Category Archives: Autobiography

Interview With Former British Paratrooper, Victor Gregg

Victor Gregg talks about his experiences during WWII. He states firmly that he blames only the decision makers for the atrocities of the war. The reason he has come forward at such a late time of his life is because he sees that nothing changes. The people are still being lumbered with the horrible decisions being made by governments. Gregg also states categorically that he is no pacifist, but that someone needs to speak up for all the victims.

Highly recommended.

Nerburn, Kent: The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget (Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis) (1999)


Kent Nerburn the author finally let us in on the original story of “The Cab Ride” – a story that has gone the rounds on the net for various reasons. The Huffington Post published Mr. Nerburn’s article 3rd of May 2012. I am glad that a story like this is actually true.

In 1982 Mr. Nerburn was driving his taxi in Minneapolis, Minnesota and this is what happened:

There was a time in my life twenty years ago when I was driving a cab for a living. It was a cowboy’s life, a gambler’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the cab.

What I didn’t count on when I took the job was that it was also a ministry. Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity and tell me of their lives.

We were like strangers on a train, the passengers and I, hurtling through the night, revealing intimacies we would never have dreamed of sharing during the brighter light of day. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and made me weep. And none of those lives touched me more than that of a woman I picked up late on a warm August night.

I was responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or someone going off to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at the address, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground-floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a short minute, then drive away. Too many bad possibilities awaited a driver who went up to a darkened building at 2:30 in the morning.

But I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on the cab as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needs my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab?

So I walked to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear the sound of something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman somewhere in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like you might see in a costume shop or a Goodwill store or in a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. “I’d like a few moments alone. Then, if you could come back and help me? I’m not very strong.”

I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm, and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. Her praise and appreciation were almost embarrassing. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I should go there. He says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to go?” I asked. For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they had first been married. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she would have me slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.” We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. Without waiting for me, they opened the door and began assisting the woman. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her; perhaps she had phoned them right before we left.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase up to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

There was nothing more to say. I squeezed her hand once, then walked out into the dim morning light. Behind me, I could hear the door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I did not pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and had refused to engage the woman in conversation? How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?

We are so conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unawares. When that woman hugged me and said that I had brought her a moment of joy, it was possible to believe that I had been placed on earth for the sole purpose of providing her with that last ride.

I do not think that I have ever done anything in my life that was any more important.

From Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis by Kent Nerburn. Published by HarperOne.

I Made Fun of Feminists… Before My Abuse

One of the many reasons I am a feminist – my many friends who have lived in abusive relationships.


By Anonymous

I used to make fun of feminists because I wanted boys to like me. Back before I met a boy who abused me. Before realizing that I lived in a culture that supported my abuse, and that kept me from questioning it.

TRIGGER WARNING May be triggering for some survivors of sexual violence 

At seventeen I met my ex-boyfriend. It was small things at first. He’d put me down and laugh it off.

The first time he raped me I didn’t cry. I was numb. I asked if he realized what he’d done and he had said, matter-of-factly, “All girls get raped at some point.”

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Junge, Traudl: Through the Final Hours (Bir Zur Letzten Stunde) (2002)

til siste slutt

Traudl’s brother Karl suffered from schizophrenia. After Hitler’s star rose in Germany, so did his ideas. This is the environment Traudl grew up surrounded with. When the government decided Karl had to be sterilised, the family thought it only right.

At the age of 21 Traudl was desperate for a change, for an opportunity to chase after her dream of becoming a dancer. When Albert Bormann suggested she get a job for the government she applied for one thinking she could pursue her dancing off-hours. But life did not turn out that way. Later she drifted into applying for a position as one of Hitler’s private secretaries and just happened to get it. She wasn’t especially qualified, she was just the first one through the door. She kind of drifts into a lot of things in the book.

Reading Traudl’s story puts me in mind of ending up with a cult. Hitler was an intense person who could turn even the best arguments on their heads. He was, the first couple of years, a kind of father figure to Traudl and made Traudl feel as though she was part of something special. Information beyond what Hitler and his compatriots provided was not allowed on the premises of the various bunkers and Berghof. Finally, Traudl was like many young people, available for the position of follower.

Then the picture begins to crack. The idealistic leader meets trouble and failure. His narcissism is showing more and more, but the brainwashed Traudl is so caught up in his personality and her own denial that she sticks with him until the bitter end.

Perhaps the way I’ve presented this autobiography reads as an attempt on Traudl’s part to excuse her own participation as part of Hitler’s staff. But I did not get that feeling while I read it. It does, however, present a very believable kind of human being. Perhaps I would have had more in common with her when I was 21 than I would like to admit.

