I met three friends for lunch today smack dab in the middle of uptown Charlotte. It was a restaurant I hadn’t been to before, so I wasn’t sure where it was. Of course, parking is always a challenge uptown, so when I got close to my destination and saw a parking garage, I went for it. It was the Bank of America garage, something I should have no trouble finding later, since the Bank of America building is the tallest in town.
To say that I tend to have difficulty finding my car in parking lots and garages is an understatement. I could write a lengthy book entitled, Cars I Have Lost and How They Eventually Found Me. Lately, I’ve been trying to overcome this challenge by taking careful mental notes of my whereabouts whenever I park in a parking lot or garage. Today I was on the sixth level and my parking spot was #681. (You should be impressed by the fact that I can still tell you that, seven hours later.) As I walked away from my car, I was confident that I would have no problem finding it when I returned from lunch.
Taking the elevator to what I thought was the ground level, I found myself in a long white hallway with no doors. Had I landed in the Twilight Zone? There was no one around and it took several attempts for me to figure out how to exit the building. When I emerged, I was all turned around and had no idea where I was. (In addition to losing cars in parking lots, I also have a long, sad history of being directionally challenged. Not a good combination.) After I approached a police officer and asked him which way to Tryon Street, he pointed his finger and I followed it up the sidewalk.
I wandered around for a while and stopped several people to ask directions before I finally found the Aria Tuscan Grille and joined my friends for a delightful lunch. Then it was time to leave. As it turned out, they also had parked in the Bank of America garage, so we walked over together. Imagine my dismay when I realized that there was more than one Bank of America garage and this wasn’t mine!
I didn’t know what to do. I walked over to the Starbucks and asked one of the employees, “Do you know anything about the parking garages here? Do you know where the Bank of America garages are?” Suffice it to say, she was no help. Someone else overheard my question and asked, “Do you know the number of your parking space?” Well, yes I did, but I explained to him that this wasn’t my problem. I could find my car if I knew which garage it was parked in. He stood there with a puzzled look on his face as I walked away.
So, I approached someone else, a young man who was getting a cup of coffee. He listened to me explain my predicament and said, “I understand. With these tall buildings, it’s very easy to get lost in this part of town.” I was relieved that someone else could appreciate my problem without a tone of judgment in his voice. I handed the young man my parking ticket and he examined it for a moment. “I know where this is,” he told me. And while I was waiting for directions that I probably wouldn’t be able to follow, he said the most amazing thing. “Come on,” I’ll take you there. “You mean you’ll walk with me?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. And that’s exactly what he did.
Along the way we chatted a bit about his job, what brought me uptown today, the restaurant where I had eaten. It was all quite lovely. Whoever his mother is, she should be very proud of her son. Actually, he did a lot for me today, too. It was a grace-filled moment for me. We never exchanged names. He was just some unknown person who helped me find my way.
There are a lot of people God has sent into my life like that, some known and some unknown. People who seem to show up at just the right time, when I feel lost and something of a hopeless mess. Those are the times when the message of Christmas sneaks up on me and pops me in the nose. It’s a face-to-face encounter with the reality of “God with us.”