February 24th, 2019

This World

Spiritual Encounter at the DMV

Susan Weintrob

By Susan Weintrob

Published May 16,2018

Losing it

Her name was Jackie and her 'Boss' is no bureaucrat

I don't know about you but I hate going to the DMV. Long lines, crying kids, clerks that seem indifferent. Bureaucracy at its worst.

Nonetheless, I had to visit our local DMV to turn in my license plates for a car I had just sold — my favorite car, it turns out. Hard to part with, we simply don't need 2 cars any more. This car had been a faithful friend with no breakdowns for 15 years. So I was not happy.

There was the usual line and wait. After 10-15 minutes, my number appeared on the screen. I had to walk to the end of the room. I was limping along as I had wrenched my back out and the doctor told me to keep my activities to a minimum. State law says that you have only a day or so to turn in the plates after cancelling the insurance, so I dragged myself in.

My back was already aching and I was grumbling to myself. The woman behind the counter had her head down when I approached. I wondered how long it would take. She looked up and smiled. I handed her the license plate and form.

"This will be just a minute," she said. "Do you have the VIN number?"

I shook my head. On no — will this need a return trip? And how will I get the vin number with the car sold? "I'm sorry. I didn't write it down."

"No problem, I'll look it up for you."

Her voice sounded familiar. And her niceness stood out. "Jackie?" I asked.

She looked up, a bit puzzled. "You probably don't remember me." She gave her head a slight shake no. "I brought my mom in a few months ago for a non-driver's license ID. She's 100. You immediately came out to get her out of line and walked her through the lines, forms and photo."

My mom and I had gone to the DMV a few months ago. There was a line that wound to the back of the room. We waited a few minutes but there was no way my mother could stand that long. No one offered to allow us to move ahead. I told the person in back of me that I would return after finding my mother a seat. I found a place near the front of the room and went back to the line. The person behind me grudgingly moved back.

After a few moments, an employee came up to me. "Is that older woman with you?" she asked pointing to my mom. I explained what our errand was and she immediately answered, "Come with me." We walked over to my mom, I helped her up and handed her the cane. I supported her as we walked to the employee's station. The DMV worker went behind the counter. I handed her my mom's outdated ID. "You look amazing for 100 years old! Just wait here and I'll get all the paperwork."

In a few minutes, all paperwork was done and my mom was in line for her picture. Jackie, the name on the woman's nametag, had my mom sit down while she retrieved the new ID. Everything was done in under 10 minutes. I thanked her profusely.

She smiled. "I have a soft spot for the elderly and disabled. If I can help I do." Her words brought me back to the present moment, as she helped me with my returned license plate.

Remembering her kindness, I added, "I was so grateful for your help as my mom gets tired easily. I wrote to the DMV to say how appreciative we were."

She looked at me, perhaps wondering if I were being real. "How did you do that?"

"I went online and found a spot for comments and wrote. Did anyone tell you?" She shook her head and her eyes teared a bit.

"I'm sure you would have heard if there had been a complaint!" This got a laugh. "I'm a retired principal. An admission director I worked with once told me that people are more likely to complain than compliment by eleven times! I'm so glad I have the chance to tell you now how grateful I was."

We parted ways and I was much more cheerful than I had been before my errand had been completed.

In the news, we often read about rudeness and even violence in the marketplace. We certainly see vulgarity on social media, TV news and shows, music lyrics and in the world around us. How we shout and complain and verbally abuse each other.

In this mini revelation, I met a person in a job I would consider boring, sitting behind a long counter hour after hour, day after day. Meeting people with little chance of establishing connections.

Yet Jackie did not regard it as such. She thought of her position as a vehicle to helping others. This was evident in her taking time out to be compassionate, with no extra money or often, even thanks.

What is it about some people that makes them helpful, kind, has them offer a smile and make another person's day a little bit better? There may be a DNA find sometime in the future, but I think it is more about character than genes.

The DMV is an unlikely place to be reminded of kindness. It's changed my mind however about where we find mitzvos. In the most unlikely places, kindness crops up.

Many times we don't thank people who have helped us. Normally we don't re-encounter people to let them know that we are grateful for their kindness. The tikkun olam-ers don't know we noticed. My trip to the DMV had allowed me to do so. It was bashert (predestined), you might say. This had turned out to be a very good day after all.

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Susan Weintrob, one of JWR's very first contributors, is a retired educator who writes full time in Charleston, SC.

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