Oxidation, Part 2
Oxidation was a meditation of sorts about this old truck:
When all of us are long gone, this truck may still be sitting in the woods waiting for the archeologists or historians to find it. They will make up elaborate stories about why it’s still there. And how it got there. But the race between oxidation and storytelling, between destruction and preservation is already underway. How long will it be before this truck is wearing a rich, brown coat of flaky rust, and its once shiny red color is just a conjecture? And how long will it be before its tires have disappeared leaving it sitting on its muddy axels? And how long will it be before its interior – its windows have been open for decades – is a smelly pile of rotting debris slowly corroding its already rotting floorboards from the top?
Meditation is one thing. Leaving things alone to rot is another. I just wouldn’t let rust take its course. No. I would move the truck somehow. It was going to leave the woods. And my land. It was going someplace more suitable for its final rest.
First step. I tried to find out who owned the truck. The DMV computer doesn’t keep records on license plates that expired 32 years ago. Ditto VIN numbers. Ditto the County Clerk. I wasn’t going to find out whose truck it was. Fine. Second step. I wrote to the Town. Under New York law, omitting all kinds of other requirements, an abandoned vehicle belongs to the Town. Check. Would the Town please give me permission to dispose of this old, rotting truck? I thought my letter would be ignored. Wrong. I quickly got a letter from the Town Supervisor that I had permission, assuming the truck was not “titled,” to dispose of it.
Hmmmm, I thought. Was it titled? How on earth could I find out whether it was titled. Or not. I’m not getting hung up on these details, I thought, it’s been 30 years. I’ll just forget about this title malarkey and get rid of the truck. I don’t care about technicalities. That truck is moving out of here. I called a friend who is in the scrap business. Did he want the truck? Yes, he did. It might be worth something to both of us. Great. But he was too busy to do anything right now. He’d get back to me.
And then today. An enormous surprise. A fanstastic event. And an unbelievable lesson.
While I was walking in the fields looking for signs of an early Spring, I saw a huge, green John Deare Tractor with a plow pushing the old, red, rusty dump truck down the road, onto the public highway, and away, toward the Town Highway Superintendent’s home. Yes, it was the very same truck. Red. Rusty. With a tree or two growing out of its bed. With the windows still open. Hmmm, again. And now, it’s gone.
How did this happen? Well, this is small Town America. This is the Town Hall:
When an unusual letter is received here, everybody in the place, if not everybody in Town knows about it. Immediately. It becomes a topic of discussion and analysis. Everybody heard about it, I imagine, apparently including the Highway Superintendent. Everybody had an opinion or two. Since I didn’t say where the truck was, or give its old license number, the Highway Superintendent must have known exactly what I was talking about. How else could he just go and get it? He wasn’t going to let me take the truck. No. He decided to recover his property. No phone call to me. No letters. No clever repartee. Boom. The Green John Deare Tractor on a Saturday afternoon. Bring the truck home. Take it away.
Alas. The truck is no longer there. It is no longer where it resided for the past thirty years. It may still be is rusting, rotting, falling apart, slowly being reduced to its least common denominator. But it’s not on my land, and I am not going to watch this excruciatingly slow process as it proceeds season after season, relentlessly to the inevitable, complete decomposition of the truck and its reduction to a huge pile to very small, unrecognizable particles.
Of course there’s a lesson here. There always is. This time it’s about attachment. The Buddha taught, if I may greatly oversimplify, that suffering was caused by attachment. So having equanimity is important. To be free from attachment, or what is the same thing, to have equanimity, neither too much grasping, nor too much aversion, is important. Here the lesson, the teaching is about my attachment.
What was I attached to? I’ll tell you. I had an attachment to receiving some money for the scrapping of the rusting hulk of steel. Yes, of course, but there’s more. There’s also my stronger attachment to the outcome of this story: I rescue this old dump truck and transform it into something else (recycling, scrap metal, money, stories, parables). I do it, I take credit for it, and then I feel righteous about it. I even write an essay about how what I did is so very wonderful. You’re involved: maybe you recommend the essay and comment on it. I hope you do. We all feel good. Bah.
Only one problem. The story didn’t go like that. It’s not what happened. It was not real. It was made up, a delusion. It was just thinking. What happened in realtiy was that the person who owned the truck eventually came and got it. Period. No big metaphysical story today. What a beautiful teaching of humility for me, what a beautiful teaching about equanimity it was for me, to see that big green tractor pushing that old truck down the road. Now will I gracefully let it go?