Alone in the Crowd

“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 

Confession of a Man!

Chicago has always been one of my favorite places.  I love going to this windy city.   I had about an hour of ride from Chicago O’here airport to downtown, although the peak time had not yet started.  As I was waiting for my Uber at the airport, I realized that the weather was unusually warm for the month of January.  This was a good sign!   With no snow predicted for the duration of my stay in Chicago, I was happy.

I was still more happy when a brand new white Buick came and stopped in front of me.   Nothing better than riding in a new car for this hour long trip, a good conversation was all I was hoping for as I hopped into the front passenger seat of the car.  However, Paul, my Uber driver seemed rather a serious man.  I was always prepared for situations where good conversation is not an option.  I have my iPhone and headphones handy to save the day.

During our usual initial pleasantries, I realized that Paul was not as serious as I suspected; he was rather a quite person.  This was not bad at all. We can always have some random banters through the way.  

As we started moving out of the airport and onto I-90, I thought, if I could have taken a car on rent, it would have been much easier for me to visit my friends in Schaumburg and Barrington.  This is the place where I have spent my initial 5 years in United States.

I was looking straight ahead at the Grey Hound bus in front of us and observed the efforts made by Paul trying to move ahead of it. My eyes fell on the pink pearl necklace dangling from the mirror of the car. It was shimmering in the sunlight and reflecting the rays directly inside. I followed the sun rays from the windshield to the pearl necklace and on to the photograph placed on the car’s dashboard. Just as soon as I looked, I asked Paul, ‘is this your brother standing with you or a friend?’

He looked at the pic and then straight ahead. At first, I thought, did I do something wrong in asking. There was almost 15 second pause before he looked back at me again. ‘Oh well, he is actually my boy friend’, he quipped and continued, ‘we have been together for almost 3 years now.’

He must have seen something on my face because immediately he chuckled and then said, ‘ha! don’t worry, I get this reaction all the time. You are not the first one.’
‘I am sorry…’, I stammered, ‘I didn’t…, I mean, that was wrong of me.’  
‘Hey, that is fine.   It happens.’
‘But does it not bother you?’  This kind of look from every one you come across.’
‘It used to!’   Paul looked straight ahead trying to navigate a busy intersection.  It was still early afternoon, and much before the peak time. ‘I used to be bothered a lot, but I realized – the things that I cannot control, why should they trouble me?  This is what I am, and I am happy about it.’
I could hear an emergency vehicle approaching behind us. As Paul turned the wheel to get out of way of the ambulance, I asked him, ‘I am sure you must have faced lot of heat throughout your life/’

‘It was actually quite interesting!’ He was still waiting on the shoulder for the ambulance to pass. He paused, looked at me and then at the back mirror to get back into the driving lane. ‘On hindsight, it was more difficult to convince myself than to convince others. In fact, I did not convince anyone. All I needed was to convince myself. That was the hard part. Yes, those were the most difficult years.’

‘What do you mean?’ I was curious to find out.
‘Throughout my high school, I was very confused.  Everyone is expected to be in a relationship.  But I was not sure, where do I stand.  I should have a girlfriend, as is the norm, but I was not attracted towards them.  It felt weird as if there was something wrong with me.’
He changed the lane to a faster one, ‘the thought of being gay crossed my mind more than once and every time I dismissed it.  I thought, this cannot be happening to me, as if this is some sort of decease.’

‘Did you get any support from your parents?’, I interjected, ‘I mean, were they conservative.’
‘Oh no!, we were pretty liberal.  My parents were very open, but, you know, even in the most liberal types, there is some required behavior, if you will, drilled into your mind. You are expected to behave in a certain way, which is socially agreeable.  There’s no written rule, but you are just expected.  Not sure if I am able to explain, but a boy has to have a girlfriend and a girl needs to have a boy friend.  It’s just the society that expects you to behave in certain ways.’

‘I was under immense pressure because of that.  Throughout my high school, I tried to convince myself.  I finally made a boy friend, but was still not sure.  When I joined college, I tried to make a girl friend.  I thought, if I have a girlfriend, I will become normal.’ 

I thought I heard a choke in his voice.  but when I looked at him, he was very calm.  He continued as if speaking to himself. 

