The other night in New York I hailed a cab at about
ten o’clock. I got in, said, “Grand Central, please,” and the cabbie asked me
how my night was. I said I was coming home from a party to celebrate the launch
of my wife’s latest book, and it had been a great evening. “They’re all staying
in the city,” I said, “but I have to get home.”
I don’t always talk to cabbies, but this guy was especially
nice. So I said, “When do you get off tonight?”
He said, “Well, I have kind of an interesting
schedule—I started about 6:00 and I get off about 3 AM. Then I go to the gym
for a couple hours.”
I thought he must be kidding. “To the gym for a couple hours—really?”
He said, “Do you want to know why I go to the gym?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Because a couple years ago I had a little heart
attack. And in the hospital room, when I saw my children sitting on my bed
around me, I knew I had to do something. I thought I was a man of steel. I
thought it couldn’t happen to me.” He must’ve been in his mid-forties. “So I go
to the gym for my kids. I take care of myself for my kids. You know?”
I said I knew, though I could hardly know. I had
never lain in a hospital bed, a young, virile man with a slightly broken heart,
and these beautiful children sitting like angels around his bed.
As I paid my fare, I said, “Thanks for a great ride
tonight—and have fun at the gym.”
Sitting on the train, waiting underneath the streets
of Manhattan for my next ride to leave, I thought of a letter that Abraham
Maslow once wrote to Rollo May—May writes about it in his book The Cry for Myth. Maslow was a brilliant
psychologist who gave us such concepts as peak
experience and hierarchy of needs. He lived right along the banks of the Charles River,
and he loved it—called it ‘my river.’ One day Maslow had a coronary, just like
my friend the cab driver¸ and soon after the incident he wrote a letter to May.
He said, “My river . . . was never so beautiful as after my heart attack.”
I sat on that train and thought, why does it take a
brush with death to make us see our children, really see them? Make us see our
river, really see it in all its beauty? I had a moment of deep sadness that I
had not had a heart attack. You know what I mean? To envy someone a “terrible”
experience? Because our regular, normal, crisis-free lives are so blind.
For us “lucky” people, the challenge of each day of
living is to see with terrible eyes, to make each look our “last” and so to see
as if for the first time.