Thanksgiving offers us a chance to reflect. Thanksgiving is a time to hope and think about the promise of America. On a daily basis it's easy to get caught up in life's mundane tasks such as email, projects at home and the office or managing the kids time.
I find myself looking back on an early morning cab ride this past election day as I headed from Chicago to Boston for a conference. The cabbie, arriving along with daylight, eagerly hopped out, grabbed my hand and introduced himself. "I am Hassan, he said, "good to meet you."
I got in the cab and quickly began my morning ritual of checking email, social networks and reading my newspapers.
Do you chat it up with cabbies? I often do, but on this particular morning I relished the idea of 30 minutes of solitude in the morning sun. Hassan, however, had a different view. As I look back I am struck by the juxtaposition of my self-absorption and his exuberance.
"Do you vote," he asked in a thick Nigerian accent, "for Romney or Obama?" I glanced up from my paper and caught his dark, rugged face and patchwork hair. And his eyeglasses: Two thick ovals in a wire frame, minus one of the arms. The glasses sat gently on his nose, subjected to movement with each smile or gentle twitch.
Hassan's question quickly turned into a discussion of life in our respective homelands and how much we have in common. For example, we are both frustrated by the lack of knowledge and participation in government. In Nigeria, it seems, things are not much different, as less than half of those eligible bother to vote. Weaving through traffic, I sensed that those surrounding us, even on election day, were more plugged into sports or the adventures of Honey Boo Boo.
Hassan, it turns out, had an "important job" as a secretary to a government official. He left Nigeria so his four children would have more opportunity. His wife is a nurse. His oldest daughter is in Iowa pursuing a pharmacy degree.
Hassan has been in the U.S. for four years and drives his cab mostly at night. At one point he held up his "sleeping clothes," a pair of faded powder blue pajamas that he slips into between fares. Before me he said his 1:00 a.m. fare was only a mile long and his 3:30 a.m. trip was "a good one" to the airport. When we got to O'Hare, Hassan gave me a card with his number and the words, "Nigerian cab man."
I think about the country America must be for men like Hassan to continually sacrifice everything in order to come here. For me, and for my four children, ours is a land of endless possibilities, worth every hardship.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.
A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all.