An elderly lady idled in the turn lane waiting for the red arrow to change. Her old beat-up oldsmobile puttered along like a glorified golf cart. Her knuckles, worn and wrinkled like they were perpetually held underwater, squeezed too tightly on the steering wheel. Her sunglasses were so big that I wondered if beneath them she had multiple pairs of glasses just to see the road.
Next to her, also in the turn lane, was a recently-washed minivan. It wasn’t new or expensive, just an average middle-class red caravan. A mother was inside fiddling with something in the center console, a teenager next to her engrossed in his cell phone. In back there was a carseat.
And that’s when I noticed it — a special bumper sticker.
You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.
It says “Baby on Board” with a big yield diamond.
I’m not opposed to babies, nor the idea that they are ‘on board’ and thus precious (and not just because they are on board), but in that moment this sentiment rubbed me very much the wrong way.
Consider the meaning –
“Please be careful not to hit my car, because I have a precious life on board.”
Innocuous. Innocent. Simple.
Yet, when I looked at that elderly woman with hair so white it was practically see-through — I couldn’t help but notice that there was no caution sticker on the back of her car. I glanced back and forth between the minivan and the oldsmobile — as if distilling one half from the other would somehow settle the foulness stirring in my stomach.
This foulness had nothing to do with a new and precious life. But it had everything to do with the idea that we needed to protect this life via caution stickers — that in the crudest sense we needed to be reminded —
“Be careful. There’s another human in this car.”
Forget the age of the human for a moment, and just recognize that simple fact. Between the mother and the teenager and the old lady and the baby and myself, only one demanded consideration. Only one was the focus of the caution.
It’s a condition.
A piss-poor condition that we the human race have adopted somewhere along the line. That other cars carrying other humans are not people, but in fact traffic cones preventing us from getting to our destination. That old ladies in oldsmobiles who take to long to turn deserve a honk and a nudge or a revocation of their license.
That if you’re going to take a life by slamming your car into a minivan, don’t let it be the baby. The teenager, sure. The mom, why not. But not the baby. As if that makes it less sad. As if a family isn’t destroyed by the loss of any life, old or young.
This sticker that wasn’t ever created to offend anyone, proposed an idea. The idea that life is only precious when it is young, when it is untainted — that cars and those inside them are not worthy of consideration. This is the cultural message we seem to be getting.
Treat whoever you please like human garbage —
But draw the line at babies.
Caution. Baby on board.
It was a rotten feeling.
And it led me to a whole mess of questions about myself and my own life.
I don’t mean to bum you out this morning. I don’t mean to make you feel bad — or make anyone feel bad for that matter other than myself. I don’t think that soccer mom, or any mom is wrong for putting a bumper sticker on their car. I’m not trying to incite riots against yellow stickers.
But I do blame myself. I blame myself for attaching worth to age. I blame myself for deciding that some people are too far gone to make amends. I blame myself for trying to make up for the kids in high school that I laughed at by volunteering with high school kids and making them feel included. Because younger life is more precious. Because helping young people somehow makes up for all the kids I let eat lunch alone in high school, or the ones I watched get bullied. They’re too old now, too far gone, wouldn’t remember if I reached out and apologized to them for not saying something sooner. It’s been too long.
I blame myself for not reaching out to old friends who have fallen into addiction. For distancing myself from another human life because that life was all used up. Because I let myself believe that people, the older they get, can’t change. That they don’t want to change. That they are beyond redemption.
This sentiment is a reflection of myself more than anyoen else. It belongs here in public form because it is a habit & trait that I exibit. One that needs to be cut down and thrown to the fire. This statement belongs here because I may not be the only one who feels this way. Because today I will remind myself of a few simple things, in hopes that somewhere deep in my mind — it sticks.
Life is precious. Not because it’s young.
Life is precious because it’s human.
And you don’t outgrow being human.