I was driving down the street with my daughter the other day and pulled in behind a vehicle with a vanity license plate. You know, the kind that tells the world how cool you are in a coded message of seven characters or less. This particular plate read – LYVSGR8, and judging from the make and model of the vehicle, they did indeed seem to have a great life, or at least a nice car. I asked if her she could understand the message on the plate, and with a little help from me, she deciphered it as well. Then she asked, “Why don’t we have one of those?”
Granted, my life is great, and I have very little to complain about, but I still find things anyway. However, I have never felt the need to advertise some symbolic message in the seven letters of a license plate. I shrugged and kept driving, but her question and recent writing exercise made me think. What would I put on my plate that could symbolize my life?
I don’t think I have any life symbols that I use regularly. I don’t have a Rolex timepiece, but I do have a Casio that synchs up with the Naval Observatory every night and is always correct. I don’t have a gun case full of antique guns, but I do own a shotgun. (I do have three daughters after all.) Maybe I could count my iPhone, but I’ve only had it about a year. Maybe I could count the boat, but I even share that with a couple of good buddies, so it’s not exclusive. Maybe my running shoes, but I wear out a pair every six months.
The truth is that if my house were on fire and I could rush in and grab only one keepsake that defined me, I would probably just stand on the curb and dial 911.
It’s not that I don’t have material possessions. I just spent half a day cleaning out my garage because I had too much junk. It’s not that I don’t like physical items to help me remember who I am. I have a large trophy in the closet and a small bin of certificates, awards, and decorations tucked away under my bed. It’s not that my life isn’t centered on specific beliefs or traditions. My life is one continuum of personal and public rituals that define who I am and what I believe.
I would love to say that this condition was brought on by my incredible modesty and humility, but most of you that read this blog know better. Why don’t I have any symbols in my life that a stranger could use to better understand who I am?
My mother loves to shop for bargains. She frequents garage sales, flea markets, and discount retailers on a regular basis. She has purchased enough luggage to outfit the flight crew of a Boeing 747, minus the catalog cases that they store in the cockpit. (Come to think of it, she has found a few of those as well.) She has bought enough socks to outfit an army platoon. She has found enough good deals on children’s clothing to clothe a small orphanage in Mexico. She has discovered enough hidden deals on kitchen utensils to provide gifts for a year’s worth of wedding receptions. She doesn’t need any of it. Every last bargain was for someone else. All of that bargain hunting is symbolic of her life and her love for shopping for other people. I think her license plate would say – SHP4LUV.
My wife likes to quilt and scrapbook. She has produced some award-winning scrapbooks, (yes they do give out awards for such things) and a variety of quilts. As the kids grow older they love to pull out the scrapbooks and turn the pages of time. They still curl up on the couch in the quilts she made for each of them. They are symbols of her love for her children and her desire to give each of them something to remember her by. Her license plate should say – SCRPQEN or QILTMOM.
I have two brothers that love BMW motorcycles. (Admittedly, they are the best-built motorcycle in the world.) They have both logged thousand of miles in the saddle, but in addition to riding them, they also like to tinker with them. They both scour craigslist for old BMW bikes that they can buy and part out, or fix up. They make a little money in the process and support their riding habit. Maybe they need license plates that say – IRDBMW or BMWMOTO.
When I got married, my Dad told us, “Mowing hay is the next best thing to sex. So, make hay while the sun shines.” He spent a lot of time making hay. I know. I had to haul it all to the barn. He also had ten kids. You figure it out. He still spends hours out on the riding mower every week. The best symbol of his life would probably be a tractor out mowing hay. I think I would pick – MAKEHAY- as his plate moniker.
I want my life to be defined by the way I have lived. I want to be remembered for my mistakes. I want to be remembered for those few moments of greatness. I want to be remembered for my bold attempts, and my tragic failures. The bottom line is that I eschew symbolic items that define who I am today, because tomorrow I might want to be somebody different, somebody better.
What would you put on your plate?