Pulling into the Motor Vehicle Commission inspection station always makes me feel hinky.  For one thing, my inspection sticker was overdue, so I felt that they would give me a hard time about that.  Also, based on past experience, I found that the workers weren’t always that pleasant.

So this is how I felt as I pulled my car into the station.

Normally, as you enter the station lot, you pull up to a spot where you take a ticket that tells you how long the wait will be, and then the arm/gate rises and you drive through.  On this day, the arm was up, and there were no other cars waiting, so I didn’t think I needed to take a ticket.

I pulled up to the place where the workers were standing and idled my car.  One of them waved me over to his bay and I pulled up my car slowly.  He had a thick accent from some other country, but his attitude was pure New Jersey.

“So where ya bin?” He demanded, pointing to the overdue sticker. “License, registration, insurance card, gift ticket,” he said brusquely.

I didn’t know what he meant by gift ticket, so as I tried to figure that one out, I handed him my license, and said, “Excuse me… gift ticket?”

He blocked it with his arms crossed.

“Hold it.  Calm down.  What did I ask for?”

I looked at him blankly, unsure why he was telling a respectful person to calm down.  Indeed, he seemed to be the one needing a chill pill.

“License, registration, insurance card, gisst ticket,” he said again.

Oh, he said guest ticket!

I explained that the arm on the toll machine was up and there was no wait, so I assumed I didn’t need a ticket.

He shook his head, disgusted.  “No.  No.  Go back and get a ticket.”

“Okay, so I should back out and go around, then?”

“Yes, yes.”  He said, waving me off dismissively.

I looked around and realized that this was a holy place, just like a church or a shrine.  This was a place where real healing was needed.  It’s a place where human beings interact, and they can bring the best of them or the worst.

Sometimes in the heat of an unpleasant situation, I don’t even know what to pray for, so I rely on an all-encompassing, one-word prayer that seems to cover everything.  So that’s what I did.

“Grace,” I said to God.

As I pulled my car out of the bay and saw the worker glaring at me, I said something to him but he couldn’t hear me.

“Whad you say?!?” he demanded, ready for a Jersey throw-down.

“I said, ‘Thanks for your help, sir.'”

This caught him off-guard and I saw his genuine surprise at this gesture of respect.  He softened around the eyes and said quietly, “You’re welcome.”

I asked him to help me back out of the bay, joking that I didn’t want to run over any of the workers.

And he did.  He smiled, moved his arms to the left to guide me out and said, “Keep going.  You’re fine.”

As I left, I said, “Thanks again, sir.”

“You’re welcome.”  He made a gesture as if tipping his hat.

I thanked him because he did help me, even if he did it in a way that wasn’t pleasant.  He gave me the information I needed to complete my car’s inspection.  He also gave me an object lesson in what I usually only know theoretically.

I’ve always believed that people in pain do things that cause pain, and that the antidote for that condition is kindness.

Everybody’s got a back-story that leads them to behave the way that they do.  It was clear that he had come here from some other country.  He had a thick accent and probably recoiled when anyone said, “excuse me,” as I had, if they couldn’t understand him.  Maybe he had adapted to this country and this sometimes unkind state by being offensive as a defensive measure, as so many people seem to do.  He was very small and very thin, and maybe he felt he had to compensate by talking big.

Maybe he was cold and wet on this bleak winter day working outdoors, and he was breathing in noxious fumes and car emissions.  Maybe he worked all day and dealt with other New Jerseyans who weren’t always that pleasant, and maybe after working all day, he went home and still didn’t have enough money to put food on the table or meet his family’s basic needs.

As I drove my car around and got my guest ticket, I pulled back to the bays to wait for the next worker.  The one I got this time was perfectly pleasant, even cracking jokes.  He talked about how more snow was in the forecast, and finished my inspection in minutes.  I left the inspection station in a fine mood, and I realized that I must have matured in faith, because I’d put my beliefs into action, and instead of reacting to disrespect with more of the same, I acted from my heart, and it had led to a more positive outcome.

“Thanks for Your help, Sir,” I said to God. Even on a rocky road, grace has never steered me wrong.

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