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Good Letters

I was zoning out at a red light when a shiny object—or, shall I say, two shiny objects—caught my eye. Dangling from the back of a pickup truck a pair of large metal testicles sparkled in the subzero sun.

I shot a picture before the light turned green and posted it to Facebook when I got home: “Please, Lord,” I wrote, “don’t let my daughter grow up to date a guy with testes on his truck.”

The responses came fast and furiously:

“Maybe he felt a need to buy a set since he didn’t have his own.”

“This kind of truck decor provides a public service.  Everyone knows if you see balls at the back, there’s a dick up front.”

“Someone envisioned that product—someone designed it, someone sold it, someone purchased and installed it. Isn’t this world amazing?”

What a world, indeed. Something drove this man to drop the scrotum in his cart or press “confirm” on an online order. Whether predmediated over months or cinched in a moment of inspiration, there was a moment of decision, followed, even more fantastically, by an installation process. Tools were deployed. Hands were busied. Nuts were given the final turn.

Did the man stand back, hands on his hips, and proclaim, “Yes! I can finally publicly acknowledge my douchebaggery on every street in Lake County?”

Maybe. More likely, a short-circuit in his life sparked some insecurities. Or he celebrates the male anatomy while the rest of us Puritans keep on trudgin’. Worst case, he’s a chauvinistic ass. But the bottom line is that he’s more than the sum of his parts. He’s a person with a history, a spirit, and, yes, a desire to be loved.

The problem is actually loving the truck testicle guy.

When I was a little girl, long before the apocalyptic days of fender genitalia, my mother would point out trucks with giant wheels. “Never go with a guy like that,” she warned. “His car is an extension of his penis.” While I wasn’t sure what that meant, I knew one thing: guys with big trucks were bad. And apparently, so were their penises.

While an anonymous giggle behind someone’s sack—I mean, back—may be harmless enough as we collectively commiserate over the monster wheels, scrota, and “no fat chick” stickers traveling across our great nation, we have to figure out how to love the drivers—and everyone else who disgusts us: righties and lefties spewing their spew, teens taking selfies with the homeless (a new trend, apparently), and dog walkers leaving steaming piles in our yards. Then there are the corporate polluters, cartel runners, and child sex offenders who reside on a completely different planet of stench.

But the reality of my day is dealing with dime-a-dozen jerks. And I have to face the fact that the lady shoving me at the Starbucks counter will raise my blood pressure higher than the megalomaniac leader killing thousands in a country overseas.

I haven’t figured out how to love the stranger. But it probably has something to do with praying and digging for planks.

When I got my first car, a used blue Corolla, I promptly affixed a bumper sticker: “What’s worse than nuclear war? Life without God” (mushroom cloud, red lettering, flames). It was 1988, but the Cold War was still very much in play, and nuclear weapons scared people to death. I still believe that God should be at the center of our lives, but we all know what that sticker really meant: Stop yammering about peace, you hippies. Get right or get left.

I doubt anyone prayed to receive Jesus after reading my sticker. People with my worldview probably smiled to themselves. More likely, the sticker just pissed a lot of people off while deepening a polarizing line in the sand. At the time, though, I was new to the faith, had listened to a couple of Christian radio stations, and thought this sticker shared the way, the truth, and the life.

We do things we regret later. And some stupid things we never regret. But I know that thinking about my own failures when faced with the world’s daily idiocies opens my capacity to love. When I encounter a person who offends me, I try to remember a time I was impatient, racist, sexist, or volatile. It’s surprisingly easy to do. And while I can rarely bring myself to pray in those moments, just quieting myself, breathing, and saying “peace” is enough.

The poet and spiritual mentor Dave Harrity, whose poem “A Celebration of the Human Form” contributes to the burgeoning genre of car-scrotum literature, writes the following lines:

Then I see the human touch dangling from the hitch. They dance above the pavement

and catch the fist of wind like a broad sail—

bright blue scrotum and testes, lopsided and wrinkled—

all the masculine grace of a community center locker room. 

An artist has been born. Seeing what was missing, taking liberties to add distinction,

desired vulnerability—coaxing a potential from the austere metal.

While the poem clearly employs sarcasm as it laments the degradation of the human body in “art,” it still recognizes—I think tenderly—the human touch and vulnerability in us all. The testes may be ugly, but their owner is made in the image of God. Rarely, “an artist has been born,” but the art itself is born every day. We live and drive among them.

The question is never whether someone is worth loving but whether they are worth my  imagination and time. Do I have the humility? Do I have the will?

The question is, do I have a pair?

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Tania Runyan

Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky (Cascade Poiema Series), A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem, an instructional guide based on Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry,” was recently released by T.S. Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including PoetryImageBooks & CultureHarvard Divinity BulletinThe Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, and the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011. She tutors high school students and edits for Every Day Poems and Relief.

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