North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

August 14, 2013

Danielle Cater: Sometimes, all you can do is smile

By Danielle Cater
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Isn’t it funny how things that don’t directly pertain to you seem so minute until they start to affect you? I got to thinking about this as I was standing in line at the courthouse this past week.

I have seen the news coverage of the lines at the courthouse wrapping around blocks of downtown, and although I’m sure I should have cared, I just always figured I wouldn’t have to worry about it unless I bought a new car. Since I hate to buy new items, I figured this was a distant issue — surely by the time I’m ready to purchase another car in 10 years the county will have the courthouse line issue settled. But alas, my lack of concern has now turned into hours of my life being snuffed out by waiting.

I am among the thousands of Jefferson countians who would prefer to pay my annual tag renewal online or by mail. Nothing makes me happier than feeling like I beat the system, so every time I send in my tag renewal, I have a tinge of accomplishment knowing that I skipped out on having to stand in that line by paying a little extra for a stamp and a fee.

This year is no different than all of the others. I put my pretty little check in an envelope with a copy of my license and a copy of my insurance, and off she went to accomplish what she was set forth to do.

About two weeks later I got the return envelope. I excitedly ripped it open, expecting in to find my $85 little sticker. But alas, there wasn’t a sticker at all — there was my check (uncashed), my copies of my license and insurance with highlighting on them and a letter with one little check mark on it. UGH! Why can’t anything be easy with Jefferson County!

Not to be concerned, I’ll just figure out what they require and drive down to the Center Point courthouse. I hear there are shorter lines there.

Apparently the issue that got me kicked off my happy box is that my name changed. Yes, my name changed. I got married, and dadgum, that name change can be a real pain in the tush at times like this. With chin held high I continued to read my little letter to see what all documents I would be toting with me to the courthouse.

Wow! I had to have my original divorce papers, my marriage certificate, my original title to my car, my Social Security card, valid drivers license and proof of insurance. I was willing to give them my first-born to just get it over with after I had gone through the trouble to find all of that stuff.

Friday I got all of my ducks in a row — even called the courthouse to make 100 percent sure I had everything they could possibly want — and took off for a lunch break at the courthouse. I wanted to beat the lunch rush, so I left at 9:30 a.m. to get in and get out quicker.

When I walked in I noticed lots of unhappy people sitting in rows staring at the doors. That’s when the lady pointed at a seat in the fourth row and said, “That’s where you’ll be for a while.” Yes, there were 40 people sitting in front of me, waiting. Then I looked up at the desks and noticed that there were 20 people actually standing in line before these 40 people. Needless to say, by 2:15 p.m., I was starving and walking out the door with a simple name change on a tag. That may have been the single, most annoying thing about getting married.

As I sat in that room, watching the rows upon rows of incredibly unhappy people, it occurred to me that life isn’t always happy, it isn’t always fun, but it is always functional. There was no fiber of my being that wanted to be there, but while I sat, it gave me time to smile at workers who looked like no one had smiled at them in years. I got to practice holding my tongue as every sarcastic thought danced across my mind. And whether I liked it or not, it made me slow down on a Friday and just breathe.

Sometimes our days don’t go exactly like we plan, but keep breathing. Keep smiling. And who knows, maybe your smile will make a difference in someone else’s day.

I could have really used a smile during those hours on Friday. There were three actual working employees at that office and 12 watchers, but what good would it have done to have a bad attitude with them? No, just smile.

Smile like you don’t know what’s going on. If it doesn’t brighten someone’s day, it might confuse them badly enough that they smile anyway.