I never thought much about the resale value of my car.  I bought it used in 2010 and have driven it 140,000 miles and I know that trading it in will feel like using a fifteen dollar gift card to buy a TV: getting rid of something useless, not putting a dent in the sticker price.

All the same, I’ve never put a bumper sticker on my car.  I’ve seen some tempting ones at gas stations around the country, and I’ve felt amped up enough about some political campaigns to consider stamping someone’s name on my Prius.  But whenever check-out time comes, I imagine my car parked in the lot at Target and a handful of passersby seeing the little public display of intention and coming to some split-second conclusion about the person who put it there.  This makes me uncomfortable.

I know it’s irrational: I have permanent tattoos on my one and only body that would have at least the same effect if not one much more magnified and personal.  I think it’s the idea of someone making up their mind about me without even seeing my face that bothers me so much. I want more say in the matter than a pithy little truism usually affords.

This is also an unfortunate insight into my character: I know I judge people with undue harshness for the semipermanent things they adhere to their cars, so I really just fear all the other people like me in the world.  That’s not very flattering.

My husband asked me the other day if I would ever put a Jesus fish on my car, and I said, without hesitation or equivocation: “Absolutely not.”  We talked a little about how people’s reactions to Jesus fishes can differ from worldview to worldview, and how I don’t want someone to put me in any of those possible boxes.  

But then he asked “What would you put on your car?” I mentally filed through all the tempting stickers and decals I’ve seen, but there was always a convincing reason to say, “Absolutely not.”

The meanings of the tattoos I have act more as reminders to myself of who I was when I got them than professions of anything to other people.  But bumper stickers feel like they’re initiating a conversation with the world, like if a Tweet or a Facebook status was constantly being broadcast to everyone around you.

To have a place on my car, something would need to be meaningful enough that I find value in saying it, but still simple enough that I would stand behind any reasonable interpretation someone would have of it.  My favorite Bible verses and quotes from books and movies fit the first part, but immediately fail the second part; they require context and that’s not a bumper sticker’s strong suit. And there are platitudes that fall under the second part but don’t live up to the first: little sayings fit for cross-stitched pillows and wall hangings, but not things I want to passively announce everywhere I go.  I want to add to the discussion the world is constantly having, but I don’t want my words misconstrued or used against me.

With everything going on in the world lately, the one phrase that comes to mind that could pass both tests would be the timeless “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”  But if there’s anything this weird personal journey of understanding has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to appear trite and hypocritical is to use whatever bully pulpit or plastic chassis you have to proclaim that your actions don’t look for others’ approval.

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