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Someone Else's Trust

The big yellow road scraper approached the crossroads from what would be the north transept (if one looked at the crossroads as a literal cross, which, as it happens, I do). Owen and I were still 25 yards or so away, but I raised my hand in greeting just in case the operator glanced our way.

It is not an easy thing to turn around a road scraper, but that is what the operator proceeded to do -- turning toward me and Owen, backing up across the crossroads, and turning back in the direction from which he had come. We would not be delayed in our walk, nor would we be in the way of the county's work to make the roads passable.

The operator opened the door to the cab and called out something I couldn't make out over the noise of the diesel engine. When he realized I hadn't heard, he stopped the machine and opened the door to the cab to step down. Owen was there to greet him, tail wagging and tongue dangling.

"Hey," he offered while scruffing Owen's neck. "Do you know how far down that road is the Evans County line?"

I understood well the reason for the question. Here at the bottom end of the county there has long been some dispute about whose responsibility it is to maintain the road that is the literal county line.

"Not far," I told him with authority.

He laughed. "I've already scraped it one time." He shrugged and I returned his laugh. "How's that?" he asked, nodding in the direction from which Owen and I had come.

By now I'd gotten close enough to see his face. Weathered. Wrinkled beyond what it should have been for someone his age. When he smiled I could see that some teeth were missing.

"Good." I told him. "We appreciate it a lot."

He grinned and continuing petting my needy dog for a minute and then turned to climb back up onto the machine.

And as he turned I could see the words on the back of his shirt: County Prisoner.

It had not occurred to me -- even with 19 years spent working in the criminal justice system, even though his t-shirt was the bright orange of work camp inmates -- that this man wasn't just another county employee doing his job. It also had not occurred to me to be afraid or even hesitant in his presence, probably a couple of miles from the nearest other person.

We have a long history of law enforcement in my family. Deputies and police officers on both sides of my family had made me familiar and comfortable with the terminology long before I accepted a badge myself and, so, I knew that this man was what is called a trusty. An inmate who has demonstrated himself as able to be trusted or relied on, someone who can be given the privilege of leaving confinement temporarily to clean the courthouse, to carry out maintenance on government buildings, to scrape the roads.

It's odd how, sometimes, life brings you a metaphor even when you're not looking for it. I've been thinking a lot about trust lately and here I was being given an opportunity to demonstrate it.

The thing is, though, that in this circumstance I wasn't trusting my instincts, my experience, my knowledge. I was trusting somebody else's trust.

That's not a thought that sits well with me. I've been accused more than once of having a control issue. I revisit over and over again the times in my life when my trust was ill-placed. I recognize on pretty much a daily business that "I'll do it myself" could be tattooed on my wrist.

And, yet.

What do I know about the COVID vaccine of which I've now received my first dose? What do I know about the combustion engine in the car I depend upon to take me everywhere? What do I know about the food I eat, the bank that holds my money, the walls and foundation of the house where I calmly go to sleep at night?

In each incidence, I trust someone else's trust. And in complete ignorance.

I can't say I welcomed the realization. It's going to require some loosening of control, some forgiveness of myself, and some accepting of help. And it's going to make me ever more conscious of the times and places when it's my trust that somebody else is trusting.

Copyright 2021

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