He said, “You don’t know me from Adam, but here you are out at this time of night, loaning me tools and you don’t know if you’ll see ’em again.” Unspoken was the obvious factor that he was black and I’m white.
“Sergeant, you are in the company of someone I trust. She says you are trustworthy and that’s good enough for me.” Actually, I wish I had said that, because it was the truth. Instead, I filled the silence with standard military verbiage about sergeants trusting each other.
The woman in question was a fellow Christian who told me she admired my ministry in the American military community. She was a pay grade lower and a lot younger. On our tiny installation, the duty fell on her to play hostess for this visiting project coordinator from some higher echelon unit a couple hundred miles away. There was nothing going on between them, I can assure you. It was just one of those crazy things that happens to people. He was driving his own car and she was the navigator, running around to the dozens of small military storage sites scattered around that part of Europe. They were running late and his car broke down near a rail crossing on the edge of some small, quiet little town in the Netherlands where I was stationed.
It wasn’t that far from my house, so when she called me, it didn’t take that long to find them. I brought my tools because he was driving something similar to my own car and I knew about fixing it. We ran diagnostics and determined that his fuel pump was dead. He had no tools and there was no way he could get a replacement that time of night. That meant he would have to wait until the morning, take off the fuel pump and take it to a dealer for a replacement, then put it back on before he hurried to return to his own unit that day. At least his car was in an acceptable spot for someone who had to leave it parked overnight.
So I handed him the necessary tools, a total stranger I had glimpsed only once before while I was doing security checks at our little installation. I knew she was a little uncomfortable escorting him around, being a prim and proper, but lovely petite single gal with long blond hair. She already had a ride coming and he wasn’t too far from his hotel, so I left them there in the darkness at their insistence, unwilling as they were to intrude on my time any further.
We could wish that kind of camaraderie was more common, and we often pretend it exists when it doesn’t. Had it been anyone else with him, I might still have been willing to loan the tools, but with a far higher sense of risk. The young lady’s own office should have been much more involved, but I knew better than to expect that. She was the bottom of the privilege structure in her office. The others felt entitled to insulation from the ragged experiences of us little people, which had a lot to do with why she had made a strong effort to get to know me. We met at the NATO Chapel and my reputation among the regular attenders was better than I deserved — just a sergeant in rank, but very active in the chapel volunteer system.
I did get the tools back through the US military postal system, with a note of thanks and assurance that things had turned out well enough for him. The car part wasn’t all that hard to reach and the new one solved the problem. Given his garrulous manner, I’d be entirely shocked to find he didn’t tell the story to his coworkers. The tools weren’t that expensive, so I could have easily replaced them. It was a risk I might have taken any way, but the young lady’s involvement made me much more comfortable. I wanted to reward her trust by going the extra mile for her where someone else could see it, even if my eloquence at the time was lacking. I’m willing to bet that man got the message.
That trust factor is huge. It’s critical to human nature, and Scripture is loaded with references to it. It’s the final, ultimate currency of human society. Contextual limits notwithstanding, if the promise and fulfillment are a reasonable match, trust grows. Just having a pretty strong sense of consistent boundaries is such a relief to most of us that we can afford to put up with a lot of inconvenience and discomfort on the side. Distrust and fear eat at your soul. Without the assurance of consistent boundaries of trust, we aren’t quite human. We spend entirely too little time and effort trying to understand how trust is wired into the moral fabric of our world.
As a side note, the military demands that kind of camaraderie and trust, but has institutionalized the arbitrary denial of its fruits. That’s what makes US military service so freaking insane. You will learn to trust your buddies individually, but you’ll be ordered to betray them at times, and vice versa. The US military as an institution is filled with some poisonous delusion about how it works. Yet the real thing happens enough that people who manage to adapt never forget, and would gladly find themselves in that environment again, at least on occasion after leaving it. I seriously doubt any of them long for even another nanosecond of time under the bureaucratic madness.
Trusts is fundamental and contextual at the same time; keep your eye on it.