Lydia used to love “Little Blue Truck.” When she was just learning to walk, she’d toddle over to the bookshelf, reach up to the top shelf where we keep it, pull it out, and, grasping it with both hands, pad over to us, sometimes even saying, “Eep, eep”. The story’s title character is a little blue pickup truck who beeps his way through the pages, his acknowledgement of all the farm animals he passes. Lydia loved the bigger blue letters of the “beeps” and hearing us read that word. However, some pages are filled with the animals’ greetings–nary a blue letter in sight. Lydia would hurriedly turn those pages. Which means we’d get through the story pretty quickly (it is a board book after all)…only for Lydia to turn the book over and start again.
I’ve read this book countless times. And as happens when you read a book again and again, you either read it by rote and stop paying attention…or you start analyzing the details and you notice things that aren’t apparent the first 100 times.
In case you have never heard of “Little Blue Truck”, in the story, “Blue” rolls along, greeting all the farm animals with a merry “beep, beep, beep”, a friend to everyone. Then a dump truck makes an appearance, proclaiming his importance and lack of time for such pleasantries. Soon enough, he gets in trouble — stuck in the mud — and cries for help…and is ignored by all the animals he didn’t have time for. The pickup responds and tries to help, but gets himself stuck in the process. He also cries for help — beep, beep, beep — and all the animals scramble to assist. Working together, they push both trucks out of the mud, and “Dump” goes on his way with a new appreciation for friendliness.
Friends are important. They make your day more enjoyable and they can help you out of difficult situations. That’s the main take-away from this little book. But a couple other lessons struck me as I was reading the rhymes for the 5,467th time. When the dump truck shows up, he mocks Blue’s greetings: “I haven’t got time to pass the day with every duck along the way!” Pass the day implies a leisurely conversation. It conjures images of sitting out on the front porch, maybe on a metal swing, sipping lemonade and telling stories. It suggests hours of investment (which true friendship does require, for the record). But that’s not what the pickup truck is doing: “Little Blue Truck came down the road. ‘Beep!’ said Blue to a big green toad. Toad said, ‘Croak!’ and winked an eye when Little Blue Truck went rolling by.” He offers his greetings as he’s on his way. He’s hardly passing the day. He’s not even stopping. It made me wonder, how often do I know what I should do, but I don’t want to do it, so I exaggerate — to myself and/or others — how much time it’ll take, and how I’m too busy?
And along these same lines: Blue isn’t offering any more than a hello, but look at the power of that acknowledgement. It establishes a relationship, forges a bond, and even inspires loyalty. I’ve heard friends who work with people experiencing homelessness say so many times that what matters to this vulnerable population, even more than the food and money they get begging, is being acknowledged. Most passers-by throw a “Sorry, man, I got nothin'” without breaking stride or even glancing their way– or ignore them completely. But those that make eye contact and smile, even if they don’t drop any coins in the cup, offer something almost more valuable: connection, acknowledgment of another’s existence.
After hearing that the first time, I’ve tried to make that simple connection when I’m out with the kids, channeling Blue, if you will. I may not give money, but I always have time for a warm smile and greeting.