I almost called the police this past Saturday. If you shop at Walmart, you might empathize with me: I walked into the store at one angle, got jumbled up inside, and came out at an angle slightly less or more than the original only to find myself in an unrecognizable part of the parking lot that did not house my car. I didn’t panic at first because this has happened to me before, usually when I am by myself. On my phone. When my wife or children are with me, they typically navigate me in the proper direction.
I usually have good reasons for exiting the store at an angle differently than my entrance. The people in front of me are slow or at a standstill, talking. Maybe I’m avoiding some girl scout or church group at the entrance who wants to single me out for a donation. A time or two, I admit, I have avoided someone coming through the exit door, so I made a last minute decision to go through the entrance losing myself in oncoming traffic, bouncing around like a pin ball only to find myself in some foreign part of the parking lot.
Saturday, however, I had no distractions. I was not on the phone. In increments my Spidey-sense told me something was wrong. The first stage of my panic was one of ambivalence. The parkingscape of a super store constantly changes, so I merely did a 360-degree visual sweep of the lot only to realize I had no idea where I had parked in the first place.
When the visual sweep proved to be unsuccessful, I thought I would retrace my steps to the entrance, hoping to recreate the angle at which I entered the store. However, on my way to the entrance I saw a car I thought was mine about forty feet away. I proceeded to it only to realize at the last second (before I put my key in the lock) that it was not my car. So I tried to nonchalantly walk past it but not before I made eye contact with a “witness” or two sitting in their cars staring at me (and who this very minute might probably be blogging about how they thwarted a car theft on Saturday at the Walmart in my city).
Now, I’m slightly irritated. I knew in general where I had not parked (on the far side off the parking lot), so I started walking up and down the aisles of cars, sweeping my head back and forth to catch a glimpse of my wife’s Volvo. Walking the aisles echoed the religious comfort that most certainly I would find what I was looking for if I walked long enough, if I looked long enough, if I really wanted to find my car. Not wanting to give the impression I was looking for just any kind of car with an unlocked door, I walked across the far side of the parking lot to see if that would give me a different vantage point. It did not.
As has happened before, nonplussed concern turned into heightened alarm. Just as I was about to pull my phone out to call 911, I saw my car. It was two or three aisles over at approximately a 23-degree angle from where I was standing. Its butt was sticking out, and I recognized its blue glint and could see the back windows, blurred foggy by children’s fingerprints. You think I would have been happy, but I found myself chastising the car.
“Why are you there? I didn’t park there” my mind involuntarily suggested.
Now that I was in recovery mode, I walked towards it with purpose, hoping that all previously concerned citizens having observed my aimless power-walking these last seven minutes, would see that I was walking towards my car with my keys. I pulled my keys out, jingling them loudly.
Of course, once you reach the car, it all makes sense now and you can laugh at yourself. You realize why you decided to park, what time it was when you parked, what song was playing on the radio when you parked, your locking the doors, your mental catalogue of the items you planned to get and the order in which you planned to get them, your resolution to be in and out in fifteen minutes. All of the little stories finally make sense because you have your bearings once again.
I objectified the lost person in the parking lot from the confident person now behind the wheel. How comforting familiarity can be. In the comfort of my familiar bearings, I honestly would not mind being lost a hundred times if it would but preserve in me empathy for others. As it is, when the lostness is upon me, it is hard to connect with others in the middle of my own panic.