“O most dear ones ... I can see you, beginning the journey to the land where there is no night nor sorrow nor death.” -St. Patrick
If I could pick a patron saint for the trucking industry, it would be Saint Patrick (who of course, would have to do double duty as he‘s also the patron saint of Ireland). Now, sure, we‘re coming up on St. Patrick‘s day and all the frivolity that goes with it - parades, people dressed as leprechauns, green beer, etc. - but that‘s never what St. Patrick was about.
(Contrary to the legend you've heard, St. Patrick did NOT banish snakes from Ireland)
The reason I feel trucking and St. Patrick go together is that he‘s a living representation of the power of one - how one person can make not just a difference but huge, mammoth change; the kind that eternally resonate down the pathways of human history. His belief in leading by example, by facing danger head on, is the same stuff exhibited by truckers every day - especially those honored by Goodyear‘s “Highway Hero” award, the ones jumping out of their cabs to rescue fellow drivers and motorists, no matter the danger to their own life and limbs. For who knows what the lives saved by the selfless bravery of truckers will go on to accomplish?
The Irish are a good example of what one person can do in this context. Today the Irish are largely known as an open hearted, happy-go-lucky people with a dash of wildness that gets them into trouble from time to time. But turn the clock back to St. Patrick‘s time, the 5th Century, and a much darker, more horrible picture emerges.
Back then, the Irish (a race then known as the Celts) were universally feared and loathed: they were the stuff of nightmares. Might made right as hundreds of small-time kings and queens led gangs of thugs into frequent battle against one other, stealing cattle and other goods along the way. Human sacrifice was an everyday occurrence. (You can read about all about it in “How The Irish Saved Civilization,” by the one of the great historians of our time, Thomas Cahill)
Worst of all, the Irish were slave raiders - skilled at snatching children in particular. Up and down the coast of what much later became England, Wales, and Scotland, they preyed on native villages and Roman towns alike. Patrick was one of those unfortunates - a 15-year old Roman, Patricius his given Latin name, plucked in a raid and made a shepherd-slave for six lonely years, ill fed and poorly clothed. You can argue - living as he did, fearing for his life every day - that the voice Patrick heard calling on him in his head to escape might have been his own; a mind driven to desperation by his circumstances.
But escape he did - traveling 200 miles on foot across Ireland to the sea, somehow managing to get aboard a ship to Gaul (later-day France) even though he‘d been recognized as an escaped slave. Not only that, he saved the crew from hunger after they‘d landed in Gaul to find the region a wasteland (caused by invading Visigoths). They called upon him and his God for food - and then it appeared, provided conveniently by a herd of pigs.
Coincidence? Luck? Divine intervention? Call it what you will. But here‘s the important part: after surviving all of that, after rejoining his family in England, he decided to go BACK - to return to the lands of his oppressors with only his faith as protection. He first went to Gaul to become a monk, struggling to speak, read, and understand languages and concepts he barely understood due to his utter lack of formal education. Then he took ship and came back to Ireland. There he changed the course of history.
(Statues of St. Patrick cover Ireland today)
Within his lifetime, human sacrifice stopped in Ireland, as did slavery and slave raiding. The rampant pillaging and plundering went way, way down as the Irish embraced him and his teachings. By the time of his death in 461, monasteries dotted the land and the monks within them would go forth and rescue the books of the then-collapsing Roman Empire, tirelessly copying them page by countless page, then return their horde of priceless knowledge and literacy a hundred years later to medieval Europe - laying the foundation for the Renaissance to come.
Sure, Saint Patrick didn‘t do it all himself, but his example convinced many to join with him, and together they changed a people, a country, and eventually a world for the good of all mankind. And he didn‘t do it by force, with armies at his back, armed to the teeth. He did it only with a book of prayers, the clothes on his back, and his own inner strength. Not too shabby for a one time Roman and former slave, if I say so myself.
So many truck drivers I‘ve met over my career display the very same courage and fortitude of St. Patrick; their willingness to perform a tough job that‘s (to put it VERY politely) disdained by much of our society. I‘ve no doubt that the monks who taught Patrick looked down their noses at him and probably thought him way off his rocker for going back to the people who enslaved him - to a land they themselves, with all their educated sensibilities and self-righteousness, feared and loathed. But his was a necessary if dangerous task, something any trucker can relate to.
(An Irish trucker's rig -- decked out appropriately!)
Maybe this is all over the top; OK, it IS over the top. But it‘s worth remembering the real story of St. Patrick and what he truly achieved in the course of his life - indeed, the change he set in motion that continued long after he passed from the Earth. That‘s inspiring and it shows that one person can still indeed make a huge difference on this planet of ours - even a truck driver, as the case may one day be.