Close Encounter in the Parking Lot

Dune-like mounds of plowed snow glistened as I wheeled my cart from the supermarket to my car. For almost a week, heavy snow had confined me to my retirement community. I was happy to be out.

The cart threatened to escape down a slight decline, and, while preparing to open my car trunk, I rested its red plastic basket against a large sedan in the adjoining parking space. A split second later, a man erupted from the driver’s seat and shattered my euphoria. Words tumbled over each other, rendering his screaming tirade unintelligible. But I got the message: You’d have thought I bulldozed his car.

I was too stunned to feel threatened or angry. I felt strangely detached, as though I were watching one of those earsplitting movie previews consisting of unrelated snippets of exploding buildings, car crashes, and shootouts. His words were like pellets hitting an invisible protective shield.

While he ranted on, I took in the stubble of gray beard, the frayed red jacket. Both driver and car appeared to be veterans of some hard traveling down the road and around the Beltway.

I moved the cart from beside his car to an equivalent spot where it rested against my white Honda. When he finally paused for breath, I said in a low voice, contrasting with his screams, "I really don’t think I damaged your car, and if I did I’m sorry."

"Sorry!" He spat out the word. His voice took on a mimicking, singsong quality. "Oh, so you’re sorry, are you? Well, just supposed someone had done something to your car? You’d be yelling, jumping up and down, calling the police."

"Well, I’d be upset if he dented a fender or scratched the paint."

"How do you know you didn’t scratch my paint?"

Words surfaced in my mind as clearly as if they’d been spoken: "Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in a way with him." (Matt. 5:25) But I knew I hadn’t damaged his car. Why should I agree with him?

Automaton-like, I followed the voice’s instructions: walk to his car, take off sunglasses, bend down and scrutinize the spot where my cart’s plastic had made contact with his car’s metal. Of course there was no scratch.

Still attuned to the voice, I pointed to a scratch well above the spot. I gazed up at him. "Do you suppose I did that?"

He pounced, "That’s it!"

"Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t intentionally damage your car for the world."

He frowned. He quit yelling. He watched me follow the voice’s instructions to take keys from purse, open car trunk, start to hoist from the cart a 20-pound sack adorned with pictures of a cardinal, blue jay, and sparrows.

Now I happen to be a gray-haired woman well into senior citizenship. Although I routinely lift 20-pound bags of kitty litter and bird seed, bystanders often leap to assist me. My co-star in the parking lot drama rushed over right on cue. "Here, let me get that for you."

I smiled. "Oh, would you please? How sweet of you."

He actually smiled back. "Just like my wife. She can’t go to the store without bringing back a load of bird seed."

"Oh, my, yes. What with all that snow, those birds have been eating me out of house and home." We chatted on about the storm while he unloaded the rest of my groceries and snapped the trunk lid shut. I called out my thanks as he directed my backing out with his hands.

I was happy to be out in the sunshine.

The next day, I reran the scene in my mind. Was road rage oozing down the ramps and metamorphosing into parking lot rage? Or was it simply a guy thing, an over-the-top example of the way men bond with their cars—threaten my car and you threaten my person?

Maybe. But what about the voice’s insistence that I agree with him? According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word agree is French for "to be pleasing to." The definitions include the one that puzzled me—"accede to the opinion of." But also listed were "become well disposed towards," "be in harmony with."

Yes, we had agreed.