On the morning after the rain, the day-after-day rain, a man on a Ford tractor drove slowly down the road in front of Sandhill. Pulling a blade, he scraped away the evidence – flattened the ruts into smooth planes, filled and leveled the puddles. He sat the way farmers do, one hand on the steering wheel, the opposite arm propped on the back of the seat so that he could swivel between watching the road ahead and the work of the blade behind him. The sun was just high enough to throw a spotlight on his back; his face was in shadow.
I raised my hand in greeting, in acknowledgment of his presence, his offering. Slowly and smoothly he drove out of sight toward the river, the road transforming as he went.
Gratitude for this man I did not know rose from the soles of my feet, which had been sucked into ankle-deep mud when I had tried to walk the day before. This man I did not know was making the road walkable.
There are places, though, where the road was still a little slick, places where a wrong step could send me flailing, so I paid close attention to where I stepped, which is how I became mesmerized with the tire tracks.
The most obvious were the Vs of the tractor tires. They curved out a little at the top like they were designed by an engineer with an affinity for fancy fonts. They were wide and thick like the thighs of a weightlifter. A little closer to the middle was a tread made of square links, large alternating with smaller, that made me think of the Greek key pattern often used in textiles and architecture. I decided that the one with two sets of matching curves on either side of a straight line that looked like waves breaking over a seawall was my favorite.
There were lots more. One that looked like rows of ric rac trim on the hem of a little girl’s dress. One that made me think of a herringbone blazer I had once. A grid of tiny squares, a set of parallel lines.
Importantly, it seemed, I – someone not familiar with such things beyond knowing that occasionally I have to buy new tires – could not tell from looking at the tread which way the cars, the trucks, the four-wheelers had been going nor how fast they had been traveling. There was no way to know what or whom they carried.
The mystery made me thoughtful, sent me wondering about the other things I can not know.
Over the past year we have been reminded endlessly that “we are all in this together.” But the truth is that none of us knows what our neighbor carries, how fast our co-worker is moving, whether our friend is arriving or leaving. What we see of each other is only the tire tracks left behind when we travel over hard terrain. Mud, snow, ice.
We can guess, but we can not know.
This is what I’ve learned in this time that is not over: Miseries are not written in comparative language. Trauma can not be categorized. Tragedies are not ranked on a scale. Pain is pain. Loss is loss.
The rain always stops. The sun eventually comes out. Somebody scrapes the road. And then the travelers show up, an endless line of people to whom we raise our hands in greeting, in acknowledgment, in gratitude for the company along the way.