Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I'm a Democrat


I don't know exactly when I became a Democrat but, if there was such a moment, it probably came years ago when I was driving a cab.
I was standing outside a bus station shortly after midnight one morning with three other cabbies. Two were middle-aged guys who had probably been driving cabs for years. The other was younger than I. He was wearing khakis and an Izod shirt. He looked like he had taken a wrong turn at fraternity row.
At some point, a woman staggered out of bar across the street and began walking toward us. When I noticed her again, I was surprised how little progress she'd made. I then saw why. She would take a step or two forward and then one to the side, or maybe backward. I chuckled cynically. I had just seen "To Kill a Mockingbird," where there's a scene with a rabid dog that creeps unsteadily down a street. The woman reminded me of that dog.
The four of us continued to wait quietly in the fog. The only thing moving was the woman -- and she was barely moving.
As she crossed the street, she passed under a street light, and I saw her face. Her wild gray hair looked like it had never seen a brush her lifeless face was scrunched up like an accordion. She had the thumb of her right hand in her toothless mouth.
She kept coming toward us, two steps forward, one step to the side. As she got closer, I became anxious - not scared - but a little anxious. I had never seen anyone who looked so sad.
I thought she probably knew the older cab drivers and was on her way to see them. But when she got within 10 feet, the older guys walked away, leaving me and the frat guy to deal with her. She stopped about a foot from us, stared, and then pulled away her hand from her face.
"I've never had a baby," she said quietly.
Those few words tingled my spine and extremities as if I'd just jumped into an ice-cold lake. I tried to say something but I couldn't.
"I've never had a baby either," the guy in the khakis and Izod shirt said with a chuckle. "But who needs them? They're nothing but trouble." I wished I'd said that.
But she continued to stand there, staring. I wanted to walk away but I couldn't move. Then she spoke again.
"I've always wanted a baby," she said.
This time her voice felt colder; it was even quieter and sadder. Again, I couldn't say anything. I hoped the other guy would say something.
"Ma'am," he said, "I can't give you a baby. But I can buy you a cup of coffee."
He then gently took her by the arm and they walked into the bus station.
I didn't see either the woman or cab driver again. But I often think about that night. Sometimes, if I see somebody doing something nice for someone, I think about that guy in the khakis and Izod shirt. Sometimes, when I do something nice for someone, I think about him. How can you see something like that and not be changed?
And on that night, I think, is when I became a Democrat.
The Democratic Party, when it is at its best, provides a cup of humanity to those who need it. It feeds those who are hungry. It protects those who need protecting. It provides hope for those who have lost theirs. And, by doing so, we are reminded that there, but for the grace of God, any one of us could be that woman in the darkness.

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