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September 29, 2018

What I Learned about Belonging from the Man with the “I heart Guns, Titties & Jeeps” Bumper Sticker.

Dear Sir and human being,

Today I learned what you believe is in your heart from the “I Heart…” sticker on the back of your car.

I stared at it for a long time this morning as I sat behind you at a stop light. So did my young children, a son and daughter. As a family, we looked at a picture of two crossed rifles pressed into two enlarged breasts with the tagline: “I Heart Guns, Titties, and Jeeps.”

I could not change your station or turn the channel to avoid my children seeing this image, their eyes as tender as the skin of the breasts that filled the square. Instead of chatting sweetly about their new elementary school, I struggled to soften and interpret for my children what you chose to express about your heart.

Those “titties” belong to your eyes, for your use—somewhere to place the cold metal of two guns. These titties do not belong to me. You get to decide your use for them. The titties do not even need the human face that might go with them. You feel entitled to press guns into titties, to isolate them for your pleasure, or simply to show that they are yours for the taking by a four-inch square sticker on your car.

You feel entitled to tell this to little girls and grown women who sit behind you, ensuring we know we are not safe in our bodies. You model for little boys, and grown men, that titties belong to them—maybe even suggesting they are not “men” if they don’t agree and act accordingly.

All in a sticker.

Could this really be what is in your heart? Guns, cartoon titties, and a car? Would your heart agree this is its deepest longing? Would your younger self have imagined this would be his heart’s greatest, most prominent expression in this world? Or is something else there…something vast and steeped in innate goodness?

Our most basic human need is to feel we belong—to rest in the love and nurturance of that belonging. Every heart acts to fulfill this need, either in distorted ways that keep us broken, or with genuine love and compassion that make us whole.

Could a heart believe our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, friends, are not full human beings, but bodies reducible to the property of imagined titties? Or does the heart hold some sting of this untruth, knowing wisely that reduction keeps us from belonging?

In my life and work, I am honored at times to glimpse into the hearts and minds of others and, hopefully, reveal their deep goodness back to them. I wonder if you sense into your own innate worth and goodness and how that might influence what you express on your car? With that said, I do not presume to know what is in your heart. You might argue that I should know—because you told me this morning.

But I will not be complicit with your sticker. I will not see you reduced to your “I Heart…” message even as it seeks to reduce me. I believe your heart holds a vastness greater than this small declaration.

We will perhaps never have a chance to meet face-to-face—to get close and come to know each other. To glimpse into each other’s lives and know each other’s stories. To have our children play together. To become inextricably humanized together and made whole in our belonging to each other.

If we did, would you keep your sticker on your car? Would I be able to love you if you didn’t? And if I withheld that love, wouldn’t I be reducing and dehumanizing you in the same way your sticker dehumanizes me? And what would that teach any of our children?

So, I choose to keep my heart open and to remember we belong to each other, even when we are in sharp and painful juxtaposition.

As the light turned green, I sent a sincere wish to both of us that we feel true belonging in this life and that our hearts find their fullest expression. Safest travels.

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Ashley Gibbs Davis

author: Ashley Gibbs Davis

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