We recently came across an uplifting and inspirational story from the blog Self Care with Gracy and decided that it was too important not to share. Why? Everyone who’s been to the DMV can in some way relate to this post.
One of the powers of the DMV, for better or worse, is that it’s memorable. You probably can recount one or more of your visits as well as the emotions you felt during it (frustration, anger, relief, happiness). Gracy’s story cuts across the emotions of a DMV visit, suggests what about the DMV has helped it maintain its bad reputation, and how you can reframe that perception.
Hint: It has to do with human interaction and it’s worth reading to the end!
How Self-Care Can Create a Miracle at the DMV
Last Thursday, I went to the DMV to get my updated driver’s license and registration. Getting this done had been on my to-do list for more than six weeks, and I finally had all the pieces I needed.
I don’t know about you, but the DMV always makes me nervous. I arrived assuming I forgot an important form. So with this anxiety, I took my place in a long line, was given my ticket, and and went to look for a seat. I had a midwife’s appointment in the later afternoon, and I hoped I would make it out of there in the next hour so I wouldn’t be late. I tried to read, but mainly just watched the clock and the numbers clicking down.
After about 30 minutes, they called my number. I was elated! I would totally have enough time. But as I moved closer to my assigned station, a man moved in front of me and began talking to the clerk. He explained that he was the number before mine and hadn’t heard them call his.
The clerk told me I would have to wait until he was done. Over the loudspeaker, they began calling the numbers after mine. I asked her if there was any way she could put my number back into the mix. She told me she couldn’t, and I would just have to wait.
Frustrated, I explained to the man that he had just cut in front of me, and that because of my midwife’s appointment, I wouldn’t be able to wait. Could he instead wait for me, since he was the one who had missed his turn? I emphasized that I was eight months pregnant and that running errands was getting increasingly hard.
I won’t go into exactly how he reacted, but suffice to say that at first he was dismissive, and when I insisted, he became rude. I wanted to defend myself (and all sweaty, pregnant, cut-in-front-of women everywhere) but I knew I couldn’t. The tears were already coming. I stepped outside into the sticky afternoon air and burst into tears. I cried while I walked home, and then really sobbed as I got inside and sat on the couch.
Sure, some of these feelings were fueled by pregnancy hormones, but I also felt like I hadn’t really lost it this way before. More than being hurt – which I knew how to handle – I felt hateful. I wanted bad things to happen to this man and the clerk who didn’t stand up for me. This was especially confusing because the day before I had seen Amma (the hugging saint), and was filled with a strong sensation of unconditional love in her presence.
And beyond that, I just felt really depressed that we treat each other this way. Bureaucracy has always been a huge trigger for me. The more we systematize our lives, the more we can ignore the living, feeling beings who surround us. My experience at the DMV was just a small example of the systematic injustice that many of us have to go through every single day of our lives.
That night, my anger and depression woke me up, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. In my desperation, I started praying. I asked to find a resolution to these horrible feelings that I couldn’t seem to metabolize.
On Saturday that resolution arrived! I was out with my partner Micah, and we were walking from dinner to the Black Cat (where we saw this awesome, raw storytelling show). As we passed a ramen restaurant with outdoor seating, I froze. The man from the DMV was sitting right there! He was eating a bowl of ramen with a woman. What were the odds? I knew this was the answer to my prayers. I didn’t particularly want to confront him, but I couldn’t ignore this immense coincidence.
After a quick pep talk, I walked up to their table and, with a shaky voice, introduced myself. I told him how our interaction had made me feel, and explained that being very pregnant is uncomfortable. I finished by requesting that he be more respectful of pregnant women he encountered in the future.
He didn’t say much other than “ok,” but from the expression on his face, I think he heard me. Then, his lady friend turned around and got upset with me. She didn’t believe he had cut in front of me in line and asked me to go away. I obliged because at that point I was done. I had faced my fear and said how I felt. My prayers had been answered. I was set free.
But even though I felt better, I still had to go back to the DMV. So yesterday, I packed my backpack with the necessary forms and whispered affirmations as I walked back over to their Rhode Island Avenue location. I had joked with Micah that going to the DMV would become my new spiritual practice, and I was trying to treat it as such.
This time was different. There was absolutely no line when I arrived, and they called my number immediately. But when the clerk looked over my papers, he told me I was missing one proof of address. (Apparently the four other forms I brought didn’t cut it.) He gave me a suggestion — getting Pepco to email over my bill — and sent me away.
After Pepco didn’t pan out, I walked back up the front desk in desperation. Instead of being met with indifference, all three of the clerks began giving me suggestions. They told me I could pull up my latest credit card statement and use that as proof. When I couldn’t download it to my phone, the lady clerk — the same one who hadn’t helped me the time before — generously offered that I could use her computer, even though it was against the rules.
After I printed out the form, they called my number again. I approached nervously. The lady behind the counter barely made eye contact with me as she started doing my paperwork. Everything looked to be in order, so I let myself relax a little.
Suddenly, she looked at me and asked when my baby was due. I explained next month. She told me that she became a mom for the first time when she was my age. From there we talked about raising kids, becoming a foster parent, and how to deal with all the issues that arise from not having a father present. At the end of our conversation she wished me good luck, and I saw she had tears in her eyes. I thanked her and had to blink back my own.
We had done it! Not only did I have my new registration and temporary driver’s license, but we managed to build a real human connection across the counter at the DMV. I realized that my story about bureaucracy being inhumane was only as true as I allowed it to be. When I showed up relaxed and human, I could have a different experience.
What does this have to do with self-care? To me, having healing human interactions like these should be the fruit of all our personal self-care work. If we are treating ourselves kindly, inquiring deeply into our emotional states and asking for help from something higher, I really believe we can create a different way of being together in our world.
The self-awareness that self-care gives us is essential to changing our perceptions and inviting others to do the same. Self-care, if we are doing it authentically, should lead to a greater care for others, and the energy to carry that intention out in our interactions (yes, even the very challenging ones).
On my way out, one of the men behind the front desk waved me over to ask if I got everything taken care of — another sweet gesture of care — and I responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up and a loud “Thank you!” The other ladies waved to me as well.
I emerged back onto the muggy streets feeling joyful, and just a little bit sad that I wouldn’t be going back again. In such a strange way, I felt like those people had become my friends. They had helped me to grow and shown me compassion along the way.
I walked home and, once again, began to sweat. Inside though, I felt grateful. This life, even when it doesn’t always seem that way, always has such a charming way of reminding me of its real beauty. My job is just to pay attention and allow myself to be transformed by it all.