I have always loved the idea of control. The idea that I can somehow make things happen, or prevent things from happening. I used to love the idea of prayer as a manipulation of God, a tool to make sure my kids were safe, that my life wasn’t going to come crumbling down to the ground. It seemed to be working until one day in March of 2001, when my brother was hit by a car and killed. That was the beginning of a new kind of journey. A journey that recognized and embraced that I control only my reactions to all that life throws at me. This shapes much of what I think and how I react to life going on around me. Even to what I think when I look at bumper stickers. I’m not talking about magnets or vinyl decals that you can easily change, but those pesky stickers from days of yore, that just wouldn’t come off, even if you were ashamed that you stumped for Mondale/Ferraro in 1984.
It is interesting to look around a parking lot and read bumper stickers. “Proud parent of an honor student” “My student beat up your honor student” “Soccer mom” “Proud Pitt Parent” are just a few that I saw at WalMart today. What is interesting about bumper stickers is their permanence. It is as if we are trying to fix our place in an ever changing story. As if a permanent adhesive will make it true forever. While it is true that I will always be a mother, it is not true that I will always be the mother of an elementary school student, in fact, as of June, I will not be anymore. I have seen six kids through elementary school, and now that chapter of my life is closing. As a recent graduate from Gannon, that chapter of my life is closed as well. Both events are pieces of my story that have shaped me, but they have come to pass.
The danger of trying to make life events permanent is that there is a chance that we will stunt our growth when it is time for those events to end. My mother had six children, just like I do. Unlike me, my mother cooked and cleaned and made us the center of her universe. She was fantastic! But she never took time to know herself, and consequently, she fell into disarray when that piece of her life changed. She did not consider the day when there would be no one left to clean up after, no one to pick up from basketball practice, no one to fill the days. She saw life as static and unchanging, fixed in place like an old election candidate’s bumper sticker.
But the truth of life is, it is more like a post it note than a bumper sticker. It is impermanent, and eventually the things that shape us change shapes themselves. If we do not embrace that change, if we do not continue to grow, then we begin to die. Although this seems tragic, there is a certain beauty in this. You see, if things were static, we would not recognize the beauty that those things hold. If the sky was filled with rainbows constantly, we wouldn’t think of the rainbow as much of anything, it would be commonplace. But the rainbow is fleeting and elusive, and so we follow it, we look for the gold. It creates a sense of wonder within our hearts.
This impermanence is not an easy truth, it eats into the illusion of control that we humans tend to seek after. But perhaps in the end control is not what creates a life well lived, perhaps it is in embracing the fleeting nature and seeking growth as we acknowledge change. Daily post it notes reminding us we are becoming, not bumper stickers telling us who we think we are. These days my prayers are more about gratitude and admission of my lack of understanding as I speak to a universe that is bigger than I can imagine. Prayers that are more like conversations, rather than manipulations and my bumper stickers are vinyl decals that can be removed as life takes me to different places and new incarnations that I could never have foreseen.
Angela K. Jeffery, St. Stephen’s, Fairview