joke’s on everyone

Out on Saturday night with a friend from another service corps, we found her car window smashed and my purse stolen. The take: 25-cent garage sale purse, 25-cent garage sale wallet, debit card (immediately canceled), credit card (immediately canceled), food stamp card (immediately canceled), driver’s license, $2, 10 Euro cents, 5 Thai baht, and 1 Canadian dime.

A lot went through my head that night. I’m pretty sure the first pre-rational thing I thought was that I’d like to find the thief and say, “do you know who I am?“. I guess because I think volunteers don’t deserve to have their stuff stolen, or because for all the money you’d make stealing from a volunteer, a Syracusean might as well start a banana farm. Less shimmying through shattered glass, anyway.

But even though the only loss to me was the time spent replacing all that stuff, I still felt somehow violated. The fact that there was nothing worth having in my purse made it feel that much more personal, malicious (although my bank’s phone system was down and I kept wondering if they’d find a way to clean out my account). Suddenly my friend and I were victims – powerless.

And I think we were both hit in a weirdly personal spot by the incident, because we work with the poor in our neighborhoods. It felt like the whole horrible system we were trying to undo had zeroed in to attack us and laugh at us and we felt. so. small.

For all that, though, this stuff just happens. That’s what I kept thinking, this is just what it’s like to live in these places, and you deal with it and move on. Really, the strongest emotion I feel at this point is gratitude – that I made the very rare decision to leave my keys at home, that I hadn’t gotten a chunk of cash like I usually do on payday. That I had used my extra cash the day before to buy fancy frozen yogurt for me and my boyfriend, even though it felt extravagant and profligate at the time.

People are senselessly, randomly violent, you can’t prevent it, the joke’s on everyone. Mean people don’t care who you are; you could lose everything at any time.

And it seems there are two basic ways to respond to this situation. You can move to the suburbs, make contingency plans and safeguards, wrap all your stuff ever tighter in security systems and blankets. You can give up the inner city for lost and flee, clutching all your belongings to your chest, eyeing your neighbors with suspicion.

Or you can laugh at the joke and learn to hold your things ever more loosely. The world’s a gift, you never owned it anyway. What made you think you deserved to keep it? Throw some extra in the Salvation Army bucket and buy your sweetheart some frozen yogurt, because what you give away can’t be stolen and love divided multiplies.

Merry Christmas and I forgive you, purse thief. I hope you have a coin collection.

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  1. I loved this. I live in a rather rough area and my house has been broken into a few times since I’ve lived there. Each time my reaction is so similar to this. It’s just stuff, what are you gonna do, maybe they needed it. This made me feel better about not caring so much.

  2. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  December 17, 2012

    Reminds me of when Grandma Edna’s purse got stolen while she was in the soup kitchen cooking for the homeless. A mean old man stole her pocketbook AND ate the free soup. I think I was madder than she was. She went through the bombings in London during WWII, so she was like, So what? God provides. He even gave that thief some undeserved soup.

    Grace soup, that’s what it was.


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