The worst part of coming out for Traudl was having the neo-nazis come up to her to shake the hand that had shaken Hitler’s. For her that made a mockery of all of the suffering that he had been responsible for and that she, if indirectly, had enabled.

Bowen, James: A Street Cat Named Bob (2012)

This is the story of how one cat changed the life of a man who was a recovering heroin addict living a hand-to-mouth existence to the point where he was able to quit methadone and get his life in order. The responsibility for another life, a life that accepted him for who and what he was made all the difference to James Bowen. From busking, to selling magazines to giving out his own book has been a journey that has been neither easy nor painless.

Plus points to someone who manages to take charge of their own lives to the point where true change occurs. Minus points to co-writer Garry Jenkins and the editor for not helping James streamline the book a little more.

Having said that, a story like this is worth telling. Bob was famous long before the book came out. You’ll find references, pictures and clips in a whole lot of places – the photograph on the left is only one example.

Frobenius, Nikolaj: Så høyt var du elsket (2011)

Herlighet, noe så vakkert. Det er nesten ikke til å fatte at noen kan skrive så gripende om et emne som så og si er forbudt. Veien til døden og det som skjer med den døende og de som er rundt den er ikke spesielt vakker i seg selv. Men ordene som Nikolaj bruker for å beskrive fenomenet og måten han knytter dem sammen er jommen meg vakre. Jeg ble helt fanget av denne historien om Emil og hans far Viktor, Viktor som går fra å være frisk og spenstig mann på over 80 år for så å rammes av flere slag og til slutt ligger ved dødens dør. Prossessen mellom disse to menneskene er vel verdt en bok.

Det er spesielt et par stedet jeg må nevne. Jeg ble slått av det Emil tenkte på side 76 i boka om at “han aldri hadde gledet seg nok over de behagelige og flyktige rutinene et familieliv er fylt opp av”. Slik er det vel. Vi skal alltid framover og glemmer å glede oss over her og nå, i de små stundene. I alle fall har jeg det slik.

Neste sted i boka som jeg vil nevne er innlegget som Emil sender til avisen kalt: Gjør opprør, oldinger (s 156-159). Dette er såpass bra at det burde få plass i det politiske miljøet. For det er ingen tvil om at eldre har blitt restene man gjemmer bakerst i kjøleskapet. De skal jo bare kastes ut, så det er ikke så veldig viktig med dem.

Ells, Philip: The People’s Lawyer (2000) / Where the Hell is Tuvalu? (2006)

Where the Hell is Tuvalu - Philip Ells

The version I read was the original title The People’s Lawyer. I guess the title was changed to be more relevant to the place??

Autobiographies are such odd creatures. Truthfulness and memory seem to become victims to them. Not so in the case of Philip Ells.

Quite sensibly, Ells seems to have kept more or less up-to-date journals while staying on the Tuvalu Islands as a volunteer attorney. His veracity is such that one of the two official sites for the Tuvalu Islands has a link to his story.

As a new lawyer to the islands, Ells views his experiences differently from the manner he sees them by the time he leaves the place. Two years is just enough time for the culture to begin settling into your bones and possibly long enough for the locals to begin trusting you. This all-encompassing statement is made solely based on my own experiences of moving around a lot until I turned 29. Toward the end of his stay the women of Tuvalu had begun trusting Ells enough to let on about their own doubts about the fairness of the way women were treated. Until then, it was just something they seemed to accept as a way of life.

Seemingly idyllic, the Tuvalu islands are too small for life to be anything but a challenge. A population that was 9561 in 2002 grew to 11636 by 2005. I do not know what the numbers were when Ells was there from 1994-1996, but I imagine they were somewhat lower than the 2002 census shows. Some of the places he describes in his autobiography are now being built over with houses on stilts (borrowing holes used for waste). Ells himself touches upon the challenges of living in such an enclosed ecosystem and the conflicts between Western and Traditional ways of dealing with problems that occur.

While The People’s Lawyer / Where the Hell is Tuvalu? deals with serious issues, it is by no means a downer. In fact, I found it delightfully British. There is something wonderful about a people who manage to make fun of their own mistakes in such a dry manner that I am left giggling. Being bossed around by his “secretary”, discovering rats in his loo, suffering from the traditional bout of diarrhea and having practical jokes played on him by locals and other volunteers are just some of the hilarious experiences (for me as a reader anyways) that we get to share.

What Ells is left with when he leaves Tuvalu is an appreciation for the difference between who he was when he arrived and who he had become during his time on the islands along with a love of the people and the land.


Where the Hell is Tuvalu? on Amazon UK

Islands of Tuvalu

Tuvalu profile

Travel to Tuvalu

UN climate change funds not reaching Pacific island nations