Encountering Sartre’s “Face” At the DMV.

The most miserable looking person I have ever meet, looked just like this, and has been an employee of the DMV for 25 years.

After almost a month of waiting for my renewed drivers license to come in the mail, I had finally had enough of the waiting. I made an appointment at the DMV yet again, so I could obtain a 60 day temporary license while waiting for my new license to arrive.

Dreading the perpetual atmosphere that usually encompasses an irritating flow of babies screaming and cackling coughs, I forced my way unwillingly through the 3 ‘o clock rush hour crowd of fellow DMV patrons. Thankfully I did make an appointment, so I only waited about 20 minutes. As I waited, instead of observing the refreshing diversity of DMV patrons or “people watching”–assessing outfits, or wondering how many pimpled teens passed their drivers test; I switched views and examined the numbered stations and the employees working behind them.

It was at this point where I encountered this particular employee behind desk 20. Using only words to describe the appearance of this man, really doesn’t even compare to the intensely painful expression I had witnessed on his face. His plump balding head was scabbed and flaked with dandruff, his shirt dusted in it, doubled bridge aviator style glasses layed crooked on his face, looking like someone had just  accidentally knocked them off-center. Though I can describe him physically, the only literal way I can describe the sadden essence of this man is to compare him to what one persons encounters when they realize the face of the “other.” The face of the “other,” is a concept termed by the French philosopher Sartre.

Basically the “face” literally and symbolically describes the raw, unfiltered vulnerability that someone occasionally comes across when staring into the eyes or observing the face of someone else. All of the sudden you can capture, for a brief second, the weaknesses of this other person and are left realizing that the lives of others are essentially what makes up the vast majority of who you are. You are not an individual making your own choices or assuming one role, you chose for the others, you must do everything in your power to live for or help the others…

Snapped out of my observant trance, my ticketed number was called for desk 20; his desk.

I walked over to the desk, looked up, and experienced exactly what Sartre was talking about. I explained my situation with him about the license and all that. However, I started to encourage a little friendly conversation to temporarily distract him from his expressed agony  in which he proceeded to tell me that he was having the worst day of his life. Which would be followed by an hour-long bus ride home, ending with a solo dinner at his favorite Vietnamese restaurant where he knows all the waitresses by name. We had ended up having a 20 minute conversation, and I was worried that his boss would yell at him for lagging but he didn’t seem to care at all. After 25 years of working at the DMV, I wouldn’t care either.

I tried my best for that small, seemingly insignificant moment, to try to cheer him up with a smile or some kind words. It may sound silly or corny but I genuinely wanted to help him.

That day at the DMV, I discovered that my life is nothing without other people, and his life is nothing without other people–and the minute we forget this is the moment we lose our humanity.

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One thought on “Encountering Sartre’s “Face” At the DMV.

  1. So you discovered that we are all the same..all connected by our suffering, and our wish to be free from suffering….this is what Buddha taught.

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