When Social Security Speaks

When Social Security Speaks

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

When Social Security Speaks

“I’m sorry, Ms. Senter. We cannot issue you a new driver’s license without verification of your Social Security number.” For the third time, I patiently try to explain that I don’t have a Social Security card anymore. It was stolen at the train station along with my driver’s license, wallet, credit cards, bank cards, cash and children’s pictures.

Isn’t it bad enough that I have to be here today, fighting traffic, facing long, irritating lines of people who would rather be anywhere but here? I take a number and wait my turn, only to be told, “The computers are down at this facility today, but you may obtain a license at another Secretary of State’s office, ten miles east, right off the 290 Expressway.” And all for crimes I didn’t commit. I am still chafing at the thought that some stranger, pushing through post-Christmas rush at Union Station, would have the nerve to zip open my purse and steal my wallet. The inconvenience of it all is not made any easier today when I arrive here, only to find that I have to keep driving—first to a town thirty minutes away to obtain a Social Security clearance, and then another half hour to a second facility where, hopefully, the computers are functioning.

As though I have nothing better to do with my time, I mutter to myself as I take a number and join a third line, this one at the Social Security office. I sense that this is not a happy place to be. Toddlers whine. Adults complain. Being reduced to a number seems to have drained those of us who wait of any semblance of goodwill and peaceful understanding.

“Never have I seen such a rude place in all my life,” an old man with a leathery face laments as he pounds his cane on the tile floor. “Have to take a number before they will even answer your question.” He addresses his comments to no one in particular, but we all nod in silent accord. The cold efficiency, the impersonality of it all does not sit well with me either, especially when I know there is more to come after I leave this place.

And all because someone had the nerve to steal my wallet. I return to the source of my misery and feel my jaw tighten again. I have gone through the scenario before. An unguarded moment. Divided attention. Rushing crowd around me. And how often have I reminded my teenage daughter to carry her purse in front of her when she’s in a crowd. I do not easily forgive myself or the thief.

I am still bothered and disturbed, not only by the theft, but by the hassles of the day, when my number is called and I step to the counter. I am aware that someone in a pink coat steps up beside me. I am also aware that it is not her turn. I sat and waited. Let her do the same, I think to myself.

“I’m sorry, miss. You’ll have to take a number and wait your turn.” The clerk speaks with irritation I feel.

“But all I needed was . . .” Two small children pull at her coat, and the baby in her arms cries a hacking cry. The clerk repeats her instructions with growing force and irritation.

“Please, ma’am,” the young mother starts again. This time her words come out with a sob. “All I wanted to know . . . is this where I get my husband’s death certificate?”

We are stopped short, the clerk and I. Neither of us knows what to say. I want to gather the mother into my arms, wipe away her tears, hold her crying baby, calm her restless toddlers. Instead, I step back from the counter and mumble something about being sorry and, “Go ahead.” The clerk speaks to the grieving woman in hushed tones, then hands me the necessary forms, and I return to my seat to write. But I have been silenced and humbled. A lost wallet, and she has lost a husband, I reflect as I fill out the forms. My losses seemed tragic until now.

I drive to my next stop with a thankful heart. In my mind, I see the woman in the pink coat again and hear her sob. And even as I drive, I pray about her loss and begin the process of forgetting my own.

Ruth Senter

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