I have always found parking lots to be places where clarity can take hold. This may be to do with the simple transition from seated to standing, or the anticipation of having to re-integrate oneself back into the world of people, having been shut up in a self-contained world for some time. Then again, there is a sort of clearly demarcated transition in leaving behind your vehicle, locking it, remembering where you parked, and moving off, hoping for the best. Others who may have arrived along with you are doing likewise, while haggard shoppers with carts full of goods are making the reverse journey, leaving public space behind and going back to private.
The most beautiful sunrise I have ever witnessed was on a January morning in Meijer’s parking lot on New Year’s Eve morning. I had just dropped my son off at the airport for an early morning flight back to his home. It was an unnaturally warm January, with fog in the predawn darkness and thawing snow. I remember thinking of “Casablanca” as my lights penetrated the fog at the airport. We said our goodbyes and parted, and a chapter was closed. I drove away. As long as I was in town I thought I would buy groceries. It was still dark as I entered the store, and my head was not clear. When I came out the sun was shining under red bands of clouds in the sky, and the promise of renewal was strong. I stood in the vast parking lot and sniffed the fresh air, all the time looking up into the sky at the deepening blue and red cloud turning gradually white. Everything seemed possible at that moment.
Last week I pulled into a large parking lot outside a grocery store. We have been having an unusually mild September, and when I say “mild” I hope to avoid the weather cliché use of the world. The air is indeed mild, in the sense that it is not too humid and not too dry, not demandingly hot but certainly not cold. It is a tepid sort of precursor to what we all know awaits us: winter. Every day seems a gift.
A warm breeze makes the world seem charitable and beneficent. Bright, low-slanting light casts long shadows on the tarmac. I get out and look around. I shut the car door and move down an aisle of cars toward the store. In front of me is a mother and her college age son. He is wearing the ubiquitous cargo shorts, low slung and baggy. He shuffles along, pocketing his keys as he moves. His shaven head and sandals lend him an air of a recently treated chemotherapy patient. The only thing missing from this scene ( the shuffling gait, the shaven head, the eddy of time, his mother by his side) is the rolling trolley which holds his I.V. The world is in remission on this mild and pleasant day.