The universe has a way of teaching us valuable lessons, often despite our attempts to block our learning pathways.
The obstacles I put up often are erected by my own impatience, anxiety and desire for control. The lessons I learn, despite these obstacles, often come to light as a result of my foibles and faux pas. In other words, I go through life with a mission, a strategy, profound organization and planning and compulsion for making sure things go right. For example, when I am on a business trip, I am always triple checking that I have everything I need, that I am running on schedule and that all the pieces come together precisely according to plan. Then, occasionally, I do something really flaky that throws my planetary orbit completely awry.
Yesterday, I facilitated a medical meeting at a hospital in Mississippi. When it was over, I knew I had time, with a nice cushion built in, to drive 95 miles to the Memphis airport in time to catch my flight home. I packed the trunk of my rental car and reorganized my materials and belongings efficiently for the flight. I triple checked everything: meeting materials organized, boarding pass and ID accessible, car and house keys where I could access them when I got home, phone in hand in case of emergency.
In a nanosecond of flakiness, I closed the trunk of the rental car. With the keys inside.
Everything was in the trunk of the locked car, except my purse, the contents of which I had emptied into my computer bag, also locked in the trunk. Fortunately, I had my phone and my wallet.
Let me first say that all prior moments of anxiety on this trip were assuaged by the exceptional niceness of Mississippians. From Internet and printing problems at the hotel to the logistics during the meeting, everyone who crossed my path bent over backward, not only to help but to care for me in the process. At the risk of generalizing, there really is something to the notion of Southern hospitality. It’s like having a mother everywhere you go. People really care about you and will go to whatever lengths it takes to get you what you need. This was the first lesson: no matter how impatient you are with people, they can beat you down with kindness.
After a moment of panic, I called the car rental company to see what they could do. I naively thought they could flip a switch and unlock the car remotely. The Southern gentleman rental agent apologized that this was not the case and offered to send someone out, for a fee and perhaps not in time for me to make my flight. He suggested AAA might be a better option but assured me he was there if I needed him.
I called AAA. By this time, I was in a fair tizzy. I was connected to the Northern Mississippi agent, whose name, aptly, was Mr. Nice. I could tell he felt my pain. He would send someone immediately if I gave him the address. The address was locked in my car. He remained on the phone with me patiently while I walked back to the hospital reception desk. While he waited for me to give him the address, he gave me a callback phone number and a confirmation number. I grabbed a pen from my purse but had nothing to write on, except a tea bag. I jotted lots of information down on the paper wrapping of the tea bag and, when the receptionist finally became free, I asked her for the hospital address, gave it to Mr. Nice and hung up. She asked me why I needed it, if I was already in the hospital. I told her of my foible and that I had called AAA.
She said, “Honey, why didn’t you just call hospital security?” I admit, I had thought of that, but I didn’t want to detract critical hospital resources from the business of saving lives and thought I could handle this on my own. Another lady came over and joined in the chorus of “Now, you call and cancel your triple-A right this minute and let us help you.” I hesitated. She called security herself and set up the rescue. I still hesitated. She insisted. I cancelled AAA and hoped for the best. Time to catch my flight was running short.
She said, “Honey you best get out to your car so they can help you,” and said a security agent would be out, shielding her mouth and whispering, “just as soon as he tends to an urgent matter over in Behavioral Health.” Who knows how long that could take? Plus, I already had observed (from the fact that no one in Mississippi seemed to drive faster than 10 miles per hour below the speed limit) that “urgent” to this city girl and “urgent” to others have two different definitions.
The security agent arrived within 20 minutes, then took an additional five just to get out of his car. It was then I learned that breaking into a locked car is a manual process. My second lesson: The Chevrolet Impala is an extremely secure, tamper-resistant machine. The very warm and friendly man, who assured me he unlocks several cars a day, could not crack this nut. After trying every instrument in his arsenal—including something that looked like a blood pressure cuff—I decided to help. I pressed my face up against the window of the passenger door and navigated him to the well hidden and protected (for a reason) unlock switch: half an inch to the right, an inch down, back up, almost there, bingo! Actually, “Alleluia!” was what I shouted (even in Lent, when the word is taboo). I broke into tears and thanked him profusely. He apologized profusely to taking so long. The third lesson, much like the first lesson, so simple yet so compelling, being nice can change someone’s world.
I won’t bore you with the how the rest of the adventure played out; it’s better to end here.
When I said my bedtime prayers at three o’clock this morning, I gave thanks for Southern hospitality and the many souls—Courtyard Marriott desk clerks, AAA’s Mr. Nice, the two ladies at hospital reception (one of whom ran after me as I was leaving, to give me a hospital note pad) and the security guard, whose name I have already forgotten. May we all take a lesson that we can change the world just by being nice.