The clouds to the east are piling up like so many layers of uncooked cauliflower and as I glance in the rear view mirror of the truck, I see a mirrored image; dust clouds billowing behind me to the west. It’s a beautiful evening and the gravel road beneath me is a godsend. Bethany sits next to me on the bench seat and grumbles every time I need to shift into third gear. She hates third gear. Not uncommon for her to give the big stick shift a good kick when it’s in third. She loves fourth gear; this is when she rests her teeth on the shift knob and lets the vibration of the old transmission rattle her brain into serenity.
Tonight, on this rural road I have not only Bethany with me but also my wife and a poor in-dash-radio, one of them is aimlessly chattering at me, the other aimlessly chattering, the last one, screaming with delight at God-knows-what. Add to this the delight of the crunching gravel; the rattles of an old truck and the open windows and you’re left with a blissful deafness to anything in particular. Perhaps that’s why the sky ahead and the mirror behind look so majestic, my hearing is incapacitated making my vision acute. It surprises me little that when Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, he used common road gravel and spit. Two of the most demeaning components were used to restore sight to the blind. I am this evening, no less that blind man and once again Jesus is using gravel to restore sight. Bethany however, supplies the spit.
The gravel roads are lined with corn and bean fields, woods and rolling meadows. Occasionally the washboard rhythm of the road makes Bethany giggle as both she and the back end of the truck temporarily lift off the road and skirt to the right. My wife finds the sensation to be troubling, I find it interesting, and Bethany finds it hilarious. I guess there’s something to be said for being autistic and cognitively impaired; even something as simple as an evening drive can hold the joy and exhilaration of a theme park experience.
We ride along, waving at people as we pass them. People who live on gravel roads always wave. They wave from the front porch, they wave from the driveway, and they wave from the lawn tractor. They wave from the barn, from the car, the clothes line, even from the top of the slurry tank. It’s an amazing sociologic event and I’ve grown to love it. In some ways I guess those gravel roads are like Bethany’s disabilities; being freed from ridiculous notions of self-importance, you’re free to live a rich life. No need to waste time on a new, clean car as the passing truck with the three folks that just waved will likely coat the thing in a lovely shade of beige-grey dust.
Our evening rides in a rusty, old truck down gravel roads is one of God’s little blessing in my life. It pains me to watch the county slowly work to pave them over; it’s a progress that takes more than it gives. A progress that does much more than change a dotted line on a county map into a solid line, it’s a change that will remove the joy of fellowship among strangers, reduce the beauty of an evening cloudscape and remove the billowing mirror-image to the west of me. For these three travelers, that change will alter forever the blissful sound of silence which allows me to hear how two people and one lousy radio, struggle to communicate their love for me.