What's On Your Plate?  

Posted by Brock Booher

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.

So what should I choose for my plate? Maybe – TRYAGN, BTRTMRW, or WHTSNXT?

What would you put on your plate?


Posted by Brock Booher

My toes hung over the edge of the wet limestone. The water from the shallow creek beside me rushed over the edge and fell eighty-five feet into the deep green pool below. The constant hum of the waterfall echoed against the surrounding rocks, but I could still hear Lance and Tom egging me on. Everything had a muffled sound, like I was listening to the world from the end of tunnel, except for my heart. My heart was beating so loud that I was certain it had moved from my chest to my head. I was one jump away from a moment of teenage glory.

We left late on a Friday night for a guy’s camping trip to a nearby state park that boasted some of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. The park was a verdant paradise of meandering hiking trails, deep pools of cool water, and forests full of wildlife.

Tom was quick-witted and had a contagious laugh. He was from up north and didn’t sound like the rest of us. He had a reputation for being a bit reckless. Lance wore glasses and was usually quiet in crowds. His timid nature came off as coy, and the ladies loved him. He never surprised anyone.

As we drove along in Lance’s pickup truck, we rocked out to Phil Collins and told jokes. We talked about girls. We talked about a future full of hope and promise. I was eighteen and had the world by the tail. I had recently graduated from high school and was going off to college. I was going to be fighter pilot in the Air Force, and maybe apply to be an astronaut for NASA. I was going to find the prettiest girl in the world and convince her to marry me. I was going to get rich, and maybe even famous. I was immortal.

In typical teenage fashion, we flew by the seat of our pants trying to squeeze excitement out of every moment. When we found all the campgrounds full, we slept by the side of the road. I tried to start a fire for breakfast using lantern fuel and singed my eyebrows. We went the wrong way down a one-way road and had to pull off onto the shoulder to avoid hitting an oncoming car. Tom lost his sleeping bag. We almost hit a deer. We drank IBC root beer and threw the empty bottles into the back of the truck so we could listen to them roll around and clink together. We didn’t get much sleep, but we didn’t care. We were young. You can sleep when you’re dead.

We started the day with a hike to the bottom of the tallest waterfall. The thin stream of water fell two hundred and fifty six feet into a rocky pool of chilled water. We hiked under the falls and let the water sting our backs. We dared each other to jump into the frigid water and see who could stay in the longest. I think Lance won, but our teeth were chattering and our lips were blue when we got out.

We followed a cable down the face of another bluff to discover a deep green plungepool with a waterfall cascading down the opposite side. Hot from hiking, we kicked off our shoes and dove in. The rising afternoon sun warmed the shallow stream above making the water from the waterfall feel warm and soothing. We dove off the big rock adjacent to the falls and sunned ourselves on the warm limestone banks of the pool. With the help of an old log, we lingered under the waterfall and fell into a state of bliss. In spite of the observers that stood on the lookout high above the water’s surface, it felt like our own private paradise.

While we languished at the waters edge listening to the roar of the falls, something hit the water so hard it sounded like a shotgun blast. At first we thought someone had dropped a rock, and we scurried to safety. Then a man’s head broke the surface, and he let out a rebel yell that echoed against the limestone cliffs of the bluff. We couldn’t believe someone had jumped off the waterfall above us. The jump didn’t look survivable, but he was living proof that it could be done, and his successful stunt mocked us.

Tom was the first to suggest that we make the jump. I wasn’t afraid of heights, so I agreed right away. Lance was hesitant at first, but we convinced him. We left our shoes by the water’s edge for our triumphant return and climbed back up the cable trail barefoot, hell bent on proving our manhood.

When we got to the top of the falls, I walked over to take a look. I hung my toes over the edge of the wet limestone and scanned the water eighty-five feet below. My head began to spin. The hum of the falls and the encouraging shouts sounded like some distant noise. I felt my heart beating in my temples. A moment of teenage glory hung a few feet over the edge, and I could claim it with one jump.

I hesitated. My mind turned from the thrill of the moment, to the danger of the decision.

I thought about all the things that could go wrong. What if I broke something? What if I hit wrong and got knocked unconscious? What if I hit a rock? As I stood there with my toes hanging over the edge of the wet limestone, the sun beating down on my shoulders, and the water plummeting past me into the pool below, I transformed from carefree teenager to responsible adult.

I backed away from the edge.

When I backed away, Tom, the daredevil, surveyed the situation and began to question the wisdom of the jump as well. While Tom and I were coping with a sudden rush of responsible thinking, Lance said, “What the hell.” Then he walked up, and jumped off. We hurried over to see if he had survived the plunge. When his head broke the surface, he let out his own rebel yell and was grinning from ear to ear. He was alive.

Inspired by Lance, I returned to the ledge and stood there again trying to will my shaking legs to jump, but I could never convince them. My moment of reckless abandon had been replaced with rational, responsible, adult behavior. A strange wave of shame washed over me. I felt like I had let myself down. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scales of life had measured me, and I had come up short.

I told Tom that I was going to hike back down and get my shoes. He begged me to stay, but I knew that it was no use. As I started to walk away, he told himself that he could never let Lance outdo him, and jumped. I didn’t even walk to the edge to see if he was okay.

I made the lonely walk back down the top of the cable trail and waited for them to bring me my shoes. Lance and Tom were chatty and excited with the adrenaline still coursing through their veins. I sat there with my face buried in my hands. They consoled me and told me that it was okay, but I knew that I had passed through a door that would never reopen to me. I had grown up.

I went off to college. I earned my wings in the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. I found a beautiful girl and told her sweet lies until she finally agreed to marry me. I never got rich, or famous. The reality of my mortality became clearer with each passing year. The future, it seems, is a moving target, and growing old is a gauntlet we all must run.

Today, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the water from the stream plummet eighty-five feet into the deep green water of the pool below. I can still hear the muffled roar of the waterfall and feel the warm afternoon sun on my shoulders. Even though I am no danger at all, my heart beats louder and faster, like I’m standing on that ledge all over again.

I will never know what might have happened if I had jumped that day. I don’t regret my life. I have lived a life more exciting and rewarding than any one man should be allowed to experience. But I have always wished I had jumped. Perhaps, if I had jumped off the ledge that day, I would have preserved the reckless abandon of youth long enough to achieve more of the impossible dreams I once had. Somewhere, suspended in the air above a deep green pool of water hangs the reckless exuberance of youth, waiting for me to jump.

Cane Creek Falls