Friday, November 5, 2010

The Circle of Life at the DMV

Addie got her driver's license today.

I think part of me just assumed that driver's ed would go on forever, that the list marking off her hours would just keep growing without ever reaching that magic 40 hours, that she would never drive off on her own where the roads are full of bad drivers ...

I'm having the typical mother's angst about it, of course, but I did make the agonizing choice to let her take the car to the football game where her marching band is playing tonight. It was made slightly less agonizing by my need for a prescription painkiller that I would have had to put off for about four hours if I'd had to go pick her up, but it was still agonizing.

It wasn't just the pancreatic pull for percocet, though. Something incredibly spiritual happened at the DMV today, sort of a message from some sort of higher power that everything goes in cycles ... even driving.

Addie didn't have school today because of a teacher workshop day, and I stayed home from work to get some rest--I was supposed to stay out of work yesterday (had a doctor's note stating it) but went in anyway, which was clearly a mistake since I ended up in even more pain as well as being completely exhausted by the time I got home. I hate to miss work, but I guess sometimes it's the right thing to do.

Anyway, when I woke up from my very long morning nap, Addie was counting up the hours on her driving log, although I think she must have known she was all set. She looked at me with her big blue eyes, smiled hopefully, and asked if I felt well enough to go to the DMV ... after all, it wasn't like I had to drive or anything.

The line was pretty long when we got there, which was kind of boring. At one point, the door opened and it was one of Addie's friends ... she'd just taken (and passed) the state test, so she and Addie hugged and did the adolescent girl squeal. After that, though, we just kind of stood in line; it was pretty much too loud to talk, and both Addie and I are kind of into people-watching anyway.

I didn't notice the elderly man directly in front of us at first other than to observe that he was very tall and had a cane in his hand. When his turn in line came up, though, something told me to listen.

"I need to turn my license in and get a non-driving picture ID," he said.

The DMV woman looked confused. "Did you lose your license, sir?" she asked. "Was it revoked?"

"No," he replied politely. "I'm just not able to drive anymore."

"But your license isn't expired? You still have it in your possession?"

He took out his wallet with hands that shook, although his voice was strong. "It's right here, ma'am. I just want to turn it in for a non-driving picture ID since I'm not able to drive anymore."

"Well, I can do that, sir ... but, uh, why?"

"That part of my life is over," he said. "I've had a driver's license most of my life, but things are different since I've had some medical setbacks."

"I'm sorry to hear that, sir."

"Don't be. It's just how things are."

And then the next DMV person became available, so Addie and I got caught up in turning in paperwork, verifying stuff, and the clerk explaining to Addie the nuts and bolts of the written part of the test ("written" being a relative term ... it's actually a touch-screen computer test).

The old man next to us had been talking to his DMV rep about how excited he was to be able to keep the picture from his old license, since good photos are such a crapshoot.

As Addie went into the computer testing room, he caught my eye. "Is this her first license?" he asked me.

I nodded in reply. "Well, assuming she passes the test."

"She'll do just fine." He widened his gaze to include the DMV lady. "You have a brand new driver with a lifetime of travels ahead of her and a man with a lifetime of driving memories behind him."

The clerk looked bored and annoyed--or both, and to be fair, the line was pretty darn long--but I literally felt chills. Not bad chills; just the contrary, in fact.

It was like this man was effectively stepping down from his driving life so that my daughter could begin hers. I know it sounds stupid, but it really felt that way. A feeling of serenity just overtook me at that moment, and I smiled at the man and thanked him.

When Addie got out of the computer testing room, he was just getting into the passenger seat of a car in the parking lot. His wife opened the door for him and helped him fasten his seat belt because his hands were shaking so much. I looked away then because my sweet child was pumped about passing the written test but was freaking out about the driving part of the test (she ended up passing it, of course).

When we finally left the DMV, the old man was long gone, of course.

I don't think I will ever forget him, though.