It’s not only driving that requires attention and learning. The CB radio has to be mastered. So there I was, driving along a straight stretch of I40, my trainer by my side, paying attention to the rocking cadence of the truck and the road grinding against each other. My trainer belted out what seemed like a fierce order. “Get on the CB and find out if the scale house (weigh station is what automobile drivers know it as) is open.” Ready to comply, and feeling this was a task I surely could manage, I grabbed the CB, pushed the microphone button and said, “Does anyone out there know if the scale house on I40 West is open?” I waited. No response.
“Ah, maybe I wasn’t loud enough,” I said to myself. Pushing the button, I tried again. “Do any drivers out there know if the scale house on I40 going West is open?” I waited. Again, no response. I looked at my trainer hoping he would have some useful instruction. He stared out the front window in silence.
I tried a third time. “Is there anyone out there who can tell me if the scale house on I40 West is open?” Absolute silence. Yes, absolute silence from a CB that is usually haranguing the air with every piece of tawdry and lewd information imaginable. My trainer, suddenly roused from his silence, turned to me and barked, “As long as you’re gonna sound like a priest or a mother, ain’t nobody out there gonna answer you. Right now, it’s so quiet out there, you can’t hear nothin’ but a cricket chirp.”
I pushed the button a fourth time and without a moment’s hesitation bellowed, “Anybody out there got a copy?”
“You bet, babe. What d’ya need?” The response was immediate – there hardly before I could replace the microphone in its holder. After a brief but useful conversation with the trucker on the other end of the CB, I put the microphone back in its place and looked quizzically at my trainer.
“You don’t need to take on all the negative language of a trucker, but you need to speak in a way they understand. You’ll never get anywhere talking like you’re a priest or a mother! These are truckers – pay attention to their world and speak to that world. If you’re gonna ‘git’ down,’ then ‘git’ down!’” my trainer said, with a smile on his face.
Well, there was a real example of what St. Paul meant when he said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” I realized how often in daily life I say I care about someone, but I don’t really want to get into their world and feel what they feel. It’s so easy to simply say some courteous, seemingly caring thing, while remaining as distant as a college professor from a dock worker on Long Island. Perhaps, I knew this fact before my I started to learn how to drive a truck. But, what the CB conversation revealed to me was why I stay aloof from those who are different from me. I want to relate, but I don’t want to become too much like them, lest I somehow lose a part of myself, or worse yet, prove to those around me that I have lowered my personal standards in some way. My soul was stretched that day. I recognized three important truths about my interaction with those who are different from me.
First, my eyesight is limited. If I am going to care as I say I want to care, I have to be willing to see another’s world through their eyes rather than my own. As long as I am unwilling to be exposed to the reality of their everyday life, I am not really ‘gittin’ down’ with them. I am pretending. I am using my education and social skills to be the skin of my compassion, while my soul stays tucked safely away. When I cast away the skin, my soul is exposed, and my life will no longer be the same. That is the real terror.
Second, ‘gittin’ down’ can’t be faked. We all know when someone is really ‘in there’ with us. We know in our gut if they really care about us in our situation, or if they are merely layering our world with theirs. When we are in the company of those who really care about our world, we are free to be our raw and ragged selves in a way that makes it possible to receive compassion and be personally changed.
Third, I can ‘git’ down’ without forfeiting my identity. What prevents me from fully entering the ‘trucking ethos,’ for example, is the fear that I might become too much of a trucker, might adopt too many patterns that are unhealthy for me, might wander too far away from the world I’ve known for so long. And, if I scratch deeper down into my soul, I find that I’m fearful that those who have loved and respected me might turn away if I’m no longer so identifiably predictable to them. What my trainer showed me that day, is that I can ‘git down’ with those who are different and still retain my own self-understanding, my own integrity, even my own manner of being. But only, if I am willing to shed my wrapping of moral superiority.
Now, that’s the hard pill to swallow. It isn’t easy to face the truth of my own presumed superiority. May God have mercy on my soul, because, in the end there truly is no difference between any of us – truckers or tax collectors, priests or postal workers, politicians or pizza makers. We are all stamped with the image of God.