‘My parents of course realized this and despite being very open, they still could not digest that their own son is gay.  I guess, all this talk of being open and being liberal is always saved for others.  All is good if someone else is gay or lesbian, but when it comes to their own family, parents suddenly become too conservative.  The discussion in drawing rooms changes from advising others to be liberal to lecturing me on how can this be possible.’
This is the pressure of the society we live.  Suddenly, it seems so fake.   I continued to make girl friends through out my college days and imagined everything is great.  That my disease is cured.  You won’t believe, I realized that all this I am doing was to make my parents happy, that they can stand in the society and proclaim to the world, “My son is normal”. 

He went silent. I did not wanted to interrupt his thoughts. My mind raced towards my own unconscious bias of few minutes ago. As he took the exit and entered the downtown area of Chicago, he told me that although he had a girlfriend and he pretended to be normal, there was a huge trauma going on within his mind. His entire days went by thinking that somehow, somewhere deep inside he was lying. He was lying to his girlfriend, to his parents, to each and every friend he has or ever had and to the society at large. But most important, he was lying to every single gay and lesbian in the world, making their cause weak and he was lying to himself! When he broke with his first girlfriend, he went ahead and proposed another one. But that turned out to be the catalyst he was waiting for. His new girlfriend understood the huge emotional imbalance Paul was going through. And she gave him a deadline. He has to come clean and declare “Himself to Himself” and accept the reality within one year, or she would declare it to the world. He was left with no choice.

‘Finally, consciousness dawned on me and it took me a great amount of courage to accept my own reality. When I told my girl friend that I am going to come out of it and declare who I truly am, it felt like, I am confessing my sins. In truth, I was confessing to my own reality. There is no point in lying to my own self. If there is a true God anywhere, I felt, not accepting my own reality is an insult to His own design. This is the way I am and even from most conservative Christians stand point, I am no one to challenge His design.’

I looked at the GPS as it announced that my destination is half a mile away. The pink pearl necklace right above his GPS was hanging proudly, announcing the arrival of Paul.

Paul was no way upset or ashamed while narrating his life story. There was both an acceptance and a sense of achievement in his demeanor. But most importantly, he seemed completely with himself throughout the trip. I never got a chance to ask him about what made him choose Uber and if he has some other profession or not. But whatever it might be, I feel, in his life’s journey so far, he truly has arrived.

His girl friend, I felt was her one true friend. To her and through her, he was able to achieve a true confession of his sin of hiding his true identity.

Confession of a Man!

Chicago has always been one of my favorite places.  I love going to this windy city.   I had about an hour of ride from Chicago O’here airport to downtown, although the peak time had not yet started.  As I was waiting for my Uber at the airport, I realized that the weather was unusually warm for the month of January.  This was a good sign!   With no snow predicted for the duration of my stay in Chicago, I was happy.

I was still more happy when a brand new white Buick came and stopped in front of me.   Nothing better than riding in a new car for this hour long trip, a good conversation was all I was hoping for as I hopped into the front passenger seat of the car.  However, Paul, my Uber driver seemed rather a serious man.  I was always prepared for situations where good conversation is not an option.  I have my iPhone and headphones handy to save the day.

During our usual initial pleasantries, I realized that Paul was not as serious as I suspected; he was rather a quite person.  This was not bad at all. We can always have some random banters through the way.  

As we started moving out of the airport and onto I-90, I thought, if I could have taken a car on rent, it would have been much easier for me to visit my friends in Schaumburg and Barrington.  This is the place where I have spent my initial 5 years in United States.

I was looking straight ahead at the Grey Hound bus in front of us and observed the efforts made by Paul trying to move ahead of it. My eyes fell on the pink pearl necklace dangling from the mirror of the car. It was shimmering in the sunlight and reflecting the rays directly inside. I followed the sun rays from the windshield to the pearl necklace and on to the photograph placed on the car’s dashboard. Just as soon as I looked, I asked Paul, ‘is this your brother standing with you or a friend?’

He looked at the pic and then straight ahead. At first, I thought, did I do something wrong in asking. There was almost 15 second pause before he looked back at me again. ‘Oh well, he is actually my boy friend’, he quipped and continued, ‘we have been together for almost 3 years now.’

