ROCHESTER, Minn. — Two winters ago, I traveled with a small group to San Francisco. Since we had two big suitcases, multiple roller bags, several backpacks, and more, we requested a bigger car.
After about a 20-minute wait, a large SUV arrived. There was enough space for all of us, but the cargo area was small, and a third of it was taken by rolled-up clothes, a box, and some nonspecific stuff. We thus had to keep most of our luggage on our laps for the hour-long ride. It was a bit annoying.
“What kind of a driver wouldn’t keep his boot empty for the customers?” I thought.
As the driver pulled out of the airport, I started sharing stories with him. His name was Artur. He was an immigrant from Armenia. Artur shared the difficult past of his country. He had two children who he wanted to have a brighter future.
Artur lived about 3 hours away from San Francisco because that was the only place where he could afford a home. He drove every Monday morning and stayed through the week in the city. The cab was his home. He couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel.
During a pause in the conversation, I had a sudden realization. The stuff in the boot was his entire week’s supplies — clothing, toiletries, some food, and more. Where else could he keep it? Not in the passenger seat, and there was no other place that would keep his belongings secure.
Being a father and having been away from my family previously, I felt for him. It must be really tough not to be with your children and spouse the entire week.
I felt small for judging him. It could be easily me driving the cab that day. I was extra generous with my tip.
My experience with Artur reminded me that after all these years of building kindness and resilience, I still have a long way to go. And also, that there is almost always a deeper story. If only I could have the patience to listen to it.
I know that I may not always get to know the full story. And that’s why it might be best to default to assuming positive intent. I can always grow a bigger space in my heart to accept the small space in the boot. You can too!
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.