Close Encounters of the Atlantan Kind

In the first week of March, my life was taken away.

No, no. Not my literal life. Sorry, false alarm.
However, something that was a large part of my life: my first car.
To me though, it very well might have been my life.

I first got my car at 18, which I (as a true geek) lovingly nicknamed The Millennium Falcon. It was a silver 5-speed manual 2006 Ford Mustang, with a mere 30,000 miles on it. 3 and some odd years later, I was t-boned pulling into a shopping center. Ironically enough, my first accident in that car several years before was the same scenario. Unfortunately though, a few years and almost 100,000 personal miles later, it didn’t see the road again after the aforementioned accident – as insurance had declared it totaled.

While I considered fighting the insurance company tooth and nail for what was left of my beloved MF, I realized it would inevitably be a lost cause; as sentimental aspects of the vehicle faded, and the logistical practicality of my situation revealed itself.

To me, this was the car I would take out for midnight joy rides in my late days of high school, with a stack of outdated CDs riding shotgun. This was the car I drove up to New York City on a depressing Valentine’s Day, stuck in a blizzard for more than half a day with friends. I loved every sleepless second of it.

Yet this was also the car that I had taken from the winding country roads of middle GA, into the city of Atlanta when my college career began. Ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with a stick shift? If you haven’t had the upmost pleasure of doing so before, allow me to tell you: you never want to. Imagine hell; now imagine Atlanta traffic. You probably just imagined the same thing if you’re from around here. Throw a manual transmission into that mix, and even Satan himself might pity you.

This was also the car that would routinely get me pulled over for a myriad of excuses, which generally ended with frustrated law enforcement officers not finding drugs, weapons, but only excessive amounts of rock n’ roll and half empty water bottles.

All of these memories, for better and worse – grew with me as I grew with my vehicle.

As my nostalgic desires to hold onto my old vehicle faded, and a reality of paperwork and phone calls ensured, I knew this was yet another step in the process of “growing.”

What most motivationally minded or focused people won’t always tell you is, while growth is necessary, growing can be very hard..
I saw myself grow even more upset when several weeks later, I had to abruptly return my rental due to some red tape and non-budging company policies. I was pretty livid, but still felt fortunate enough to live in a city where Uber reigns supreme as means to alternate transportation.

A few weeks, (and several hundred dollars spent on convenient transportation later), my car situation is still ongoing, but looking to soon reach a hopeful resolution.

However, I do know for a fact that I’ll look back to these past few weeks of ride sharing as something I drastically needed, whether I knew it or not.

Frankly, this may have been the plan all along. I notice sometimes when we get comfortable or stagnant, we set ourselves up for the winds of fate to blow us completely off course.

Fate is a key word here, regardless of your personal view on it, as there’s seldom an explanation for the encounters I had or the lessons I learned from this diverse group of drivers.

Whether it was a former Nigerian banker searching for joy, a businesswoman burnt out of the soul-crushing corporate cycle, or a former refugee and amputee with more love for his family than anything else; I learned a lot. I was blessed with conversations that helped me to continue on and gain broader perspectives.

Just today I was driven to work by a man who formerly lived in South Africa, and decided to come to Atlanta for the Olympics in 1996. He fell in love with the city and shortly after decided to stay permanently.
We talked about almost everything – from current politics, to why we can’t all just call it football (soccer, for you heathens). This man kept referring to himself as blessed. He was happy to have the life he did. He told me he wanted for nothing. This imposed the abundance of gratitude that others can have for things we so often take for granted. I never recall seeing him not smile for the entirety of our half hour trip, even as he was re-routed by an unexpected highway closure.
He ended my ride with a call to my passion, and told me to continue on with my goals – and if I do so, the world would in turn become a better place. I’m a sucker for pulling at emotional heartstrings, but this comment/call to action is one I can tell will stick with me for the rest of my days. This man had a heart the size of an Olympic-swimming pool, and his gratefulness was overflowing.