He must have seen something on my face because immediately he chuckled and then said, ‘ha! don’t worry, I get this reaction all the time. You are not the first one.’
‘I am sorry…’, I stammered, ‘I didn’t…, I mean, that was wrong of me.’  
‘Hey, that is fine.   It happens.’
‘But does it not bother you?’  This kind of look from every one you come across.’
‘It used to!’   Paul looked straight ahead trying to navigate a busy intersection.  It was still early afternoon, and much before the peak time. ‘I used to be bothered a lot, but I realized – the things that I cannot control, why should they trouble me?  This is what I am, and I am happy about it.’
I could hear an emergency vehicle approaching behind us. As Paul turned the wheel to get out of way of the ambulance, I asked him, ‘I am sure you must have faced lot of heat throughout your life/’

‘It was actually quite interesting!’ He was still waiting on the shoulder for the ambulance to pass. He paused, looked at me and then at the back mirror to get back into the driving lane. ‘On hindsight, it was more difficult to convince myself than to convince others. In fact, I did not convince anyone. All I needed was to convince myself. That was the hard part. Yes, those were the most difficult years.’

‘What do you mean?’ I was curious to find out.
‘Throughout my high school, I was very confused.  Everyone is expected to be in a relationship.  But I was not sure, where do I stand.  I should have a girlfriend, as is the norm, but I was not attracted towards them.  It felt weird as if there was something wrong with me.’
He changed the lane to a faster one, ‘the thought of being gay crossed my mind more than once and every time I dismissed it.  I thought, this cannot be happening to me, as if this is some sort of decease.’

‘Did you get any support from your parents?’, I interjected, ‘I mean, were they conservative.’
‘Oh no!, we were pretty liberal.  My parents were very open, but, you know, even in the most liberal types, there is some required behavior, if you will, drilled into your mind. You are expected to behave in a certain way, which is socially agreeable.  There’s no written rule, but you are just expected.  Not sure if I am able to explain, but a boy has to have a girlfriend and a girl needs to have a boy friend.  It’s just the society that expects you to behave in certain ways.’

‘I was under immense pressure because of that.  Throughout my high school, I tried to convince myself.  I finally made a boy friend, but was still not sure.  When I joined college, I tried to make a girl friend.  I thought, if I have a girlfriend, I will become normal.’ 

I thought I heard a choke in his voice.  but when I looked at him, he was very calm.  He continued as if speaking to himself. 

‘My parents of course realized this and despite being very open, they still could not digest that their own son is gay.  I guess, all this talk of being open and being liberal is always saved for others.  All is good if someone else is gay or lesbian, but when it comes to their own family, parents suddenly become too conservative.  The discussion in drawing rooms changes from advising others to be liberal to lecturing me on how can this be possible.’
This is the pressure of the society we live.  Suddenly, it seems so fake.   I continued to make girl friends through out my college days and imagined everything is great.  That my disease is cured.  You won’t believe, I realized that all this I am doing was to make my parents happy, that they can stand in the society and proclaim to the world, “My son is normal”. 

He went silent. I did not wanted to interrupt his thoughts. My mind raced towards my own unconscious bias of few minutes ago. As he took the exit and entered the downtown area of Chicago, he told me that although he had a girlfriend and he pretended to be normal, there was a huge trauma going on within his mind. His entire days went by thinking that somehow, somewhere deep inside he was lying. He was lying to his girlfriend, to his parents, to each and every friend he has or ever had and to the society at large. But most important, he was lying to every single gay and lesbian in the world, making their cause weak and he was lying to himself! When he broke with his first girlfriend, he went ahead and proposed another one. But that turned out to be the catalyst he was waiting for. His new girlfriend understood the huge emotional imbalance Paul was going through. And she gave him a deadline. He has to come clean and declare “Himself to Himself” and accept the reality within one year, or she would declare it to the world. He was left with no choice.

‘Finally, consciousness dawned on me and it took me a great amount of courage to accept my own reality. When I told my girl friend that I am going to come out of it and declare who I truly am, it felt like, I am confessing my sins. In truth, I was confessing to my own reality. There is no point in lying to my own self. If there is a true God anywhere, I felt, not accepting my own reality is an insult to His own design. This is the way I am and even from most conservative Christians stand point, I am no one to challenge His design.’

I looked at the GPS as it announced that my destination is half a mile away. The pink pearl necklace right above his GPS was hanging proudly, announcing the arrival of Paul.

Paul was no way upset or ashamed while narrating his life story. There was both an acceptance and a sense of achievement in his demeanor. But most importantly, he seemed completely with himself throughout the trip. I never got a chance to ask him about what made him choose Uber and if he has some other profession or not. But whatever it might be, I feel, in his life’s journey so far, he truly has arrived.

His girl friend, I felt was her one true friend. To her and through her, he was able to achieve a true confession of his sin of hiding his true identity.

