All around us are everyday heroes. People who go the extra mile, who do what's required and more with a smile and a kind word, people who really care about their work and others.
My particular “hero” is a postal clerk named Lisa who works at Kula Post Office. But to understand why she’s noteworthy, I have to tell a bit of a story.
It all began 27 years ago when a very young Toby Wilson fell in love with a not-so-young Mike Neal. They went to Kapaa Liquor Store on Kauai to fill out their marriage license. I can’t remember if drinking was involved, but certainly silliness was when I filled out Toby “Lina” Neal on the license because Mike’s pet name for me at the time was Tobylina. I kept Wilson for practical use and other than that “marriage license moment” my name has always been Toby Wilson Neal.
Well, somewhere in the intercontinental moves and intervening years we lost the marriage license, which never mattered until this birthday, when I needed to renew my driver’s license. A week before that day, feeling virtuous for having cleared my schedule for the four hours I anticipated I’d need to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles, I steeled myself and went into the crowded room and took my ticket.
The supervisor hollered across the room: “You getting one renewal?” She must have spotted the code I had to punch in.
“Yes,” I said, blushing, with 50 people looking on.
“You get your birth certificate, social security card, one current passport and your marriage license?” Her voice was very loud.
“No,” I said, my cheeks hot. “I didn’t know you had to have all that.” (Well, there had been that postcard with the upgraded requirements, but I thought if I had the birth certificate and social security card, that would be enough…)
“Well, no can unless you get. If your name is different than your birth certificate, you have to show it how got to be what it is.”
“Okay,” I said meekly, and went home to freak out. Which I did in grand style, with yelling, stomping, tearing apart the house looking for the missing document that I knew wouldn’t help anyway.
“You should never have let me do that!” I yelled at Mike. “I was too young and dumb back then, you were supposed to know better!” He just grinned, conveying what we both thought 27 years ago—how serious could this piece of paper be, that we filled out with the KOOL MENTHOLS sign pulsing at us behind the old clerk’s head? I still remember the shadowy depths, liquor bottles, dangling flypaper and sagging wooden floor—I wasn’t even legal to buy alcohol there that day.
Ordering the marriage license, when I eventually found Kauai County records office online, was going to take six weeks—and it wouldn’t help me even when I got it.
The updated passport was the only way out. I dug my old one out—expired seven years, which meant I couldn’t renew online. I filled out the lengthy application, almost succumbed to a scammer (we looked it up—they rook you out of $250.00 to tell you what you need to do anyway) gathered my aged, fragile records, and drove to the Kula Post Office.
I went in and the office was mercifully empty. I took my stuff to the desk and said, “I need a passport as soon as possible.”
“Do you have an appointment?” the lady, my hero, asked. (Her name is Lisa, I know now) She saw my eyes fill with tears as I groped for words because she said, “It’s okay, never mind. We aren’t busy, we’ll fix you right up.”
I broke into a stuttering rendition of the above story. She was kind and sympathetic and said she had never seen so many applications for passports, and almost on my birthday too. And with speedy, kind efficiency, she took care of the documentation, had me raise my hand and swear I was who I was, and in fifteen minutes I was out of there.
“I bet you get it in time,” she said. “It'll get to Oahu today.”
On my way out to the car, I told myself that when I got my license I was taking her flowers. She had made me feel so much better, able to just forget the whole thing and surrender to whatever the whole annoying, time-wasting process was going to be.
Well, the passport arrived the day before my license expired. I was able to run with it in my hot little hand to the DMV and in a mere three hours of waiting, get my license a day before my birthday.
So today I took her an orchid plant, and a signed copy of Torch Ginger.
“Thank you for being kind to me on a very hard day. I think that’s really worth something in this day and age.” And I teared up and couldn’t speak, and darned if she didn’t too. She’d seen my newspaper article and knew who I was, and that felt good.
I am who I am, and I even have a passport and a driver’s license to prove it, thanks to Lisa. I hope she knows what a difference she made to one very stressed-out customer.
So here’s to all the everyday heroes all around us—not least of them the poor overwhelmed clerks of the DMV—who can’t be blamed for being a little grumpy with all that’s been piled on their plate–the state cut staff, closed offices, and just gave them doing all the state ID cards too. *sigh*
Be kind. You never know what a difference it might make in someone’s life. And it can't hurt to thank those who are kind to you, too. We can all be everyday heroes.