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Not your ordinary visit to the DMV

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The new heart on my license means that I may actually be giving away mine. Wait, what did I just do?

With my driver’s license about to expire, I went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a new one. I could have done it online, but since my picture was taken more than 20 years ago and the new REAL ID will be required for domestic flights in October 2020, I figured I’d suck it up and go in person. You need some serious identification: your original Social Security card, passport, among others.

How bad could it be?

The DMV was its usual chaos. Lines snaked around the corner, red neon signs calling out endless numbers — that was, until they didn’t. About an hour into the waiting process, the electronic machines broke down. A few brave employees actually called out each of our paper numbers, slips like those given at a deli counter, then had us sit consecutively in rows until we were called. This process took hours.

New Yorkers often amaze me during these times, with their ability to talk to everyone around them and keep their composure. A man was holding a six-month-old baby in his arms and didn’t even complain. Of course, no one let him skip the line, either — New Yorkers.

While I had a book with me, I used that time to think about and reflect on my life. I remember the last time I waited for my license. I was in my twenties, I had just returned from the Peace Corps and my shiny dangling earrings took up much of the photograph. I was tan and healthy, and had the world in front of me. I had no intention of being an organ donor. I was not ready to think about such things.

That license took me to California and overseas, but somehow all these years later I was back at Atlantic Avenue ready to start anew. The clerks repeatedly reminded us that we needed to fill out the forms both back and front, lest we hold up the line. And there it was again, check this box if you want to be an organ donor. To check it would mean I’m accepting my own mortality. To check it would change my destiny.

After over four hours, I finally got to the first row of the bench. I looked at the woman next to me, in the blue suit, with whom I had been conversing most of the day, and smiled.

“We’re in the golden seats now, “ I said.

I was finally up. The clerk took my papers, did a quick eye test, one I could still ace (but barely) and wanted to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.

“So, you want to be an organ donor?” she asked.

I paused.

“Yes, yes, I do.”

I signed, paid and left.

Of course, I hope to live a long healthy life, but I know now that things don’t always go as planned. I’m unable to bring children into the world, and the thought that somehow a part of me might live on in someone else offered me a certain peace.

I imagined that a vital organ might prolong someone else’s life. That I could help, even in death, felt honorable. I looked around the DMV and zoned in on that exceptionally well-behaved baby cooing in his father’s arm; perhaps one day I might be helping him, I thought.

My new license recently came in the mail. The address is the same, but almost everything else has changed. The picture is no longer a young woman with the world ahead of her, but a woman who is stronger in different ways. The most significant change is it has a star and a tiny heart on the bottom with the words Organ Donor. A suffix I proudly add to my identity. It symbolizes a way I can help the future.

After all, when one license expires a new one is on the way.

Elana Rabinowitz is a writer and teacher in Brooklyn.

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