Surprised by Joy… at the DMV

Yesterday morning I had an appointment at the DMV. Similar to most, I was not excited about the prospect of grumpy office workers and long trains of people herded from here to there.

I arrived a half hour before my scheduled appointment time in anticipation of lines more tedious than Disneyland. After parking and walking the long trek to the building, I was faced with the first of such lines before even entering the doors. I was in a pleasant enough mood that this wasn’t too upsetting, I stood patiently watching one person after another disappear through the wooshh of an automatic sliding glass door. I imagined it similar to watching people stand at the gates of heaven or hell – no one really knew what awaited us next.

Shortly enough my time approached. The door almost closed shut on me as I tried to enter, halting my thoughts and starting more fearful questions.

“Did I bring my paperwork?”
“What am I even doing here?”
“Oh right my license renewal.”
“But what if she gets mad at me for being earlier than my appointment?”
“or for asking a stupid question?”
“What if she just gets mad at me?”
“Darn it I already did something stupid – that line over there has a sign for registration appointments”
“Oh well just stay where you are, getting out now would be more stupid.”
“I’m a friendly person, she can’t be too mean. just smile.”

After my brain had finished it’s spiral-loop-double twist I’d made it to the front of the line. Breathe. It’s just the DMV, they are just people, no reason to be intimidated.

She grumbled, “What do you need?”
“Well I have an appointment, but I’m kinda early, but I just need my license renewed,” I flubbered.
All in one breathe she responded “Here’s your number. Give me that appointment sheet. Take a seat.”

Exhaaalllleeeeee. Phew. Ok. Where do I sit? Well right there looks about right, sure ok. I found a place on the end of the row, figuring that at least gave me one side that wouldn’t be smashed against someone else. I had made it through the first line and hadn’t suffered any terrible blows yet. Now I indulged in the only bonus of having to wait – reading my book.

Consumed by the tale of Adam Trask and his haunting wife Cathy, I didn’t hear when they first called it out – “number F004?” The second time only barely rang louder in the back room of my brain – “NUMBER F004?” I fumbled for my ticket stub and paperwork, clutching my book and bag at the same time, I looked around for who could have possibly made the call. Lucky for me, the first window in front of me seemed to be empty, so I tried there first, ready to meet the real beast. It felt like reaching a final level of Zelda, I approached the boss, ready for the worst, but unsure of how to conquer it.

“Good morning! Are you F004?” He smiled with not just his face but his eyes too, filled with a brightness that was mysterious in my imagined dungeon. The Disney lanyard around his neck was dotted with pins for various causes: a light pink breast cancer ribbon, a purple one for Alzheimer’s, and a small waving American flag.

Startled as I was by the sunshine he had just splintered into my cloud fortress, I gathered myself and told him what I needed. “Well I need to renew my license, but I noticed awhile back that my  middle name is spelled wrong, though I don’t know if that matters.”

He kindly explained that it wasn’t a big deal as long as it still looked similar, really they don’t ever look at more than the first initial of the middle name because it is the first and last that matter. Plus, unless I had official documentation showing the correct spelling we couldn’t change it so I told him I was fine to just proceed with renewing the license.

As we went through the required transactions, he kept up a friendly conversation with me of genuine interest. He asked if I’d seen Prometheus, wasn’t too surprised when I explained that no I don’t really enjoy alien movies, but then proceeded to tell me how it is actually an amzing movie because it is all about keeping faith in God.

This was again surprising, because somehow I was discussing God in the DMV. Yup you read that right – religion and civil service had just crossed lines.

Soon enough I learned that he was Catholic, and not a lax one but one who has his family say the Rosary every night before bed. He went to get me change for the $34 my renewal cost, came back singing American Pie.

He tells me “That song is about God too, you know?”
Then resumes singing as he counted out my bills from the Treasury –

“And the three men I admire most-
the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost-
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singing

Bye Bye Miss American pie…
bum buh duh dum duh da da da dum”

Somehow I was still a little shocked at what was happening – is this guy still smiling? I’m in the DMV right? Did he just ask me about God again?

Stuck in my head again, he woke me up by handing me the six dollars of change and my receipt of temporary license.

Before sending me on my way, he simply mused  “It’s cool how God shows up in things like that huh? Movies or music or just ordinary stuff.”

Then he jumped clouds to tell me about his upcoming family vacation to go jet skiing on the lake, and with a smile and a “Have a great day!” he wished me off.

 After getting my picture taken the next line over, I couldn’t help smiling as I left the DMV that day. It certainly wasn’t what I had prepared myself for, and somehow the surprise of joy I found in that one Catholic DMV worker was enough to keep me smiling all day. Because it is truly amazing how God can show up in things like that, the places where you don’t expect him, like Alien movies or the DMV. It wasn’t an epiphany or a huge revelation, but it was pure, unhindered joy that spreads a sunshine of hope in our lives that there is light out there in the darkness, even in the darkness of government services.

 Where have you had a moment of joy in the last week?
Have a great weekend everyone :)

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