Well, that felt good. Getting stuck, and then the undoing of it too. And that is no metaphor; I got my mail truck stuck, on softened earth covered by green grass.
Just the day before, I had sloshed and slid around on ice with my differential, my limited slip rear end. And it was just more wonder, the wonder of Salvation, and the route by that name too. But, I needed to be stuck for a bit.
Even later that same day, the day of Salvation, the thaw had begun with that ice on the edge of the mailbox up there. And then on Friday a slow drizzle settled upon us; a cold rain that merged with the melting and created an all-day flow of nearly freezing water that seeped into the pores of Portland.
So, here I was on Friday, and I was ahead on Gratitude and the route by that name–had maybe an hour and a half to go, but two hours of daylight. I’d driven up the even side of Wood Avenue and was turning around to deliver the odd-numbered addresses. And, there are some really odd addresses there, believe me (Oh, here’s something for you: “In the Northwest, we are odd!”; addresses on the north and west sides of streets are odd). I always turn around at the end of Wood, avoiding backing for the preferred U-turn. And, I thought about it first. I knew that the ground was saturated and that I might get stuck. You see, even with that differential, if both wheels have no traction, it is of little use. The torque goes back and forth between them, and they both spin. There must be some traction in order for there to be movement, and the movement can be provided by either wheel. And movement is a marker for the living. I simply must keep moving. Now, I really enjoy curling up with a good book or movie or music, or just curling. But moving, you understand. And of course, I can pray on the move. Not go pray, but pray. And I once changed clothes, entirely from shirt to shoes, from work clothes to proper clothes, on the way to church. While driving. But, I think I might abhor the stench of stasis. Or, maybe I don’t know, never having had it or a desire for it.
So, as I said, I thought about it, that U-turn there. And my mind went back to a time I was white-water rafting in Colorado. I was helping lead a group of teenagers, and we were rushing down the Arkansas river, some of us sitting on the edge of the raft, and some nestled in it. I was on the edge. It was a fine time, seeing the rocky bluffs all around, and the spray, the chill of the fresh mist, was hitting my face, and I could reach down into the water and touch it. I could touch a thousand springs and the snow melt from a thousand meters and the flow of a thousand thousands of them. And then, we hit some turbulence. Motion was suddenly slowed to three frames per second and I felt myself being rocked in real time back and over. And then . . . I looked at the hand grip on the edge of the raft, and I looked at that river, and I saw all three frames at once: 1) that water is cold and deep; 2) if I fall, it will give the kids something to talk about (ha, remember that time when Timothy . . .); and 3) I wonder what it will feel like when I take the plunge.
And, I could have grabbed the hand-hold, and no one would have been the wiser. No one would know my thoughts. But, I decided: I will relinquish control and just fall in. And here, some of the faithful may think, “Control is an illusion, anyway. Only God is in control.” And that is true in a sense. And thank God for it! But, in another sense that is the illusion. We have will. Each of us has within us, as a created quality, a will to being. It is an image of the essence of God, that he has given us will. And we can use it, or choose to lose it. So I willed toward that water as it drew me, and I fell. I will never forget it.
And, I thought of the river as I made that U-turn anyway. I was ahead on time, and knew that even if I became stuck, I’d get unstuck, beat the odds with their mail, and then it was all the way up Home and then to Harmony. And I told God, asked him like I do, to show me something useful, teach me something, give me a necessary quality that I lack. So, yep I got stuck. And I laughed, and for show said “Oh, crap.” And then I put some broken sticks under the tires and tried backing out, and then some empty mail trays lined with scrap paper. And nothing. No traction, because those tires, well, not great tires for mud. I have been stuck a few times, and more times I have pulled others out from their stuckness, so I thought I’d look around for some help. Carriers get stuck all the time, and they call the station and a tow truck is usually sent. That’s kinda silly to me. I looked two doors down where usually there is a guy with quite the 4WD, but alas he wasn’t home. Hmmm, if this went on too much longer, I’d use the rest of the daylight.
And then I turned around, and stepped out into the street of potholes, in front of a big white horse of a truck: a $50,000 Ford F-350 super duty 4WD extended cab. And thank God again that it was a Ford. There’s a corporation that did not take the bail out. And it’s that, not who, because a corporation is a thing. What were the Supremes thinking when they voted in favor of Citizen’s United? Ugh. Anyway, I flagged the guy and he rolled the power window down. “Hey, can you pull me back a foot or two? It won’t take much.” And weird, but he seemed doubtful. Not unwilling, just unsure that he could do it. And he did not look like a poser to me, just another guy with a toy. There was dirt on the truck that did not look fashionably applied (because why in the heck would you need the outside of your truck to look shiny?), and even the guy himself looked mostly real. So I gave him a prompt: “Do you have a chain or a cable and a couple of minutes?”
Uh, yeah, I think so. He crawled in the back and fished through some stuff in the tool box that all appeared to be actually used, and ah here it is. And he pulls out this long, newish-looking yellow strap. Well, a word about that. Straps are ok, but dude you need a hook on each end, not just those loops. And me, well give me a chain any day. And if you give it to me, please make it a high-test steel chain, grade 43, from a logging supply. And with a hook on each end. Those hooks can fit nicely around each link and make that chain adjustable its entire length. Which should be at least 20 feet. Or, 6 meters, but feet because we are in logging country here talking to guys who use chains all the time, and who speak of board feet with high esteem.
But, he had a yellow strap, and he was about to help me. I took the strap and crawled under my truck and looped it around the frame and then put its end into the other loop, pulling it through. I went to the front of his truck and we rigged it to both of his suspiciously immaculate tow hooks on the front, and I told him the plan: I am going to cut my wheels hard left and you just ease me back until I hit pavement. Then you stop, and I will back up another foot to put slack into your strap, so we can take it loose. Ok, cool. And then it was done. Thanks, man!
He was now a rescuer and knew how to rescue the next person. Me? I was covered in mud, unstuck, and it felt good: to have been stuck and to get dirty with it and then to keep moving. And I learned that people are helped by helping. And I learned that even though I play with centimeters on ice, and just a few minutes earlier I had angled toward a box and had used my front bumper to nudge the trash can closer to the curb so I could reach that box and then move on. Even with that, I can still get stuck. And need help.
And then I started it up, turned up the heater and delivered some more mail. I looked at my muddy hands, and realized that the addresses on the mail deserved better, even if they were odd. So, I found a little stream being fed by the melting ice and the slow drizzle falling from the fading sky. I found a little dam made by fallen leaves, leaves that had given their lives for their trees, allowing those trees to store up life to survive the winter and once again bloom into the life of spring. And those leaves were now, even in death, filtering out the sediment being washed down, and below them was clear, cold water. And as I washed my hands I thought about falling into the river, that flow that has never once stopped.
Photographs and Text © 2017, Timothy Waugh