bumper sticker empathy

I was on my way to work yesterday with nothing particular on my mind when I came up on a van with a bumper sticker in the rear window. Even though I was on the highway, I read it. It said, “My son was killed by a drunk driver.”

It was such a jarring phrase, such a well-aimed shot to the heart with simultaneous punch to the gut that I audibly gasped.
I wanted to pull the van over and hug the driver. I wanted to tell the driver how sorry I was. I wanted the driver to tell me a story about his or her son so that I could remember him too. I wanted something. I didn’t want to just read that bumper sticker and keep on about my day.

And I guess I didn’t since the bumper sticker followed me around all day. I could not get it out of my mind. I thought about my reaction to it and how my immediate response had been empathy–not an emotion I am used to feeling on the highway when I often mentally (and sometimes audibly) berate my fellow drivers. As this bumper sticker hounded me, I wondered what life would be like if we all wore our hurts as bumper stickers on our cars. As pins on our jackets. As tattoos on our foreheads. Some of us might have a lovely clean rear bumper. Others might have pins on their jackets rivaling a “Fridays” waiter. But I can’t imagine that all of us wouldn’t have something that makes us vulnerable. Some hurt that shows how deeply human we are.

How might we treat one another then? What would we say to one another? How might we interact?

If nothing else, I imagine it would make me a much more forgiving highway driver.

One reply on “bumper sticker empathy”

Dear Tash,

Thanks for your description of the unsettling bumper sticker. Perhaps such messages impact us because we expect the genre to offer only pith rather than wisdom, or drivel rather than information. Or perhaps the bumper-sticker forum seems too public for a message so personal as, “My son was killed . . . ”

Whatever the reason that some bumper-sticker messages stick, I appreciated reflecting on your thoughts. And I hope that you, Mark, and Zoe have a happy Valentine’s Day!



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