I used to drive around Australia a lot. Various routes and journeys connecting Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Melbourne and Beechworth, there and back again. A short trip might be three or four hours, a longer one twelve or fourteen or more. Much more of the driving was done at night than during daylight hours.
Many of the trips were made on my own, with only the cassette deck for company (provided it was working). Regional radio was a matter of chance, with reception fading in and out and the actual content of the airwaves often being a choice of earnest chat or country music, neither a preferred choice for me.
One of my regular strategies for staying awake was to count trucks as they approached or overtook me. I seldom seemed to overtake them. If I was ‘stuck’ on any number for a while because the road was quiet I’d turn my memory to what I connect with that year. So trucks #79, or 179, or 279 might prompt memories of a show I worked on, or a new romance, or a band I sang with.
In the early hours of one dark morning I was a little way outside of Yass approaching Canberra. So far I’d counted 491 trucks on an uneventful drive. I was on my way up a winding hillside road when my rear view mirror went white.
It was the glare of the high beam headlights of an eighteen wheeler semi-trailer, thundering onto my tail at high speed. Have you ever seen the movie Duel? Dennis Weaver is a motorist pursued on a winding mountain road by the unseen homicidal driver of a monster truck.
I was having flashbacks to the movie as I put my foot down and threw my sedan around bends trying to stay ahead of the semi that seemed to be a split second away from driving right over the top of me. To my enormous it didn’t take long to find a space at the side of the road wide enough to pull into and let the truck roar by.
As I sat there waiting for my heartbeat to come back down to normal I cursed and swore at “bloody maniac truck drivers that think they own the bloody road – something should be done about them!”
Remembering to breath I gradually calmed down. As I pulled back out onto the road a thought occurred to me.
“There have been 491 quite unremarkable, well-behaved truckies on the road with me tonight. Number 492 is the dangerous lunatic I’ll remember and complain to people about. That’s not fair on all the others, is it?”
There are thousands of priests and elders of various religions across the globe. I’m sure many of them took their vows out of genuine devotion to their faith. I seriously doubt that one in five hundred of them world-wide is a child molester.
There are millions of Moslems on Earth, some in pretty much every country on the planet. I honestly don’t think that one in five hundred of them truly believe they have a responsibility to kill anyone who disagrees with them, or that such an act means a reward of however many virgins in the afterlife.
It’s the exceptions to the rule that we notice. The outstanding ones, or the ones that are made outstanding by the publicity they get.
When you see footage of a shamed Father Whatsisname being led into a courtroom please think of all the humble and decent parish priests who’ve spent their lives earnestly serving their flock as best they could to little recognition and little earthly reward.
When your TV screen is full of images of men in black balaclavas waving guns and celebrating a successful suicide bombing, please think of the millions of followers of Allah who live in peace with their neighbours and who believe that their scripture preaches tolerance.
The 492nd truckie didn’t mean all the others on the road were dangerous. Whatever dreadful stories make the news, please remember the ones we don’t notice. The safe and the sane ones. The ones like you.
Christmas is a time to share with those we love, and who love us.
They may be near and dear – that’s a fine thing. To hold and be held. To look someone in the eye, smile and say, “Thank you for caring.”
They may be far away. A phone call or an email or a postcard away. Maybe as far as the realisation of a shared thought about each other. A smile and a nod and a wink of the mind’s eye.
They may live now only in our memory. Passed on or simply passed out of our life. Take some time to remember the good things shared and be glad of them. Acknowledge but try not to dwell on the moments missed.
Take time to honour and thank the person most loyal and faithful to you. The one who’s put up with your faults and failings, and shared your joys and triumphs every single day since last Christmas. Look in the mirror, even if the view isn’t all you’d like it to be. Look that person in the eye, smile, raise a glass even, and say, “Thanks – I appreciate your being here.”
It’d be nice to do this more than once per year. The messy business of Life gets in the way too often. But Christmas is a time to make that time – to share and acknowledge that love.
Merry Christmas, my friends. Thank you for being here.