Purpose in a Parking Lot

What are you looking at? She asks, and in the window’s reflection, I watch her turn towards me.

That parking lot. I tell her, shortly.

Quiet falls over the car then, once more. The CD continues to play, muted beats of the same 15 songs we’ve had on repeat for three hours already.

I look out the window, still. Staring at the same scene I’ve been studying for several long minutes already.

There’s more she could have asked; the same question I’ve been straining, reaching, to answer, sitting here at this hillside traffic jam.


Why has this scene so mesmerized me? Why can’t I look away? Why does my heart catch, heavy and yet somehow expanding, lightening, as if my heart itself is pumping helium, not blood, through my veins as I gaze down at the scene below me.

The lot lies yards beyond our right lane stand still, separated from the traffic above by a sloping, uneven hill. The hill itself is carpeted in vibrant grass, blowing exuberantly in the summer breeze.

It’s the parking lot of a restaurant. The square brick building, its back side windowless, stands resolute, comfortingly confident in its independence.

There are six cars in the little lot. A hatchback, two pickup trucks, an old, rusting jeep, and two small SUVs.

There’s nothing to see, really. Nothing unlike what I’ve seen before. There is nothing remarkable about this small, halfway occupied patch of cracked black asphalt.

And yet I can’t tear my eyes away.

It’s the cars that have me entranced. Not the vehicles themselves, really, but the differences between them, and more, infinitely more, the people who arrived in them.

My eyes move from the cars to the back of the little restaurant, with the black garbage bins lined neatly beside the gray emergency exit, and I’m overwhelmed by the complexity, the richness of what’s before me.

Six cars, and yet more people than that. Each with a father, perhaps one who works, perhaps one who has custody every other weekend and for three weeks straight during the summer.

Each with a job, a school, a place to be. A place that belongs, uniquely to them, but with enough others, enough exposure to the raw struggle of human interaction that they can still come home in the evening, tired, frustrated, ready to vent to the one on the couch, the one cooking dinner, the one sitting on the Michigan porch, waiting just for them.

Each one with a reason, a home, a purpose. Their reasons for being there, for stopping just then, right here at this northern Michigan restaurant, are many and twisted; a tangled mess of reasons and moments that have come together, formed one single thread of purpose: to be at that place, to be eating, talking, sitting quietly, at that very moment.

I’m looking at a parking lot; a random collection of empty cars, temporarily abandoned. But where we’re taken, where we’re lead, is never a random choice, and I’m sitting there in my own car, transfixed by the evidence of design, the proof of intention and purpose, right there in those cars, and the people who drove them here.



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