A Few Haikus
bright sunny daylight
walking to my set of wheels
small white envelope
peeks from my windshield wiper
a sad, sinking heart–
forgot about sweeps
“to the city of–” I write,
you win once again.
Oh my, how parking tickets have become a part of my life! I’ve moved from Midwest Suburbia to West Coast City and life is different. In my current city, where half a million people live in 50 square miles, parking spaces are a luxury costing between $50-$100 per month. Those of us who do not pay for these coveted spaces park on the street. (We parallel park on the street, I might add, but that’s another story.) A city of half a million also necessitates street sweeping, so for two hours on a certain day of the week, parking is illegal. To do so is a finable offense of $47. Now, this street sweeping business is complicated as the days don’t follow any recognizable pattern. You’ve got to check the faded and graffitied sign on each block. Further complicating the matter is the fact that parking might be disallowed between 4:00 and 8:00 am. Also, on my street, the left side is swept on Wednesday, but the right side is swept on Thursdays. This requires me to always knowing what day of the week it is. Imagine! I suppose if you’ve grown up with this, it’s normal. I, however, am not used to having to think about my car once I’m “home,” wherever home might be. When I park at the end of the day, my car is safe– safe from tickets and people and other cars. The bottom line is that in the four months I’ve lived here, I’ve received 3 tickets, and only missed out on a fourth because rain cancelled the sweeping trucks. Most Wednesday and Thursday mornings find my roommate and I running out of our apartment in pajamas at 7:55 am to move our cars before 8:00.
One of my tickets was not from the street sweepers. I spent three hours at the DMV getting my California license and plates. I had to “surrender” my Arkansas plate. In Arkansas, the state only requires a license plate on the back, but in California, you must have a plate on front and back. By the time I made it out of the DMV, I was late for work so I quickly affixed the plate on back, but I didn’t have the mount to put it on the front. Since I was late, I put the plate in my windshield and rushed to work. I amazingly found a parking spot in the neighborhood around UCLA (a miracle!) and rushed off to my appointment. At the end of the day, weary from hiking the hills of UCLA, I approached my car and saw a little white envelope perched on my windshield. I was indignant. I knew that I had parked in a legal spot. I knew it!
I was right. I had parked in a legal spot. The ticket was for not having my license plate affixed to the front. All I have to say is that the ticketers are relentless! When I was relating this to my mom over the phone, her response was “That’s not fair! You should appeal it!” And most people also sympathized with the unfairness of this particular ticket. But what struck me is that while part of me (and part of others) rebels deeply against the perceived injustice of this ticket, my reason cannot escape the fact that under the law, I am guilty. If I did appeal the ticket, I would essentially be saying to the City of Los Angeles, “I know I am guilty before the law. But please do not hold me responsible for the consequences. I deserve this ticket, but don’t give it to me. Please.” Show me mercy.
Under law, there is just no place for mercy. This has helped me understand the miracle of God’s declaration, “You are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) I’m struck by awe when I realize that in the same way I deserve a ticket from the City of Los Angeles, I deserve condemnation from God. In the law, there is no room for human error or exceptions or special circumstances. There is no grace period. How radical & counterintuitive, then, is the inspired message given to us from Heaven, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
I think the impulse that causes people to respond “Unfair!” to my ticket is more than their relationship with me; I think it is a deep-seated understanding that without mercy, life is not possible. We know that none of us do not fail. We know that in each relationship and each situation there is failure. And if we held each other and life to the standard of perfection, we could not go on. Each of us, along with our relationships and all of our efforts would be broken and condemned. I guess I’m just saying that we get that we need mercy. We get, at some deep soul level, that we need mercy and our only hope of blessing is grace. Our only hope is to not get what consequences we do deserve (mercy) and to receive good things that we don’t deserve (grace). I think this felt knowledge of our need for mercy and grace has evolved into a feeling that I have rights to these things. This is an incorrect evolution, though it is supported by my culture and my time. I think that when I begin to buy into the idea that mercy is something I am entitled to, that is when I lose sight of the incredibleness of God showing mercy. Mercy and grace are things on which I have absolutely no claim, no right.
And what has motivated God to do this unreasonable and counterintuitive thing of showing us mercy & grace? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.” (Ephesians 2:4) God’s love motivates Him to free us from the consequences of our imperfection and show us extravagant goodness instead.