Lessons of a Lost Backpack

by Carlan Wendler
The San Diego Wendlers on the Metro
On Saturday, my brother and his family, Michelle, her sister, and myself visited the Louvre Museum in Paris. We got a bit of a late start and between jet lag and sheer, utter boredom at perambulating through vast halls of incredible art, the kids (ages 4, 3, and 1) began to make their discontent known. So my brother and I set off to pick up the rental car from across town and drive back to pick up the rest of our family.

After a Metro ride to the Place d'Italie, we realized that the office that had our car was actually in Montparnasse. It was another simple Metro ride to Montparnasse, a few conversations with folks in the station regarding where to find the car rental office and a ten minute walk there. After waiting in line, translating order details, and selecting the appropriate car seat based on kilograms, we had another ten minute walk and a few conversations with folks as to where the "parking" office of this particular car rental agency was.
Mona Lisa smiles...or not

"You go through the bar, down the elevators to Level -3. Then find the stairwell and walk up to Level -2. Across the parking from the stairwell you should see a sign for a different car rental agency. Your company uses that same office and staff."

Wow! Things in France are different!

The French have this whole notion that geography dictates personality (e.g., people from the Savoie region where the language school is located are broadly caricatured as aloof, private, slow to warm up to new people but fiercely loyal, intensely compassionate to their friends, and extremely hardy). I don't know that I'm clever enough to make judgments on people's personalities based on knowing their whereabouts growing up, but I can see how geography has dictated the ways car rental companies solve their business problems. Paris is dense, old, and labyrinthine. If you rent out cars, you find a hotel or mall  with a big parking lot and use some of their space. If there are other companies doing the same thing, you band together to economize on overhead.

Two hours into a process that I thought might take one those were not the thoughts going through my head. I was rather worried about the women and children and trying to keep ahead of the communications so that they would know what to expect. And in that distraction, I left my backpack containing the keys to the car we had driven from Albertville to Paris and my wife's and my passports.

This I did not realize until we had reconvened at our rented apartment and started supper.

"Michelle, where did you put my backpack? I'd like to take some Tylenol [also in the bag]."
"You took it with you when you left the Louvre."
"Are you being funny, because this headache is not funny."
"No. Remember, you had to come back and give me my water out of the backpack before you left."
"... [frowny face]..."

Through the glass storefront...right where I left it
A quick review of our contorted journey around Paris left two places the backpack could have been left: the first car rental office or the last one in the parking lot where we actually picked up the car. My money was on the first but by this time on a Saturday the offices were closed or closing. Customer service lines don't seem to operate in the same way in Paris, on the weekend, before the nation votes for two finalists in the presidential elections, that they do in the States. The car rental agency said, in brief, "You'll have to wait until things open up again on Monday morning." A quick call to the US Embassy in Paris to notify them that our passports were misplaced and ask if anyone had reported them was met by three answering machines before we got an operator who transferred us to a recorded message that pointed us to a website or e-mail address. "Our commitment is to respond within 48 hrs to all e-mails sent to this address." Yikes!

Nothing more to do that night but pray.

The Good Lord provides the next day
The next day we put all our contingency planning into effect and we prepared to send everyone else on to Albertville while I stayed in Paris to recover the backpack on Monday morning. By God's grace, we got through to a plucky customer service agent on Sunday morning and she put into effect a plan that eventually led to the return of the backpack that afternoon. Everyone else had left, so I had some time to think while riding on the Metro again and sitting in a car rental office again. And that's when I began to see some parallels between walking amidst Greco-Roman statues in what was once the palace of French kings (before Louis XIV moved the royal family to Versailles) with kids who were bored to tears and my experience around Paris and a lost backpack.

My good Father, God, has a plan for my life, prepared day-by-day and hour-by-hour. Riding the Metro around Paris with John Mark while the women and children languish in a less frequented hall in the world's largest art museum was within His will for that day. Misplacing the backpack and working through all the efforts to recover it and stick to the itinerary we had established in advance was in God's plan for us. Cramming all of my visiting family + Michelle into one car while I drove by myself to try to catch up was also the path He had laid out for the day.

The frailty of my faith in my Father might look different than the feebleness of my nieces' and nephew's confidence in their parents' plan, but I have a feeling that if I were to slow down and try to observe the place God had brought me to in each moment, I would observe things more remarkable than even the Winged Victory of Samothrace.


Sandy said...

The God who watches over us never slumbers!

Rebekah said...

So glad you were able to track down your backpack & so thankful for a God whose plans are always bigger & better than our own!