something to be said for language barriers, having to relate in the simplest of terms:

“One day, God willin.”

When we arrived at the destination, Kumar’s mother said that she received a text saying her son had been delayed at work, wires had crossed within the family, which had been the reason for her first Uber ride. “You are a good man,” she said. “I will pray for God to bless you.”

I could not think of a more adequate reply than, “Thank you.”

Probably about the time Kumar’s mother walked through the front door, I saw a text drop down from the top of my phone screen. It was from Kumar: “God will bless you.”

Driving to look for my next passenger, I couldn’t help but think of my own grandmother, a good Christian woman herself, who overcame poverty and an eighth-grade education and a first husband with a wandering eye and breast cancer, to reach eighty-two and be in fine health and to have a screened-in front porch overlooking the lake, where she can rock in her rocker and drink coffee and enjoy her two great-grandchildren, with a third on the way.

“The Lord sure has been good to me,” she has said many, many times before, the steam rising from her coffee on a cool Sunday morning. I figure she and Kumar’s mother would have some stories to tell one another. As for myself, I’d be pulling one over on you if I didn’t admit that since my father fell and smacked his head on the concrete fifteen years ago, I’ve spent many nights wondering if anyone’s on the other end.

But there in that empty car, the headlights my only guide, I whispered, “Can’t you just let ’em both be right?” to anyone who’d listen.

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