Aug 26, 2017 filed under Faith, Love.

license plates

I collect cool license plates. Photos of them, I mean. I creep along at 3 miles an hour in parking lots, one eye on where I’m going and the other on whatever plates have wandered in. I’ve been known to whip out my phone to snap the tag ahead of me at a stoplight. Or make my husband change lanes three times to get behind a plate I want to capture (I only did that once).

I love seeing what other drivers want to tell the world from their rolling mini-tweet. And I appreciate the wisdom and humor of them. It’s rare that I get to ask people why they chose the words they did because the cars are usually parked and the drivers elsewhere.

But when I do, it can get interesting. A license plate in a recreation center parking lot sported one word: REALITY. Better yet, it was plain black on a plain white background with the little word “Maryland” above. No stickers, no fancy plate-holder, just the word, stark as could be. To my surprise, the owner was sitting inside the car. He rolled down his window as I approached. Asked why he had chosen what he did, he looked at me for a moment and said, as you would to someone who’s just not getting the obvious, “Reality. It’s all around us.”

I chased, I mean followed, this car for miles waiting for the driver to park. When she finally pulled in a driveway, we had a chance to chat. Turned out she was a massage therapist making a house call, and I had followed her right into my own neighborhood! She said her business is bringing calmness to her clients, and she liked the play on words.

But even before I found out the story behind DOTCALM, her tag reminded me to get my mind off whatever I was distractedly worrying about and remember what St. Paul advised: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

A license plate changed my attitude! Which shows how something small can change someone’s day, which then reverberates in all sorts of good ways.

The next plate was outside a restaurant in Vancouver where my cousin Marilyn and I were enjoying lunch and about ten years of catching up.

I didn’t meet the author of this one, but it got me wondering what events in that person’s life caused them to choose this message. And could a license plate have inspired someone like Gandhi or Mother Teresa to think more deeply about forgiveness?

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway!” (St. Teresa of Calcutta)

And the easiest of all to remember, from the prolific quipster Anonymous: “Carrying a resentment is like letting someone live rent-fee in your head.”

The tag below is especially clever because it uses the District of Columbia flag (two bars and three stars) that’s in the middle of every DC plate as an equal-sign to say God is Love. This is better than plates that have an obscure scripture reference, like one I saw recently that said LK 4-18 that you mean to look up when you get home but totally forget about because you’re unloading groceries from the car and when you open the front door you notice the plants need watering.

OK, one more for today.

I had driven south this spring to give a Lenten Day of Reflection to the Greensboro NC Council of Catholic Women. When I saw this in a drug store parking lot I couldn’t get to my phone fast enough. Hundreds of plates have escaped me in the wild (too far away, moving too fast, seen while driving) and it’s a thrill to find such a great one “in captivity” sitting still in its parking space. I didn’t meet the driver, but here are some thoughts that could have inspired him:

“The heart’s purification begins by Faith. The heart will be perfectly purified if faith is brought to life through love.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

“Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb 11:1).

“Those whose faith is not carried out in actions…do not love me. And because they do not love me they do not love their neighbors, whom I love.” (God’s words to St. Catherine of Siena)

Hope you enjoyed these and that they gave you food for thought. Seen any good plates lately?

Love always,




12 Responses to “What I Learned from a License Plate”

  1. Bonnie Onomastico

    Saw this on a priest’s license plate – THKSPOP!
    When I asked him he told me he bought his car with money his Father had left him!

  2. Tom Roberts

    These license plates are short stories, as inventive as any written by Poe, de Maupassant or Flannery O’Connor and, in seven or eight characters, reach the climax more quickly. One doesn’t have the opportunity of a leisurely afternoon or a stormy night to read them.

    The first plate Rose described: REALITY, was not a story. The owner said “Reality, it’s all around us.” I’m a scientist. Scientists study reality but can only think of or describe reality in terms of metaphors; in 1900 the brain was like a telephone switchboard. By 1955 the brain was like a computer. Cancer cells multiply so rapidly because they have stuck accelerator pedals and defective brakes and there’s going to be a crash.

    These plates are compelling stories, inviting the reader to get the owner to roll down his or her window. In most cases Rose found the owner eager to tell more. It’s like scripture. I’ve travelled the scripture road three times in the past ten years; I thought I did it in a scholarly fashion, only to discovered that I had gone whizzing by, missing some license plates. The one that popped up in Rose’s current blog was “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith, like the hypothesis in science, invites further exploration. Well alright, Hebrews 11:1 won’t fit on a license plate. Maybe it’s more like a series of Burma Shave signs. Nevertheless I went whizzing by. What I must do is clear; when I finish Revelation go back to Genesis and learn much more and make discoveries. It’s a like my high school geometry teacher; she had been teaching us forty years and we still didn’t get it. The driver of religious experience is faith; the driver of science is curiosity. It’s curiosity that causes me to wait beside my computer for the next VirtueConnection blog. That’s where I found Hebrews 11:1. I could have gone whizzing by it again on a fourth reading. For me it’s important to connect up with somebody who gets people to roll down their windows and tell a story.

  3. Linda Hartzell

    Your obsession is strange but charming.
    Who knows what compels people to put their thoughts on a license plate?

    If one could choose 8 characters, mine might be “Grati2de” :-)

    Thank you for the quote about FAITH from Hebrews 11:1. That will be my mantra for the week.

    • Rose Folsom

      I like your imaginary license plate. Gratitude is surely the virtue that is good for whatever ails us.

  4. Sal

    Very interesting hobby you have Rose! I never would have guessed it. What stuck me was the tag on “4-Give.” It’s so critical and a necessary part of our faith to forgive those who harmed us. Ironic thing is that when we do, we are actually freed.

    As St. Mother Theresa said, in the final analysis its about you and God, not you and the other person.

  5. Gretchen Elson

    Your study of license plates is much better than mine: as a calligrapher, I look at them for examples of good and bad spacing. I like your study better. Under other circumstances, I would say, “Rose, you need to get a life if you study license plates.” But in this case, you are absolutely on target of a wonderful life. Thank you!

    • Rose Folsom

      Thanks, Gretchen! Yes, as a calligrapher you could go crazy looking at the letter spacing on car tags. Better to look at the message. :)