Mike and I have been meaning to renew our passports for at least three years now. Because you never know when we might just need to hop on a cruise or jet off on an Italian holiday or satisfy my hankerin’ for French Roast — in France. We’re so spontaneous like that.

For the past year and a half, we’ve even had the applications filled out, sitting in a folder, along with the pictures we had gotten at Kinko’s, our old passports, and my birth certificate. My passport had long expired, so I needed to start from scratch. Mike is just under the window for getting a renewal rather than starting over, which can be done by mail rather than in person.

I found out last week that instead of going to the post office to do the paperwork, I could go to the courthouse, which was easier because, unlike the local post office, no appointment was required. So yesterday I gathered my folder and the checkbook and set off. After a bit of confusion and a wrong trip to the Deeds office (nowhere on the directory was there a listing for passports, and the guy in the Deeds office was nice enough to look it up for me and determine I needed to go down the hall to the Prothonotary), I was in the right place talking to someone who could process my application.

Started off great.

“Do you need the application?”

No, here it is, all filled out.

“Do you need a picture?”

No I have one (two in fact).

“My, you’re all prepared!”

I beamed proudly.

“Do you have your birth certificate?”

Sure! I handed it over.

“Don’t you have the long form birth certificate with your parents’ names on it?”

(Stunned) No? Do I need that? I don’t think I even have one of those!

“Yes, I can’t use this (perfectly legit, original, state-issued birth certificate).”

(In desperation) Even if I have my old passport?????

“Oh, if you have your old passport, that’s OK.”

Thank you, Jesus.

“OK, let me make a copy of your driver’s license.”

Here. No problem.

“Oh. Wait. You need to fill out this newer application instead. See, your form is dated ’05 on the bottom? There’s a 2010 one you have to use.”

So much for having a neat, typed-on-the-computer-in-the-handy-fill-in-form version.

I trudged off to fill out the new form. Which, by the way, had EXACTLY the same information on it as the form I had already filled out.

“All set? That’ll be $110 made out to U.S. Department of State.”

“Now, I’ll give you the oath. Raise your right hand.”

I swore that yes, the information on the form is correct and that’s me in the picture.

“That’s it, except for our $25 service fee.”

Hmmm, didn’t know about that. I pulled out my checkbook again.

“We don’t take checks.”

Sinking heart. Rush of sweat. There was no way in hell I had $25 in my wallet.

I checked. A ten. A five. And 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 ones. $24.

I glance in the change compartment. Nope, no quarters. Not enough.

“Oh, I only have $24 and some change.”

They looked at me blankly. One woman said, “There’s an ATM in the lobby. They’ll charge you though.”

“I guess I have to go back to my car. I have some money in the car.”

More blank looks.

So back in the elevator I go. Down to the lobby. Four or five blocks back down the hill to my car. Yep, as I knew, I had two ones in my cupholder.

Four or five blocks back up the hill. Through the metal detector (again). Up the elevator to the fifth floor.

A ten. A five. And 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, TEN ones.

She gave me my receipt and I left.

So, a happy ending. A long-put-off task finally done. But it got me thinking. What would I have done in that situation? If I had been on the other side of the counter when I walked in, so prepared, doing everything I was asked, and coming up $1 short on the cash?

Would I have offered a dollar? Or as it turned out when I counted my change, 38 cents?

To be fair, I didn’t ask anyone to help me out. I never would do that — not in my nature.

But I like to think I would have offered the dollar anyway. Made a small gesture to help someone out (and make their day, really).

But, I can’t be sure. I hope I have the opportunity to prove it sometime when someone, a stranger, needs some change for the meter or their grocery order or something else trivial.

Because I really do think “pay it forward” should work even when you weren’t paid in the first place. Gotta start somewhere.

Lesson learned.

Each day, learn something new,
and just as important, relearn something old.

~ Robert Brault