Monday, January 31, 2005

St. Anthony and the Parking Lot

In the life of St. Anthony the Great that is found in the Prologue from Ochrid, it is said that he began to pursue the ascetic life in the village of his birth; but after a few years went off into the desert on the shores of the Red Sea to “escape the disturbance of men.” After a few minutes in the parking lot at the local grocery store last night, I can really appreciate that sentiment.

Try to picture, if you can, sitting in the passenger’s front seat. To the left, on the driver’s side, is a parked car; and just to the left of that car is the shopping cart return. So, anyway, there I am, waiting while some essential supplies are purchased as we are on our way home from doing a house-blessing. The people in the car to the left return, put the kids in the car, empty the shopping cart into the trunk – and then push the cart behind our car and drive off. As they backed up and then drove away, they watched me get out and move the cart into the cart return without hesitating a moment. I am not a saint; and I must confess to harboring the thought of wanting to push the cart into their departing vehicle, rather than into the return lane. Glory to God for restraining me in my anger.

I got back into the car. It didn’t take long for the next episode. The people traveling in the car in the next aisle, just to my right, returned with their shopping cart. Mind you, they are a total of three car spaces from the cart return area. They empty the cart, and then the woman pushes the cart towards the cart return. The intermediate space has a vehicle parked in it, and she moves behind that; but the space next to the cart return is vacant; and that is where she abandons the cart, not more than two cart-lengths from the cart return. They drive off, having blocked a parking space.

Meanwhile, in the drive lane behind our car, someone has pulled up to a stop and dropped off a passenger, who heads into the store. Rather than pulling into a parking space, the car just sits there. It does not move until the shopper who’d left the car a few minutes before returns with his shopping bag. (Thankfully, no cart was involved here.) While this car is blocking the way, another car, off to my left in another lane, backs out of a space, but is unable to drive off as the SUV that had been waiting for that parking space pulls in ahead of the departing vehicle, cutting that car off. Straight ahead, a man in a newer pickup truck pulls in at an angle opposite the pattern of the lines marking the parking spaces, taking up parts of three spaces for his vehicle.

At this point, I was ready to join St. Anthony in his desert solitude. I’d like to think of myself as a “people person”; and, as a priest, I labor in a people-directed and people-intensive endeavor – the salvation of souls. But at that moment, as also happens frequently when I am out in traffic, I can’t stand people – the last thing I want is to be around the people I’m meeting anonymously. What a bunch of jerks! (Of course, I know enough to know that it takes one to know one… No one can be a more rude or inconsiderate person than I am in such situations…)

What has happened to common courtesy? What has happened to civility, and respect? I must be getting old. I don’t remember things as having been like this. Once upon a time, in my youth, when dinosaurs walked the earth, there was a measure of respect, and self-restraint, and of foregoing one’s advantage, if not rights, in order to allow another person to pull in ahead of you at a merge-point in traffic, or into a parking spot. By the same token, there didn’t seem to be as many people trying to milk one more car-length out of the merge lane, forcing themselves in ahead of your car, rather than filling the empty space behind.

Our holy and God-bearing father Anthony, by his ascetic labors, overcame the passions and defeated the assaults of the demons. I wonder how he would have done if he’d had to take the freeway…

Holy father Anthony the Great, pray to God for us.