Life Lessons at the DMV

I know that in Arizona the DMV is actually the MVD. But MVD sounds a bit like a disease, so I’ve stuck with the east coast acronym – DMV it is.

I had to visit one when it came time to change my last name. I decided to visit the location closest to my office, which is the Phoenix South Mountain complex. It never dawned on me that the majority of the clientele at this stop on the 2011 Name Change Tour might not all be coming from white collar jobs. They might not be coming from jobs at all. I’m fairly convinced most of them were there for reasons far beyond my comprehension.

I had decent enough timing and only had to wait about 15 minutes before I was called. I guess this is as safe of a place as any to admit that I get anxiety at places that call you by a random number. Whether it’s a restaurant or a government office, I dislike the unexpected pressure to report for duty. Yeah. I actually get stressed about the risk of missing my number, or mishearing someone else’s number for mine, or any other sort of asinine situation that might cause embarrassment in front of strangers.

At any rate, I had enough time waiting to be called to observe my surroundings and the other people around me. I was fascinated by the complete mix of society that had come together for issues all relating to state-issued identification.

I got married. But seriously – what is everyone else here for?

I can make light of it now, but when I left that day I was almost in tears. Not because I had to trade my name for one that was just as ethnically indistinct, but because it was harder than I could have imagined to see the other people in line.

There were children with children, and lots of them. Women being yelled at by men, children being sworn at by mothers. Babies covered in dirt and wet diapers. I was appalled. And depressed. And at a total loss for words – clearly a rarity for this girl.

The hardest part wasn’t seeing members of my community who live in extreme poverty. I’ve volunteered in third world countries and traveled enough to have visited and dwelled in some truly dire circumstances. It was the fact that this melting pot of despair was minutes from my office – and a few more minutes from my home, but I’d been totally insulated.

I’ve heard all the statistics about poverty, homelessness and the sad state of life for many. And I think I tend to have a pretty realistic perspective on life. But it felt differently when I became aware that I was wearing jewelry worth more than these families would see in a decade. My car was worth more than their homes. I became so desperate to do something that I was unable to do anything. I was reminded of The Power of Half and the idea of living in greater moderation.

I don’t think I’m ready to make that dramatic of a move – yet – but I know I can do more. And give more. And take less. We’re in a recession and we’re all watching our spending, but we all have the gift of time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the volunteer rate declined by 0.5 percentage points, to 26.3 percent, for the year ending in September 2010. Not good. But in better news, people in Phoenix are making strides toward helping others. We just need more help!

My dad’s taught me that when you’re overwhelmed with despair, do one thing, however small it may be, to make a difference. I know I can’t save all the people I saw at the DMV, but I can very easily make a difference for someone. I’ve been a Big Sister since I finished college, and have spent the past few years volunteering with groups like hospice care, Habitat for Humanity, Girls on the Run, Southwest Human Development, Save the Family and some other groups that make a big difference. I know I’m not saving the world, who am I kidding, but I like to think the small part I play does something tiny to help even the score for someone less fortunate than me.

After 20 minutes at the DMV I got my new license and left. But a month later I still haven’t shaken the feeling that hit too close to home to ignore. I need a better solution.

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2 thoughts on “Life Lessons at the DMV

  1. Nice observation my friend. i had similar feelings waiting for 2 hours at the DVM on 51st St. and indian School. In fact a couple police officers came in and arrested a young man for what I don’t know, but I overheard some guy say to his wife: “Can’t we all just get along?” It is surely a cross section of humanity!

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