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Saturday, April 21, 2018

LICENSED TO SMILE


My dark-hued cape of self-pity proved futile against the chilly wind. Not even a base-layer of resignation was sufficient to buffer me from the biting dread. The April day itself was as gray as my soul. The sun struggled valiantly to throw off its own murky covering, but the temperatures dropped as the day progressed. Only my need to check another item off an unending list propelled me forward; that…and the knowledge I was on a collision course (metaphorically speaking) with Louisiana and North Carolina and their irritating insistence that my vehicle should be registered to the address where it resides.

An online study of DMV regulations did little to quell my anxiety. A somewhat straightforward list of required documents was sabotaged by an ambiguous reference to having something notarized. Furthermore, the reasonableness of my DMV avoidance had been reinforced during the process of getting a new driver’s license a few weeks before. It took two trips before I had the necessary paperwork, and I still had to wait three hours.

I asked a friend for advice. She had no personal experience, but her husband, who had overheard my concerns, answered from the other room. This solid, masculine counsel confirmed the reason for my self-pity. Registering a vehicle is not women’s work! At least it wasn’t as long as I had my own husband who did such things for me.

George was the one who spoke the language of vehicular bureaucracy, took time off work to stand in line, and then presented me with a new license plate at the end of the day. I was better suited to pouring him a glass of wine, rubbing his aching back, and paying online renewals. My oft-intoned mantra of ‘women-can-do-anything’ did not apply when it came to this intersection between personal property and state regulations.

Now, with no one but me to handle such tasks, I braved the cold and my own uncertainty to join the line inside DMV. I clutched a document-filled folder and staggered under the weight of my widowhood as I stood at the back of the queue.

“Is this where I get an ID?” the latest arrival asked. I was pretty sure it wasn’t. This was the vehicle registration office. My two trips to get a driver’s license had been at a different location, one that presumably issued IDs. Signs everywhere clearly marked this distinction. The smiling and confident woman who stood there with a white cane couldn’t see any of them.

No one in line offered a solution or a helping hand. No husband, parent or friend came to her aid. Where were her people? Who would be brave enough, or crazy enough, to go blind and alone, to the DMV? I thought it would be best for her to speak with one of the officials, so I suggested she join me in line and go to the counter with me.

If I sounded more like an interrogator than a friendly extrovert, this friendly woman didn’t let on. She had used Uber to get to the DMV. She had just moved to Durham and didn’t know anyone here. Her move was neither job nor education related. Although she did not have family in the area, she was relocating her aging mother here. She had picked Durham because it seemed like a good fit for her, and it was a midway point of sorts between where she had been living in Paris and where her mother currently lived in Spokane.

She spoke as if it were the most normal thing in the world for a blind woman to move around the globe and to take up residence in an unfamiliar city where she had no connections. She acted as if keeping an eye on an elderly relative when you can’t see a thing is something people do every day. She moved purposefully, as one who can only feel their way but who doesn't doubt they will get where they want to go. She radiated warmth and joy, and she did it without the apparent support of friends or family. There was no mention of a husband.

“Next,” called the man, and we made our way to the counter. Never before had a long line seemed too short. He answered her questions quickly; then she was on her way.

I wanted to follow, to hear more of her story, to offer friendship and help, and to discover the secret of her confidence. Instead, I did what I had come to do. I presented my documents and hoped for the best. Five minutes and a design choice later, I left with a new license plate. I looked for the woman; she was nowhere to be seen.

Stepping through the heavy glass doors, I discovered the world had warmed during my absence. The clouds were beating a steady retreat from the victorious sun. I was overdressed for such a day. With eyes awakened by the brightness of the day and by the fortitude of a woman who could only feel the sun, I saw how tattered and threadbare my covering of self-pity had become. Maybe I needn’t wear it so often. Perhaps I should hang it in the back of my closet. In time I might even give it away, I thought. And, I smiled.

I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. – Helen Keller

For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
Psalms 63:7 (NASB)