The old man looked back at me, pushed the door open ahead of him, and motioned for me to go through first.  “Thank you,” I said with a slight smile, then walked on.  He will probably never know the effect that single act of kindness had on me!

I consider myself to be, on a normal basis, a fairly easy-going person.  I’m pretty laid-back.  Although I will admit that the only emotion that I seem capable of is anger, on average I don’t let things “get” to me.  I normally take whatever life throws at me in stride.  The aforesaid anger is usually directed at specific groups for the harm they do or humanity in general.  Yes, I get mad often, but I don’t get mad just because I “had a bad day”.  I normally deal with what would have made my day “bad” and move on.  Who cares if I got a flat tire?  There’s probably a little boy in Africa dying of AIDS, struggling to breathe at that same time.  I’m privileged to have a car!  That’s my normal mentality.  My inner philosophy.

Ya, well, the problem with philosophies is that they don’t take into consideration your emotions.  (Of which, we have already stated, I have only one.)  I learned this yesterday. 

It actually started several days ago.   I’ve decided to get a passport.  While at the courthouse, I’m chatting with the lady behind the desk–she’s very friendly–and it soon becomes apparent that I cannot apply for one.  Why?  Because I forgot to bring my birth certificate.

Duh! I scolded myself.  I mean, really.  That was just stupidity on my part.  But hey, oh well.  I only live 20 miles from the courthouse, and will be coming into town many more times. 

So, the kind woman behind the desk sent me home with a form to fill out and said when I returned she’d need to see a birth certificate and my Drivers License.

Now we hit yesterday. I woke up in a complete fog.  I knew I was sick.  I’d gone to bed severely plugged and was sleeping with kleenex and a garbage can by my bed.  But apparently someone had turned up the severity of my cold during the night.  I wasn’t just sniffling and blowing my nose. . . I was fighting for breath! 

I slept in and took it easy all morning.  My mom baby-ed me and made sure I was doing everything I could to “nip it in the bud”, as she likes to say.   In the afternoon she had to leave for work, and I was supposed to go with her and help her with a couple computer issues she was having.   I was also going to finish my pass-port business.  I’d drop her off at work, than head to the courthouse.

I wouldn’t have bothered going, except for one factor:  it was my last opportunity.  It was Friday.  Sunday I’d leave to go back to college for who-knows-how-long.  I really wanted to get this done with. 

So I bucked up and went into town.  Armed with all the necessary passport-obtaining materials–including birth certificate!–I went back to the courthouse. 

Although the same lady was there, sitting at a desk not far beyond the main desk, it was another lady who came to help me.  This second lady was very helpful.  We made sure the form was filled out correctly, then she asked if I had my driver’s license. 

I dug through my checkbook.  I dug through my purse.  I could not find my license.  Now, I have never lost my license before.  I have always kept it in my billfold.  But I simply couldn’t find it.  “Um, lemme go check in my car.  Maybe I left it there.”

Very annoyed, but trying to reign in my temper on the hope that my license was sitting somewhere in my mother’s Blazer, I exited the big, intimidating building and began to search the vehicle.  Of course, no license awaited discovery in between all the papers, CD cases and extra mittens that were floating around. 

This is when “mad” hit.  I tried to stop it, really I did.  For those of you who don’t know me well, I talk to myself– a lot.  I literally tried to talk myself out of this feeling.  Remember the little boy dying of AIDS? I said.  I’ll bet he don’t have no passport!  It wasn’t working this time.  Really.  I was sitting in the driver’s seat and I did the whole “hit the steering wheel with your palm” thing.  I yelled “I came all the way into town for this?”  It wasn’t the “long” travel–20 miles wouldn’t kill me.  It wasn’t the embarrassment–I’d survive.  It was the cold.  I was sick. 

I looked terrible.  Really.  I am not being modest.  I had run a comb through my hair but you couldn’t tell.  It was completely wild and untamed.  I didn’t have a stitch of makeup on.  Pale, shadows under eyes, pimples sticking out.  It was bad.  I was wearing a baggy t-shirt and faded, ugly jeans.  Yet I didn’t care.  That’s how disoriented I was feeling.  I was willingly walking around in public looking like this.  But to be doing it for no reason was ticking me off.  All I could think was: I could be home.  I could be reading my book, nursing a steamy cup of chicken noodle soup in my hands and taking advantage of my last opportunity to relax on my Christmas break.  I could be sleeping!   But no.  Instead I was sitting in a cold vehicle searching for an object that I had assumed I’d been carrying on my person.  My second failed-attempt at getting a passport.

Being an English Major, I have this belief that each word is unique.  Even though many words in the English language are “supposed” to mean the same things, according to the dictionary, I believe there is always slight difference. That’s why writers spend so much time trying to find the “right” word to describe  what they need.  There is a difference between annoyed, disgruntled, frustrated, mad, ticked off, and pissed.  The last being the highest level. The last being the stage of anger that I had reached.  I was officially pissed.  It wasn’t normal for me to feel like this over something so little.  Yet that is exactly why I was so mad.  Because I knew that the normal, not-sick Emily wouldn’t have cared. 

So now I was supposed to…what? Go into the courthouse and say “well, I guess I don’t have my license, so good-bye.  I already admitted to having a vehicle here, so obviously I’m not walking and yes, you can assume that, since I’m filing for this passport as an adult, I do not have my mommy sitting outside to drive me home!  Please don’t call your buddies on the next floor…you know, the ones that wear guns and drive in cars that light up?  Thanks.  Oh, and have a nice day!”

