“You Smile, But you wanna cry.
You Talk, But you wanna be quite.
You pretend, like you are happy, But, you are not!!!”
This is the common refrain that we hear many times. Amidst the crowd, people feel alone and remain aloof. They are depressed and have no recourse except to end their life.
John, the Uber driver picked me from client’s office to drop me to my hotel about 6 miles away. He must be in his late 50s, with thick glasses and freckled face. He and his car had one thing in common – they both looked tired and worn out. But as soon as I was comfortable in the car, he greeted me with an unexpected but pleasant smile.
I was confused. Looking at the condition of the car and John himself, I was not very hopeful of a conversation. But his smile and friendly approach was in contrast.
I broke the ice by asking him about his day.
“Great! Its been wonderful so far.” As we entered into the conversation, I had the answer to my contrasting perception. He continued, “I ensure to smile as often as I could. I try to laugh and make my life fun.”
Putting an effort to smile is great. But why? I was not sure if I should ask him. “I am sure Uber is giving you enough reasons to do that. Do you just do Uber?”
“Yes, pretty much this! It definitely has given me a reason to live.”
“What do you mean?” I was confused.
“Its a long and boring story. I don’t want to trouble you. You are local here, or visiting.”
“Visiting, for work. I have a client here. Going back tomorrow.” I was interested in listening to his ‘long and boring story’. “But, I absolutely would love to listen to your story, of course, if you don’t mind.”
He gave a quick chuckle and then looked at me. “We don’t have much of a ride, but I will tell you. I was once lost. Dead! But now, I am back. Trying to enjoy every moment this life has to offer. After my kids went out to college and got settled, I had a mild heart attack. Although, everything turned out to be OK, I realized for the first time that I am so lonely. My house felt empty when I returned from the hospital. I dreaded that emptiness, as if it will swallow me whole. I used to go out for walks and had a decent friend circle in my community, but I felt no one is listening to me anymore. I felt even more lonely and unwanted. It felt, no one needs me any more. It was a cycle. The more lonely I felt, more my health deteriorating and more I was falling into debt trap and I started closing my self to the world. I was going down the rabbit hole. All my savings went down the drain” He must have repeated it at least couple of times, ‘I was alone. It felt, no one loves me.”
His voice was deep and profound. And I could feel the pain of hopelessness in his expressions. I was not very sure if I should express any sentiments. Instead, I asked, “You seem OK now. As you said, how did you come out of it?”
“UBER!!!” He hit back without turning towards me. And left the word hanging somewhere in the air, between us, as an unfinished sentence, or probably an unfinished story.
At first I was not so sure, if I understood. I continued looking at him, assuming he might complete his answer. I was met only with an eerie silence. My destination was not very far off. May be another ten minutes. As I turned my eyes to gaze outside the window at the city and traffic, it stopped and read at the word ‘UBER’ right ahead of me on the windshield. .
Five minutes must have passed in silence as I was trying to make sense of his answer- UBER, when John turned towards me and said, “that’s the newer hotel, I guess where you are going. I think it’s not even a year that it started.” I acknowledged the reply and tried to interject but he continued, as if catching the word, still hanging somewhere, “I went into deep depression. Whenever I felt too dejected I used to pick up my car and drove to the loneliest spot in the city and just sit there from dawn to dusk. Thinking nothing and doing nothing! I wanted to become invisible to the world. The worst part was coming back home. I dreaded, stepping inside my house. I had a big one. And I thought, if I downsize it, may be a smaller house will feel more like a home, and I will also save some money. But even the smaller house could not remove the hollowness inside me. Several times, I thought of finishing my life, but did not even had courage to do that”. He chuckled and continued, “But I was also in need of money. My social security was not enough at all. I was drained out. It seemed, I cannot live and I cannot die. I lost all hope.” Silence again. One of the most awkward moment for me. But this was short lived.
“One evening, as I was dragging myself towards the house, I saw this Uber sign in front of a car that was parked right across the street. I noticed, a friend of mine stepping out of it. it caught my attention. I inquired about it and thought of trying my hand on it. That’s how I am here now. It’s about six months.”
“That’s wonderful sir! I hope it is working out for you.” He took a final turn towards my hotel and stopped right in front of the entrance.
“Too early to say. But I think it is. I will not say that I am out of the woods. This is helping me in supplementing my income. But it also is helping me not to sit and sulk. When I was driving before towards my loneliness, I started liking the drive. Now I feel, I am able to put this driving to a good use. But most importantly, I am able to meet so many people and talk to them. It gives me a sense of achievement. I do not feel lonely anymore. One of the rider, like yourself told me to try and laugh. Smile as often as I could. That is what I try to follow. It feels good! I do feel lost sometimes. But those incidents are less now. There is no desperation anymore. I do not feel helpless. With Uber, I guess, I have a sense of purpose now.”
“It’s great!” I remarked. “I think you took great step by taking Uber and getting out of your house.” We shook hands and I said, “John, having a sense of purpose in life is incredible. I hope you continue to enjoy this journey.”
As I stepped out and went to the hotel lobby, I thought how Uber has helped so many people in many different ways. Money of course is important. But probably it is just one part. Depression and sense of being alone in this crowded world brings acute loneliness and desperation to get out of that situation. And more often than not, suicide seems to be the easiest route. Probably, Uber and similar ride hailing services is a better alternative that automatically provides a way out. John has found this way and at least for him, this is working out.
“We sometimes think we want to disappear, but all we really need is to be found” – Anonymous