In Pursuit of Roots

It was bright Monday morning and sun was harsh.  The Air Conditioning in the black Toyota Corolla was on high, but I was still feeling hot.  I was sitting in the front passenger seat and looking out of the window at the growing traffic of Inter-State 5.  I was not very confident if I will be able to reach at my client’s location in time for the presentation.  I was getting jittery.  I tried hard to relax but thought of missing the presentation or reaching in between was making me nervous.  With no success of calming my mind, I thought I should immerse myself in looking outside the window.  I also thought, continuing my conversations with Jasmine, my Uber driver may help deflect the worries of the future and bring me back to the moment. 

In my mind, I could also hear a sweet humming that sounded like someone is missing a long lost friend.  It was a beautiful song.  My thoughts were disturbed as a giant Hummer rolled past our car.   And soon enough I realized that it was none other than Jasmine who was humming.  I turned towards her and asked, ‘what is that song.  It is beautiful.’

She laughed, ‘Oh! its nothing.  It is something I usually sing.’

‘But what song is it?’  I pressed for an answer.

She looked towards me and said, ‘it is something I created, long time back.  During my college days.  I was a part of the college band.’

I was amazed.  ‘You are also a musician!’   She told me that she had been a part of various bands since her college days.   But as of now, she has her solace as guitarist in a local band, meet every fortnight in local library to jam and music teacher for kids.  It was music and Uber. I wondered what else she does.   A person who can create music as beautiful as what she was humming, I believe has a mind that works on a different plane.  Creating music, or painting requires different kind of intelligence.  I wanted to know her story.  Wanted to know what else she does.

‘Well, I also love writing.  I am an Author and also write for local magazine.’  Jasmine told me that she has already published few books. Three of them are romantic fictional stories and one was her memoir.
I was totally zapped. I was looking at a musician and an author. I wanted to know where does Uber fit in all this. But based on speaking with so many Uber drivers, I kind of guessed her answer.

‘Why do I drive Uber? Hmm! Good question. It gives me peace of mind. And driving around allows me to think. Basically, I drive to get inspiration for my music and thoughts on new stories.’

I have heard this so many times. Uber and Lyft has allowed so many people to come out of their closet. As I looked outside the window, my thoughts wavered between the client presentation and Jasmine’s memoir. I thought Jasmine memoir is surely a more interesting topic of discussion than cribbing about being late. I wanted to know what’s so interesting about her life that she wrote a memoir but was not sure how to ask. I just commented that her memoir must be interesting read.
She thought for a while and then laughed. Her entire demeanor during all this time was of a very happy, blissful person. A person who has no complaints with life.

She told me that she was adopted soon after her birth. Her adopted parents, were amazing. She had best of what life has to offer, amazing education, great values and wonderful love of her parents and great brother. ‘But I always had this void. Who are my birth parents and why they left me. I always wanted to find out. My adopted parents never hid this fact but never considered me lower or less privileged then their own son. Their son, is a wonderful brother to me. But couple of years ago, my parents died in a car accident. And while I was shuffling through some of their papers, I found all the documentation for my adoption. So I went into the pursuit of my roots.’

Jasmine went ahead and told me that using ancestry.com, she found out her roots and the adoption agency got her in touch with her birth parents. She turned out to be a Jew. And her birth mother had died almost 10 years ago.

‘As soon as I came to know about my birth family, I was afraid to meet them. I didn’t want to. I wanted to close that chapter as is. I felt that all I cared was knowing who my birth family is. I don’t need to meet them. But I guess, I was wrong. It was my brother who convinced me to meet them. He said that real closure will come only when I meet them and embrace that reality. He was right. He accompanied me when I went ahead to meet my birth father.’

Jasmine met her birth father and her siblings. And the biggest closure she got was when she met her twin sister and immediately realized the reason why she was put up for adoption. Having twins, probably her parents could not afford to provide a good living for both of them. It was luck by chance. Any one of the twin sisters could have been put up for adoption. Destiny chose Jasmine.

As we were getting down at my destination, I asked her, ‘Have you closed that chapter?’

‘Yes, I have.’ She sighed, ‘I am contended now. No more void. My father did try to get in touch with me for quite some time. All I said to him was, I am done with that. You had left me long back, there is nothing more between us. I have moved along. I truly am. I have no regrets. I am happy.’

Any person who can say that ‘I am happy with my life’, in my opinion truly deserves a prize greater than Noble.

By the way, we did make it to my client site on time. And I did not miss the presentation.