This is what was going through my head as I marched back to the courthouse.  Is there a stronger term than pissed? 

Ahead was an older gentleman.  He reached the doors a few steps ahead of me.  I live in a small community, but didn’t recognize this man.  Not surprising.  The courthouse draws people from all over the county.  I remember, in all the rambling anger that was rushing about in my head, thinking man, if this guy held the door open for me, that would really help my mood.  Then, as if I’d said it outloud–and I know I did not–he turned and looked at me. 

Expressionless, he than did just that.  Opened the door.  This is the climax of my story.  This little act.  And, as I said at the beginning of this story, he probably will never know how much that act of kindness impacted me.  Sometimes, when you’re having a bad day, one kind or chivalrous act can completely stop you.

I cooled off a little.  Enough to walk into the Recorder’s office and explain my dilemma.  I had concluded that my license was at home in my other purse.  My dad has always given me grief for having two purses and I was suddenly seeing his point.  I have a brown one, for when I’m wearing brown-toned colors, and a black one for others.  (Guys: don’t laugh.  It’s perfectly normal!  I want my purse to match!  🙂  )

Instead of “I’m calling the cops”,(I knew I was grossly exaggerating the severity of this situation) the lady’s response was “Oh, I feel so bad!” 

“Ya,” I shrugged, pausing just a little too long to be normal.  “It happens, I guess.”  

Although I made sure not to look mad, I have no doubt my keen disappointment shown through. 

So, I went to where my mother works and waited for her to get done.  I pulled out my library book, trying to ignore the fact that I had failed to do something that should be fairly simple.  But soon it became apparent that my mother’s work was taking awhile.  So, I decided to just plain go back home and retrieve my lost license.  It was a 40 mile round-trip, but it needed to happen that day, or it wouldn’t.  The courthouse isn’t open weekends.

I travelled back home.  I was trying to speed things up and get back in time, so I was going 65 in a 55.  I normally travel that speed on that road, anyway, so it was nothing new.  But then it hit me how stupid that was.  While cops did not travel the road often they did, indeed, travel it some.  Getting stopped when I didn’t have my license wouldn’t be good!  And that would happen on such a day!  So I slowed down…some.

I finally got home, ran into my bedroom, threw open my closet doors, and yanked my brown purse off the shelf.

No license.  Figures. 

But now I was worried.  I never touch my license.  I always assume, if I have my purse with, that my license is on me, as well, because I always keep it in my billfold. But I had no memory of ever taking my license out.

Now, I will admit that I’m forgetful.  I misplace things all the time.  (Just ask some of my college buddies how often I lose my dorm keys. lol)  But in most cases, I at least remember doing something with the said object that I’ve lost.  I have a memory of holding it, even if I don’t know what I’ve done with it.

Not so in this case.  I haven’t needed my license in ages, being on campus where you use a Student I.D. for everything.  There is no spot in my memory that has me so much as looking at my license.  It was a scary feeling.  Kinda like a black out when you’ve been drinking.  Or temporary amnesia.  There’s a spot in your life that logic says happened but you cannot recall a thing about it. 

I didn’t know where to begin looking, but I gave my room a brief go-over.  Thankfully, I found it right away.  Months and months and months ago, I’d put my license on my Student I.D. lanyard/key-chain thing.  I don’t remember why, but it was soooo long ago that I’d long forgotten doing so until I saw where it was. 

When I got back to the courthouse, the ladies in the back looked up and smiled, but it was a new, third lady who assisted me this time. 

“I need to get a passport,” I said.  “This is my third attempt, so let’s hope it works this time.  Three strikes you’re out.” 

I had my sense of humor back and was finally putting everything back in proper perspective. 

We got through everything, I showed my license, it was done!

“Okay,” she said.  “That’ll be $75.00 made to the . . .”  

I didn’t hear the rest.  “Oh no.” 

I literally said it out loud.  I had opened up my checkbook, and a lovely deposit slip stared back at me where I usually find check blanks. 

“You don’t have any money?”  She guessed. 

“No,” I assured her.  “I have money.  But I ran out of check blanks.”

Lady #2, from this morning, heard me from her personal desk in the back.  “Oh, no!”  She cried out sympathetically. 

I thought fast.  I had gone to too much trouble to give up.  

“My mom works in town,” I explained.  “Why don’t I go see if she has her checkbook on her.” 

I left.  My mother was shocked.  Chuckled.  “I don’t believe it!”  She said.  Oh, but she wasn’t laughing at me.  She couldn’t.  I’m just like her.  She knew exactly what I was going through!

I remembered being told earlier in the morning that there were two separate fees, so thankfully I knew I needed two signed checks from my mother.

When I went back, lady #2, from the morning, called out,  “Oh, she’s back.  We were rooting for you!” 

I’m sure my story entertained all of their family’s over the supper-table.  

I got it done, though, if that counts for anything.  I finally went through all the hoops to accurately apply for a passport.

Is there a moral to this story?  Not really.  Just to embrace life, because it can take you on some interesting adventures.  And, most of all, think about the gentleman who held the door for me.  It was so insignificant and it didn’t even take away my anger.  But it helped, on some strange level, and I will never forget it.  

Kindness has to be the most under-rated and unappreciated attributes in our culture.


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