One of the most often used storytelling/folktale devices I used to hear when I was growing up and my grandpa was spinning tall tales, was the kind of story where the hick outsmarted the intellectual, the country bumpkin put one over on the city slicker, or the University of Missouri farm boy made the Harvard man look like a fool. One of my favorites growing up was one where the little kid was the wise one, and it went like this:
A truck driver got the top of his semi stuck under an underpass one day when he took a risk and thought he had enough clearance. First they brought in someone from the highway department, who immediately called an engineer. The engineer started trying to figure out an elaborate way to jack the underpass up, so the truck could be freed without damage. A little girl on a bicycle kept pulling on his pants leg and saying, “Hey mister! Hey MISTER!” But it was to no avail. He chased her off. “Go away, kid.”
The highway department rep kept looking at the engineer’s plans and thought it was too elaborate and too expensive, so he got another idea. He called a heavy equipment operator, who came out to the scene and said, “What if we dig out the road under the truck with a backhoe? Maybe then it will lower the truck and it can be driven off.” The little girl went up to the heavy equipment operator. “Hey mister! Hey MISTER!” The man just glared at her. “Little girl, we’re busy. SCRAM!”
Finally, the exasperated little girl went up to the truck driver. “Hey mister! HEY, MISTER!” The truck driver, who felt sorry for the little girl being ignored so badly, sighed and said, “What?”
“Mister, I know what to do!” the little girl said. “JUST LET THE AIR OUT OF THE TIRES!”
I always loved that story, probably because I so wanted to be the little girl on the bike who was smarter than all the guys. Yet, it’s a good example (albeit apocryphal) of what we see in our Epistle today, where the foolish shame the wise, the weak shame the strong, and the lowly humble the powerful. When we encounter problems in life, many of us are dead set on showing others how impressively we can engineer our way out of it, when maybe the thing to do all along was to “let the air out of our own tires”–to lower ourselves, our expectations, or our opinions of ourselves just a little bit in the hope that something shakes us loose from our self-made predicaments?
We spend our lives creating the illusion of self while at the same time forgetting that God has a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized, and the downtrodden. In a world where it is counter-intuitive to accept less, or put others ahead of ourselves, or to chase after the dreams of a dreamer, it makes no sense to let the air out of our own tires–and really, in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with striving to be smart and successful. However, human nature being what it is, when we start to read our own press clippings a little too much, we can fall into the trap of lording it over others a little too much. Our pride and our egos can cause us to pity instead of empathize, show off when we need to scale back a bit, and forget that being vulnerable gives others room to heal.
What, in your life, could stand to have a little air let out of its tires, in the hopes of freeing yourself from being stuck?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: KHQ News report on someone who listened to the little girl!