car-loanBack in 1988, I was a brand spankin’ new college sophomore, still a little naive about the way the world worked, and pretty solid in the conviction that the way I had always done things was the only way that made sense.

It was a Saturday morning in the Spring, and because the rest of the week I attended early morning classes, I didn’t feel guilty about sleeping in, although on that day, I woke up a little later than I intended. After getting out of bed, getting dressed and getting a little breakfast in my belly, I remembered that I needed to go to the ATM to get some cash for some plans that I had later that night. If I remember correctly, friends and I were supposed to go out to a movie.

“No problem,” I told myself. I lived on campus at the time, and the student union was not too far away from my dorm room. So I put my purse with my ATM card in it over my neck and my shoulder so that I could still push my wheelchair with both hands, and set out. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal.

I could not have been more wrong.

The sign was huge, so I saw it from several feet away. “OUT OF ORDER!” screamed the ATM machine. Not. Part. of the. Plan.

Now, at this point, I realize that most other people would start thinking through their options. Can I borrow money from a friend? or “Maybe from now on I should keep a little cash in a hiding place in my room so that this situation doesn’t happen again…”

None of those things went through my mind at the time. To me, the only possible solution was for me to “wheel” myself to the bank, downtown, about five blocks away. These were the days before debit cards were accepted in places of business. Visa was certainly not everywhere I wanted it to be. It was also back when I held the belief that I had to be independent at all cost.

My thinking told me that it was required that I take care of all the issues that I could on my own. End of story. And no, I didn’t stop by my dorm room to get the gloves that I used when I pushed long distances or the strap that I used to keep my legs in place when they spasm. It didn’t occur to me to do so. In my head, I just knew that I had to get to the bank. Before it closed. Looking back, I now understand that I probably could have easily found a girl who lived on the same floor of my dorm to give me a ride. I simply never considered it.

I set out. The trip was challenging, to say the least. There were several big hills that felt like they had a 70 or 80-degree incline. They ate my lunch. There were some cracks I encountered in the sidewalk that I would swear were part of the great divide. By the time I barely made it halfway, I was huffing and puffing so much I felt like the big bad wolf, except there were no houses in sight. “Keep going,” I told myself, “you need cash for tonight.”

So I continued. Eventually, the bank came into view. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There was only one problem. By the time I arrived, the bank lobby had closed. I thought I was screwed. And then I regrouped. There was one option left. I was in a wheeled “vehicle” of sorts, right?

Swallowing both my pride and my laughter, I made my way to the drive-through lane and carefully rolled over the thing that rang the bell for the bank teller. The speaker came to life. “Hello?” I heard. The voice was full of confusion. From the teller’s perspective, I was too low to see. “May I help you?”

Even though I was tired, I couldn’t resist the urge to have a bit of fun.

“Hey,” I said, waving my dirty arms over my head. “I’m here to apply for a car loan.”

There was a moment of silence. But then the ring of her laughter sounded incredibly good to my weary ears. After giving her the information that she needed, I asked for some cash out of my account. When I received it, she told me I had made her day. And she was still laughing as I turned to leave.

It’s funny, all the hills on the way home seemed to go downhill. And making that trip also taught me that a little humor can go a long way in turning a tough day around.

In the years since I’ve gained both maturity and wisdom. These days I know how to ask for help when it’s necessary, and to be okay with the fact that I need it.

By the way, the car loan never actually worked out. But I didn’t really expect it to…