This story begins at the Division of Motor Vehicles, where I went to get my driver’s license renewed.
I sat for about 20 minutes as people came and went, all asking each other how long they had been waiting. The camaraderie among us was strong, mostly because everyone talked about what brought them in that day. There were also a handful of men and women who were emphatically trading stories about how rude and/or inept the employees always are and that they would rather do anything than come to the DMV.
Once my Number 80 was called, I walked to the designated desk to process my application. I braced myself to experience the worst.
The woman I was assigned to, who I will call “Patty” for her St. Patrick’s Day T-shirt, took my paperwork without looking at me. She turned it from one side to the next a few times. Here we go, I thought. My anxiety was mounting. So, I did the only thing I know how to do in situations where I am at the mercy of someone who, honestly, scares me a little, similar to how I approach the phlebotomist at LabCorp: I make small talk.
I asked Patty how her day had been going so far, even as she stared downward at her desk. She replied, actually lifting her face to look at me for the first time. She then asked if I noticed the pink sweater on one of her coworkers. HUH? That question came out of the blue. I thought I misheard initially—at a time when I was anticipating her instructions to stand back and smile or don’t smile—whatever the rule is these days—for my license picture.
I didn’t see a pink sweater and nervously told her; a minute later a woman with a pink sweater made an appearance—I will call her “Pink”—and sat down. Patty explained that she gave Pink her sweater because of Lent. What do you mean? I asked. She said she (Patty) was channeling her efforts during Lent to do something she has dreaded for years: purging her closets.
We may as well have been having tea somewhere; she sat back in her chair and told me in great detail how awful she used to feel being surrounded by overstuffed closets that prevented her from actually seeing what was inside and how out of sorts she felt in her own home. She let out a sigh of relief when she told me that she and her daughter get along better these days because they don’t argue so much about the 18-year-old’s clothes: now, those piled on the chair or floor are no longer the easiest to reach. Patty actually said that purging her closets has changed her life.
I wondered if Patty shared her breakthrough with anyone else. I didn’t see her engage in other personal chatter, but I couldn’t imagine that I was the only one with whom she expressed her newfound joy. Little did she know, closet organization was right up my alley.
This recent hobby of mine started several months ago when I began to feel that this country was falling apart. No matter where I looked, people were hurting one another with venomous words or killing each other with guns. Nightly, I asked myself what kind of world have I brought my kids and grandkids into?
This angst became magnified when I’d get into bed, as David was drifting off to sleep in the comfort of his C-pap. It was in the darkness—when the lights were out, the room was quiet, and I was alone with my thoughts—that I would stew for hours.
Counting sheep as my mom periodically suggested didn’t do the trick; I needed a more potent plan of action to combat these fears. I began to count backwards from 100 by 3s since it was somewhat challenging initially but over time became boring so I went to counting backwards by 7s which was, I admit, too challenging to be relaxing. I also tried reciting the alphabet backwards because I know my kids can do that but I struggled with that too and gave up.
And then I figured out the closet trick, and it’s never let me down. It literally works every time.
In a nutshell, once David reaches for his C-pap, I close my eyes and begin strategizing: How should I set up the clothing in my closet? Should I group my shirts by color, length or season? Should tie-dyed shirts stay in the front of the closet or move to the back? Where should I place year-round clothing? What can I give away, donate, toss? Should I have a system in place to rotate what I wear so I’m not always seen in the same few outfits? It’s minutiae at its best, focusing on details that don’t matter, not distressing in the least. Before long, I’m hearing the birdies…it’s morning in no time.
The beauty of this new practice is twofold: not only do I fall asleep quickly but I can make practical improvements in my life as a result.
I wanted to share all this with Patty because I was pretty sure she’d get a kick out of it given that we’re on the same wavelength about our closets and perhaps other aspects of home orderliness as well, but she was so deep into her own storytelling that I didn’t get a chance.
Who would have ever thought Patty and I would connect on this level, having just met in the DMV?
It goes to show that, on any given day, one never knows what we share with the stranger in front of us.