Gratitude. Something I could stand to learn more about, definitely.

Why are we grateful though, and what for? I like to believe gratitude and grace come in different forms for different people.

This especially holds true for the man (who I’ll refer to as M) that picked me up on one of my first trips. Right off the bat, he welcomed me into his car as “my friend.”
I knew immediately that this would be no regular ride, and I’m so thankful I was correct for once. You see, M originally comes from Pakistan, where he belongs to a peaceful and small religious sect persecuted by the Pakistani government. He and members of this sect were actually offered refuge under the United Nations in Tibet several years ago, where he was able to escape to with his family. Living the life of a refugee went on for a while, and 18 months ago he immigrated to America.
What I didn’t know at first, is that he had lost his leg in Pakistan. When he arrived to America, he was offered a few hundred dollars a month in disability. M told them “no.” Rightfully puzzled at somebody in a tough situation not wanting essentially pro bono funding, they asked him why.

“I want to work for what I have” M recalled to me. He asked the office to find a way to get him a prosthetic leg in lieu of disability paid monthly to him. Several weeks later, M had a new prosthetic and began to search for work. When I asked more about him, it became clear that M viewed life a tad differently than the rest of us did. “I drive 10-11 hours a day” he mentioned. “My wife is the best wife in the world. She makes me smile and always cooks the best food. I drive to support her and my daughters.” He mentioned how his daughter, now a senior at a local high school (with a nearly perfect GPA and several promising opportunities), would not always have the same chance in other parts of the world. This man had so much sacrificial love for his family it was overwhelming.
When he moved to America, he didn’t do so for himself – but rather those he loved. When I got back to my house, I realized I had no money for a tip. M laughed, and said the conversation over the past half hour was worth more to him than any tip. He even paid me a compliment before saying his farewells.

Another driver who stuck out to me, we’ll refer to as E. E was a former Nigerian banker, and very educated in his home country. He explained how it was surreal only a few years ago he was handling millions of dollars in currency on a daily basis, to now driving for a ride-sharing app. Strangely enough, E’s outlook on life could not have been more enthusiastic. For somebody in his late 20s or early 30s, he was very well traveled and rich with life experience. E went on to explain how finance, while lucrative, was ultimately soul crushing. As somebody who originally set out to college to be an investment banker, this hit very close to me. “I was handling all of this money, and the funny thing about handling other people’s money is that you start to behave like it’s your own after a while.” E brought up his son, and how leaving for work at 4am and returning at the wee hours of the night took away precious personal opportunities and time. “When I left Nigeria, I traveled.” E reflected on when his travels took him to Thailand, he got slapped in the face with a new perspective. “The people – they were so satisfied. They did not have much, but they were some of the happiest people I came across.” he relayed. He relished in the simplicity of the Eastern-oriented lifestyle displayed there. “I always wanted more, but then I realized to be happy with what I did have. It’s more than enough.”

Absolute humility.

Notice the commonality of these views expressed from various drivers?

It didn’t matter if these people came from backgrounds that could not be any more different, because to them, we were one in the same.
They all recognized at different stages in their personal lives what actually mattered to them, and I believe these things to be a simple “common core” of beliefs shared by people around the world regardless of who we are or where we come from. They were all so grateful.
People want to love, want to be loved, want to respect, and be respected – and simply want to be happy.
They want to pursue this life fearlessly, without regrets, and with an open heart.
I’m not sure what comes next. I still don’t know if this complicated car situation will be fruitful, or just another untimely disappointment.
Regardless of what does end up happening, I know to be thankful for what I already have and for the people in my life from whom I’ve learned many-a-lesson.

May of 2017 might have been a tremendous struggle of a month for me, though I will always remember it as the month I found grace and kindness when I needed it most – and the when I learned to be thankful about the simple things that I could still control.

Tell me, how could one not be so extremely grateful for that?
In the very inspirational words of my driver, Mr. M:

“Love for all,

Hatred for none.”

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