I drove by a car that was going less fast than I wished it to be driving the other day. As I went past, I noticed a small sticker on the back windshield. Very small. Black, red, white and yellow I think. The words that I could read as I went past were “I am a VietNam vet.”
I looked at the man in the driver’s seat as I drove by. He looked youngish and well-kempt. Not sure what I was expecting, but he wasn’t it. And I drove on, that sticker still stuck in my mind. Benign thoughts, really, just pondering. Why is it important for people to identify themselves in whatever way they do. Wear chalices or crosses or other strictly religious garb.
The next morning, I was behind another car in another town and read another sticker: “My son is in the Army.” And I felt my heart shift.
You ever have that happen? Once, not very far from where I was behind that car, I was driving home with my kids in the back of the van. I wasn’t driving terribly slow, but I wasn’t going very fast. A car flew up behind me and stayed very close to my bumper and started to really aggravate me. Then I noticed the left turn blinker going, looked up and noticed where I was, and got out of the way. The car was turning into the hospice center and suddenly I wasn’t aggravated at all, I just moved faster.
That’s how I felt about the woman whose son is in the army and then, in a minute, about the VietNam Vet. I remembered writing about needing a metaphorical cane shortly after my dad died–I needed something to signal I was fragile, not quite ready to face the world and its issues.
I’m not saying that is why the two people put those stickers on their car. It could be that they are just proud–of their child; of their own survival. But it would be very helpful if people did have these tags on them, sort of like that video you’ve seen where the guy gets the special glasses that allows him to see the stress everyone else is suffering (I made a valiant effort to find it, but failed). Production of the video is fairly poor (not to mention the acting), but it is meant to make us all aware that we are all … how should I say it, suffering? Carrying more than we show? Putting one foot in front of the other?
I don’t know why these people put the stickers on their cars, but I’m taking them as hints. “My child is in harms way and I’m not sure how I will move through each minute other than just to do it.” “I survived VietNam physically, but underneath that are layers of things I can’t talk about but that influence my every move.”
What are the signs, visible and invisible, that we give off each day, that those we encounter give off? What can we do to honor them? How do we weild our own metaphorical canes?
Kindness. I can’t think of anything else.