Rose Folsom noticed that the plates we see every day can spark thoughts of our spiritual lives.
I collect cool license plates. Photos of them, I mean. I creep along at three 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 wanted to capture (I only did that once).
It’s great to see what other drivers want to tell the world with 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 are 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 like the answer was beyond obvious. But he humored me and said, “Reality. ... It's all around us.”
I don’t like to admit how often I fail to look reality full in the face as this man did. Too often my wishes and fears cloud over the beauty of what is happening right now.
I chased, I mean followed, this car for miles waiting for the driver to park. When she finally pulled in a driveway right in my own neighborhood, we had a chance to chat. It turned out she was a massage therapist making a house call. 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. Do we realize how much a smile can accomplish to lift someone out of a dark day, or how much a word of encouragement has the power to keep someone going who was tempted to give up on life? As tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, we have the power of God to communicate hope at every moment in a despairing world.
This 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!” (attributed to 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.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, or saying what happened was okay, or even seeing the offender again. It means recognizing that only God has the power to change people and that our job is to make the most of the great blessings God gives us at every moment.
The tag above 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. So powerful to be reminded of that in the middle of rush hour. And I appreciate the straightforward message, unlike 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 when you pull in the driveway!
One more for today. I had driven south to give a Lenten Day of Reflection in Greensboro, North Carolina. When I saw this in a drug store parking lot, I couldn’t get to my phone camera 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” on a parked car. I didn't meet the driver, but here are some thoughts that could have inspired her:
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 realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 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)
License plates are just one way we sometimes miss that God is reaching out to us with love notes, guidance, and reminders of His mercy.
Copyright 2022 Rose Folsom
Images: Multiple license plate photo by Deposit Photos, licensed by author; all others copyright 2022 Rose Folsom, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Rose Folsom is founder of VirtueConnection.com, where she helps Catholics get closer to God by discovering how to practice virtues like patience and forgiveness. Join her membership group, Virtue Circle. She’s a convert and Lay Dominican who speaks, blogs, and leads retreats fueled on prayer and York peppermint patties. She and her husband, Fred, live in Silver Spring, Maryland.