September 22

down but not out

sitting in the Atlanta traffic today, my mind drifted back to age 16 (or was it 15?), when I first learned to drive a stick. most people learn the art of the manual transmission on a car or something rather easy to maneuver. I, on the other hand, learned on a multi-ton dump truck.

I remember heading up the driveway at a snail’s pace, Dad in the passenger’s seat, telling me what to do. I was a little nervous at first but after making a few laps around the side yard, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on this concept. so, Dad told me to take it out on the road (the joys of living in the middle of nowhere – a fully inexperienced kid without his driver’s license can drive a full-size dump truck around and nobody cares).

so we get on the road, and I’m just taking my time, and we go maybe a quarter mile. time to turn around. shouldn’t be a problem, I think to myself. except Dad wants me to make a 3-point turn. in a dump truck. on a backroad that’s maybe 10 feet wide. I come to a stop, and pull forward across the road, completing the first part of my 3-point turn. I turn the wheel back, put it in reverse, and start to give it some gas, but I’m slow on the gas and the truck starts rolling towards the ditch. scared, I pop the clutch and we lurch backwards, away from the ditch in front – and towards the ditch behind us.

by the time I remembered that I had to put the clutch and the brake, we had rolled about two inches away from my newest foe, the ditch I couldn’t see – but I knew it was there, because due to the steep embankment, I was looking out the windshield upwards towards the sky. I sat there, my feet pinning the pedals to the floorboards, terrified that I was going to wreck my dad’s truck. I looked at him and told him I didn’t want to do this anymore, that I couldn’t finish this 3-point turn without putting the truck in the ditch, that I wanted to quit. he simply replied, with a bit of a smile that I didn’t recognize at the time, that I had no choice. if I didn’t finish what I had set out to do, nobody would, because he couldn’t help me.

I sat there for about a minute, thinking about what I had to do, and in what order. foot from brake to gas quick, and in the same moment, letting the clutch out almost fully, so I wouldn’t roll back more than the couple inches I had. I took a deep breath, and went for it. as my feet tried to remember what to do, the weight of the truck pulled us down.. but I stuck to my guns, the tires caught, and we shot forward, onto the road and away from that which I had come to hate so very much in those stupid couple of minutes.

in hindsight, if I had gone into the ditch, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. we would have walked home, gotten a rope and another truck, and had it back home an hour or two later. of course, it would be nice if all of our mistakes were that easy to fix. take it as a life story or a metaphor for our current situation as a nation. since that day, I can think of countless times when I was in a rut that I didn’t know how I’d get out of, and looking back on them, the situations vary in consequence, even if they seemed like the most important thing in the world at the time.

clear your head, keep it up, and persist. it’s okay to be down now and then, but never be out, because there is almost always a light at the end of the tunnel – a reason for everything – whether you see it or not.

I’ve seen a lot of people affected by a lot of different things recently. keep your head up.