It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m at the grocery store, driving around, looking for a place to park. Close to the store, cars fill the hundreds of games of tic-tac-toe outlined on the tar. I see a pickup truck taking up two precious spots. There is no one inside the cabin, so I cast a disapproving glare to the truck itself, to the front end that fills up half of one spot and to the back end that fills up half of the other. If the owner of the truck had parked within the lines, one of those spots could have been mine.
I give up and find a space in a remote area of the lot, in a section where I expect to see a sign that reads, “Abandon all hope ye who park here.”
As I walk past the absurdly parked truck, I take out my phone and take a picture. Who I’ll share the picture with, I don’t know. My action is more a compulsion to document human stupidity for digital archaeologists in a near-distant future so that when they start postulating the reason for why all the world’s governments crumbled and civilization as we know it came to an end, I’ll have an answer for them in one photo.
I stay on the right side as I push my cart up and down each aisle. At checkout, the clerk asks me how I am, and I tell her I am fine. I ask how she is, and she says she is fine. When the clerk asks if I found everything I was looking for, I reply yes. I found everything because everything, even my conversations, stays the same — stays inside the lines.
I am outside again and walking back to my car.
“Look at that truck parked outside the lines,” I mutter aloud, filling myself up to the brim with indignation. But my own words jolt me.
When I was in elementary school, some of us didn’t have the patience to color inside the lines. Give us a fire truck to color and some red would always get on the lawn or find a way into the sky. We colored like we were using a paint roller instead of a single crayon.
Those who could always color within the lines produced work where the sky was all blue and the pumpkins were all orange. Where the sun was all yellow and the green grass never splashed into an aquamarine sea. Their perfect coloring made me both envious and depressed. They never allowed their colors to spill out and touch the other parts of their world. They never saw what new possibilities emerged when the lines were ignored.
I place my groceries into the trunk of my car, and I find the reek of my hypocrisy nauseating. My admonishment for the driver transforms into admiration and fellowship. My coloring, the driver’s parking — it’s the same thing, an act of dissent against staying within the lines others draw for us. I scan the parking lot. I wonder what would happen if we got rid of all the lines and allowed everyone to park wherever and however they want. Am I inviting new possibilities or chaos and constant 911 calls?
From within my car parked between the lines, I look up quotes about straying outside them. My favorite one is by Albert Einstein: “You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece.”
And that goes for how you park your truck, too.
Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”