It was my first summer interning in New York City. My friend Megan, a seasoned Manhattanite, was helping me hail a cab on the busy West Side Highway after dinner. A cab swerved to the curb and Megan was already half-shoving me in the car as I tried to hug her goodbye saying, “Go before you get run over!”
I looked ahead and said “Hi there!” to a friendly face in the dashboard mirror.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” said the driver.
“It’s that obvious?” I laughed.
“Well, I can tell your friend has lived here for a while by the way she was rushing you into the cab. She seems like she’s in phase two.”
Being a small-town girl in the big city for the first time, I typically tried to avoid engaging in long conversations with strangers. But this cab driver seemed particularly friendly so I asked,
“Phase two? What does that mean?”
“There are different phases of love for New York City. I can always tell which phase my passengers are in. For example, you’re in phase one. I’m guessing you just got to New York, so you love EVERYTHING about it. You’re happy and excited about it, so your positivity shows. But that positivity starts to fade as you graduate to each new phase,” he explained.
My interest was officially piqued.
“Really? I can see how some people might get sick of the city but I think if I moved here I’d never want to leave!” I gushed.
“You say that NOW.” said the cab driver. “But trust me, that’s what everyone thinks when they first move to New York. People move here and love everything about it in the beginning. And then they get to phase two. That’s when you still love the city, but things aren’t new anymore. You start to see the problems and the difficulties, but you’re still willing to stick it out.”
He went on, “Then comes phase three. When people hit phase three, they’re over it. They realize the city is expensive and it’s hard to get around, they get sick of the small apartment, the cold weather, you name it. Basically, eventually, people end up hating everything about it.”
I didn’t want to believe his pessimistic outlook. “Surely not EVERYONE ends up being miserable though….” I half-asked.
“I’ll prove it to you! I LOVE research. I’ve kept a journal of all of the people I’ve driven for the last few years. I’ve driven more than a thousand people, and I keep a tally of each person and which phase of New York they’re in. Almost all of them are in phase three.”
When we reached our destination, the funny driver pulled out a black notebook and showed me hundreds of pages of tally marks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He told me that out of nearly 1,200 people, less than ten of them seemed to have a positive, “phase one” attitude.
Waving goodbye, I thanked him and vowed to try to stay in my “phase one” bubble as long as I could. “What a crazy cab ride,” I thought.
Years after reflecting on this story, it got me thinking about a larger dilemma in life we ALL face. Though it’s not a perfect analogy, the phases of New York described by my cab driver reminded me of a Biblical truth: the things of this world can never ultimately satisfy us.
So often we’ll set a goal for ourselves thinking “If I can achieve this, THEN I’ll be happy.” But soon after we’ve achieved it, our happiness fades away and we find ourselves back at square one, pining for the next goal.
It’s good and even healthy to set new aspirations for ourselves as we complete different phases of our lives, but we must not forget how far we’ve come -- or rather, how far God has brought us.
Our human nature makes this difficult; we’re constantly tempted to take our circumstances for granted. When this happens, we should pause and ask God to help us see things from His perspective. We must replace expectation with gratitude for the gifts God has already given us.
God has stopped me in my tracks when I’ve been tempted to complain about the frustrations of life by remembering that crazy cab ride. I’m reminded of the days when I merely dreamt of living in New York City, and suddenly things don’t seem so bad. Who would have guessed that God could use a random cab driver to help teach me a lesson that would help me for years to come? I’ve learned that getting back to “phase one” is as easy as remembering the dreams that have already come true.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)