By S.M. Chen  |  21 December 2017  |  

“The rain falls on the just 
And also on the unjust fella 
But mainly on the just 
Because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella.” 
          —Heywood Broun, 20th century American journalist

When, a few months ago, I wrote an essay, “Rain”, little could I have known how soon would come the next rainfall.

Earlier this week I pulled into the multilevel parking structure of the healthcare facility where I work, and, being early (a bit after 6 am; my workday was to start at 7), was able to park in my customary spot near the entry. In order to gain entry (and to depart) from that area, one must swipe an ID card which activates a horizontal lever which permits ingress or egress.

I backed into the spot close to the entrance, so as to allow more facile departure after the workday. I ensured that I was equidistant between the parallel lines demarcating the parking spot, then slowly backed up to the cement retainer, then pulled up a bit to lessen stress on the rear tires.  I activated the emergency brake and put the car in 2nd gear.

In addition to the ID card, which I carry on a chain and wear around my neck (it is needed to access various parts of the facility), I had my black cloth fanny pack (equivalent to a woman’s purse), and daily newspaper procured from the nearby hotel where I was staying.  

This was a particularly busy day, as I also carried a number of gifts in the trunk.  I had bought 6 Godiva chocolate assortment towers for fellow colleagues.  My arms full, I exited the parking area for the elevators.  Since developing sciatica almost a decade ago, I climb stairs with some difficulty.

I did not return to the parking area, 2 levels down from the one on which I work, till late afternoon.  

Upon doing so, I did a double take.  My car was not there.  The spot was empty, unoccupied by any vehicle.

I was about to scratch my head, but it did not itch.  Rather, its contents told me that I had indeed parked there earlier in the day. There were only 2 options: the car had been stolen or towed.

The latter scenario was unlikely; I had a permit, properly displayed.

I returned to the ER, through which I walk to reach my department. The security individual who accompanied me back to my now empty parking spot told me there were no surveillance cameras. He gave me the phone # of the city police department.  

I called them. They confirmed my car had not been towed.  Not long thereafter a policewoman arrived to take report.  

Pleasant and efficient, she handed me a card upon her departure, with contact information. On the line for name, it had only her surname.  

“It must be nice, being famous,”  I jested as I glanced at the card.  “Only one name, like ‘Cher’ or ‘Bono.’”

She grinned and left.

I called my insurance company. After filing a report, I noticed it was close to 5:30 pm. The insurance agent kindly agreed to contact the car rental company with which they did business, as they closed at 6pm, and remain in a 3 way conversation.

The woman at the car rental agency told me they would have a car if I could get there by 6 pm. Otherwise, their office opened at 7:30 am the next day. That would not work for me; I had to be at work at 7 am.

I asked if someone could remain at the office after 6 pm. She demurred, then asked my location.  

She said she would come pick me up.

Much relieved, I waited for her and, even though it was after 6 pm when we arrived at the rental agency office, I was able to procure a rental car.

I will be forever grateful to her.

My car was 14 years old but in good condition. I had bought it new and maintained it well. It was worth far more to me than its Blue Book value. Its contents were also valuable. They included cash, a digital camera, compact binoculars, an expensive pair of Oakley sunglasses, and more gifts which I’d not yet delivered, to friends and colleagues.

I will admit that the thought of “Why me?” briefly crossed my mind. But, almost instantly, I recalled what a friend had once told me: “Rather than ‘Why me,’ one might consider: ‘Why not me?’”

Why not indeed. I drove the model that is most commonly stolen in the USA (needless to say, I didn’t choose it for that reason; I chose it because it combined reliability, adequate power and space, and sipped petrol rather than guzzled it).

I cannot say for sure that I locked the car (it had power door locks) upon departing with the gifts from the trunk.

Stupidity is rarely rewarded – nor should it necessarily be, whether arising from a place of absent-mindedness or something else.

It seems that, in many situations, there are 3 responses:  help, benign neglect, or hindrance.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ castigated those who practiced benign neglect, who refused to come to the aid of the Jew injured during attack and robbery on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

They could have (conceivably) done further harm by attacking the Jew further and perhaps stealing more of his meager belongings. This they did not do.  But they also did not help.

In the instance of my car, had it been unlocked, a kind response would have been to lock it and close the unlocked door.

Or do nothing.  Someone who noticed it was unlocked might have just ignored it and gone on his way.

Instead, he chose the path of evil, taking something that did not belong to him, and thereby causing someone else to suffer.

The theft, although causing inconvenience and engendering a heightened sense of vulnerability, was comparatively minor.  Nothing like the heartache parents endure if their child is kidnapped.

Like a kidnapping, I think the longer time passes, the less likelihood of recovery. And, with time, the memory of the vehicle will fade. It did have some deep scratches along the rear passenger side door caused by some bushes when, over 5 years ago, I fell asleep at the wheel on the drive home on a warm sunny afternoon.

Could I have been killed?  Injured, perhaps seriously?  Most certainly. Instead, all I sustained were the scratches and a cogent reminder of the sobering verity of Lamentations 3:22.  

The older I get, the more I realize how much grace has played a silent role in my life.

I don’t wish ill on whoever took my car .  I doubt I’ll see it again, or, if I do, that it will be drivable.  My loss is their gain.

Speaking of which, if the perpetrator gains a few pounds from eating chocolate from my trunk, however, perhaps they will have gotten their just desserts.

S.M. Chen writes from California.

To comment, click here.