October 19, 2017

The Long Paddock: A knowing wave of the hand

A photograph taken somewhere in North East Victoria. PHOTO: dutchy_42, cc 2.0

Maybe its boredom, but I’m really starting to look forward to seeing those guys holding the stop/slow sign on the roads out this way. Rattling along on roads still not repaired after last year’s floods, its common place to come across road repair teams doing their best to patch damaged surfaces and detour us all into a paddock for half a mile or so. That strange driver salute as we all acknowledge the guy holding the sign and his subtle tilt of the head in return-salute has become something to look forward to on a long trip.

It breaks the journey to see him standing out there in the middle of nowhere with his trusty sign. Or sometimes it’s a woman with the sign and chatting into a walkie talkie who pulls us all up to a halt. They’re in command as they step slowly out into the path of a huge road train and flick that sign to ‘stop’. They’re the unexpected ‘prophets’ of the roadways. When they appear in the distance it’s our signal to get ready to stretch a bit, change the radio channel and reach for that half eaten peanut bar lying somewhere under the front seat. We’re all a bit relieved I suspect. It’s a bit of a relief to have to stop for a minute.

And along with them, there’s a whole run of different driver salutes to note as we pass each other on country roads. There’s the road worker’s slight tilt of the head, the grey nomad’s constantly over-enthusiastic two finger wave, there’s the lone trucker’s “get out of my face” pointy finger routine, the old bloke in the ute with the slight flicker of one old arthritic finger on the steering wheel that says: “I see you, no need to go on about it”. There’s the reluctant one finger response and the more friendly “Take care, out there” flick of the finger that’s followed through with a drop of the chin to the left that’s says: “You’re doing ok, just keep going”. That slightly extended digit which infers a sort of goodwill and shared adventure reminds us of how nice it is to feel connected to people as they speed through our life, racing to the next town or turn off. It’s a reminder of how alone we’re not really. No matter how isolated the place, no matter how long the stop, no matter how much a stranger we are to each other, there’s this mysterious connection that reminds us all that we share more than the road together. We share an adventure; we share a journey. We’re all on a mission.

Maybe that’s something we need to get a handle on. We are part of a whole. We are all, in small and yet significant ways, sharing a journey and getting, ultimately, to the same place. We don’t get to decide who is more worthy, who is more righteous, who is more holy. We are all on the same road. Different from each other, some more upright and virtuous, some more learned, some more loving, some more forgiving, more awake, more compassionate. All of us make up a huge human reflection of a Divine reality.

Maybe, the moments we are all forced to ‘stop’ along the way, are in fact the most important moments of all. Maybe even when our journey – as Church, as people of faith – is interrupted we get a chance to remember that it’s not so much about the Church having a mission as it is about Christ’s Mission having a Church. Maybe, sometimes, we’ve let the tail wag the dog. Maybe we’ve all been driving too hard, too fast and maybe sometimes, in the wrong direction. Maybe we need to give thanks for those things that interrupt our journey, our sense of mission, and learn to wait and listen with them. So let’s not resent those moments that cause us all as community to have to reflect again on what it is we’re meant to be about. Let’s, instead, extend that salute and pull over for a little while when those prophets step out and signal it’s time for a rethink. Ease up, slow down, pull over. We will get there.

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