Constable: Driver's license renewal offers time for meditations on mortality

  • The wait at a suburban secretary of state's office might make you think you've been in line since the flip phone in this poster was new. But spending time with strangers waiting to renew driver's licenses gives one time to ponder.

      The wait at a suburban secretary of state's office might make you think you've been in line since the flip phone in this poster was new. But spending time with strangers waiting to renew driver's licenses gives one time to ponder. Burt Constable | Staff Photographer

  • Lines at secretary of state driver services facilities are a given. But a proper attitude helps relieve the stress.

      Lines at secretary of state driver services facilities are a given. But a proper attitude helps relieve the stress. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • This flyer displayed at the entrance to the secretary of state driver services facility in Schaumburg notes that people who want to fly domestically as of Oct. 1, 2020, need a passport or the new REAL ID, which can be included in your driver's license.

      This flyer displayed at the entrance to the secretary of state driver services facility in Schaumburg notes that people who want to fly domestically as of Oct. 1, 2020, need a passport or the new REAL ID, which can be included in your driver's license. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • COURTESY OF ILLINOIS SECRETARY OF STATESecretary of State Jesse White holds up a REAL ID in his right hand and a standard driver's license in his left. People who want to fly domestically as of Oct. 1, 2020, need to carry a REAL ID or bring their passports.

    COURTESY OF ILLINOIS SECRETARY OF STATESecretary of State Jesse White holds up a REAL ID in his right hand and a standard driver's license in his left. People who want to fly domestically as of Oct. 1, 2020, need to carry a REAL ID or bring their passports.

 
 
Updated 12/12/2019 8:55 AM

Our son Will, a philosophy major who meditates twice daily, urges my wife and me to partake in a 10-day retreat at the Dhamma Pakasa Vipassana Meditation Center in Pecatonica near Rockford. The ancient meditation practice, discovered by Buddha 25 centuries ago, uses one's body and breath as the basis for developing concentration and insight.

It's not a cult, it's completely free, and it requires that you shut out the rest of the world and keep silent for nine of those days as you receive instructions in the practice of Vipassana meditation. We appreciate the encouragement, but unwilling to burn valuable vacation time on self-improvement, we take a pass on the retreat for now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The world offers chances for reflection if you know where to look. I find my moment in one of three lines alongside dozens and dozens of others at a suburban secretary of state's office in pursuit of renewing my driver's license.

While I doubt I'd get carded, honesty (and perhaps ego) keeps me from standing in the shortest line for expectant mothers, people with disabilities and people 65 or older. I opt for the slower of the two remaining lines. Were a political discussion to break out, I suspect punches would be thrown in this diverse and teeming mass.

Instead, I am pleasantly surprised by how polite and accepting people are. No one tries to cut in line. No one breaks the stillness with the usual cacophony of electronic sounds from cellphone games. No phone conversations about embarrassing medical conditions. There isn't even a heavy sigh as people wait in line 20 minutes before they reach a human behind a desk.

"Wealthy or famous people do not get priority for organs," reads one of the electronic message boards in our waiting area.

Likewise, wealthy or famous people do not get priority for getting their licenses renewed. Well-dressed business types wait in line behind a mom holding a kid in one arm and a plastic bag of belongings in the other.

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The messages about organ donation remind us how alike we are. The story of a new heart for Kelvin, a DJ, is so intriguing, I do an online search and discover he's a husband and father with a "boisterous, loving personality," according to giftofhope.org, an Itasca-based charity promoting organ and tissue donation.

The messages showing Cindy, whose 17-year-old daughter, Morgan, donated her organs after she was killed in a motorcycle crash, inspire me to watch a YouTube video telling that story. The messages continue: Nationally, 21 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. About 5,000 Illinois residents are waiting for organs. A single donor can save or enhance 25 lives.

Just as death often seems random, so does the selection of which one of us will be called to the front of the line. A computerized voice and the message boards rattle off the numbers of those whose turn has come. B211 is followed by J601 and F602 before my X512 is called.

Having brought my mortgage papers, tax returns, a utility bill and my passport, I apply for the new REAL ID, which I'll need come Oct. 1 to fly domestically without having to carry my passport.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I realize I'm not the man I was even four years ago when I can't make out the letters on line five of the eye test. This means my new license will have a restriction for the first time, noting that I can't drive without glasses. Coming to grips with that ugly truth, I do some soul-searching and boldly tell the clerk to add five pounds to the weight listed on the unrestricted license of my 2015 self.

On the counter, a silver suggestion box sits below a handwritten sign in pink ink, noting, "We welcome customer comments."

I've been here 80 minutes, need to get back to work, and don't leave a note. But I should have written, "Thanks for giving me the chance for some introspection in less time than a 10-day retreat."

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