December 6, 2012

The Robber

I’ll be in and out in two minutes. It’s just inside the door. We’re at an elementary school in a safe town. Who’d be out thieving on such a cold, blustery day anyway?
All of these thoughts ran through my head as I rationalized the decision to leave my car unlocked when I retrieved my kindergartener from her after-school program last night. Locking the car would have meant lugging along my purse, a deceptively heavy pit of electronic gadgets, kids’ toys, and enough credit cards to give Suze Orman a small stroke. I already had an occasionally obstinate 2-year-old to carry, and so I left it. I left it all on the passenger seat and walked into the school.

If you read the title of this blog, you can probably guess what happened next.

Sometime in the few minutes it took me to greet Evie, sign the attendance sheet, help her zip up her coat, and walk out the door, my purse vanished into the ether.

I sat in my car for several minutes, dumbfounded. I couldn’t call for help; my phone was in my purse. I couldn’t drive home; my Smart Key was in my purse. I helped the kids out of their car seats and walked back into the school.
Calls were made. Police were dispatched. Inventories were made. Tasks were planned: Cancel credit cards, deactivate phone, get new drivers license and insurance cards and work badge and bus pass. I felt the strange detachment of watching myself move through unfamiliar motions, dreamlike.

“What kind of person steals at an elementary school?” I heard myself saying to the teacher who stayed with me, waiting for the police to arrive.
It was a rhetorical question, but answers bounced in my head. Punk kids. Jerks. Mean people. Words I wouldn’t say aloud in earshot of kids.
Evie looked at me, her eyes wet with tears. “Mommy, why does God make robbers?”
Her question bowled me over. The night before, as she played in the bathtub, we had talked about her classmates. She told me there were “good kids” and “bad kids,” kids she liked and kids she didn’t like. I challenged her. I said, confidently standing on my soapbox of maternal wisdom, that all people were good. I told Evie that sometimes people make bad choices, but they are still good people. I told her that it’s important to see the best in everybody, even when you don’t like their behavior.
I took a deep breath and tried to answer her question. I thought about the stranger rifling through my purse, flipping through my wallet, playing with my iPad, rolling their eyes at the mix of ‘80s hair bands and hipster indie rock on my new yellow iPod. I thought about how violated and angry I felt, and I thought about what kind of path might lead a person to steal someone else’s belongings.
I believe that people are good. I believe in the benefit of the doubt, the value of kindness, the beauty in all things. I believe that I’m safe in the world, that things tend to work out for the best, that the most important lessons come in strange packages.
Perhaps you reach a certain age and your world view becomes fixed, another immutable characteristic like the length of your legs or the shape of your nose. You still gather information from your life experiences, but the things you learn tend to reinforce your perspective instead of re-shaping it.
Evie is not at that age. Her world view is malleable and ever-morphing. She might forget all of this, or one of her earliest lifelong memories might be the night that a robber took Mommy’s stuff.

I softened my voice and hugged her close. “Robbers are people just like you and me, Evie,” I said. “They made a bad choice today, but they didn’t hurt us and we can forgive them and hope they make better choices tomorrow.”

The police arrived after an hour. We went through my list of stolen items, the officer took my report and guided me through next steps, and the teacher gave us all a ride home. On the way home, I started making another list – a list of all the good things that I saw in people last night.
  • The teacher who stayed at the school with us until almost 7:30 p.m., played with my kids while I talked to the police, and gave us a ride home
  • The neighbor who welcomed us into her home when we realized we were locked out
  • The police officer who kindly and patiently took our report, giving me hope by sharing stories of recovered items
  • The people on the Internet who posted instructions and tips for locating stolen iPads
  • My husband, who had nothing but hugs , and never once belittled me for leaving my car unlocked and carrying so many valuable items in my purse
  • My kids, who were well-behaved and sweet, despite staying up two hours past bedtime, not eating dinner til 8 p.m., and having to miss swim class
The list got longer when I walked into the house, pressed the answering machine button, and heard a message from a woman named Theresa. She had found my purse in her church parking lot, about a mile from the school. The iPad and iPod were gone, but my phone, my keys, my credit cards, and all the jetsam and flotsam of my giant mom purse remained intact.

I rushed to her house, hugged the stranger in her entryway, and came home relieved. I miss my iPod and my iPad and my USB Power Stick. I lost about $20 in cash. But I didn’t lose my purse. And more importantly, I didn’t lose my world view. There is good in every person and in every situation. There is always something for which to be grateful. Look hard, and you’ll see it. I’m grateful that the person who stole my belongings left the purse in a parking lot and not a dumpster. I’m grateful that they didn’t take my credit cards or my cell phone or my MAC lipstick.

Maybe this is just an expensive lesson about the importance of locking one’s car, but I’d like to think I’m taking something else from it – a teachable moment for my daughter, and a bit of learning for myself. It is not always easy to see the best in things – but I wouldn’t want to live any other way.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you remember the Disney movie, Pollyanna, but it is a very favorite of mine. Lots of bad things happen to good people, but those who are able to find the good in the situation are the ones who are resiliant and will rise again and again. We can only hope the theif will have bad luck with the electronics and they will find their way back to you. Pray for them for they need the prayers more than you can imagine. You are an awesome writer. Never stop!

Sylvia Greeney Morris said...

Monica, this is beautifully written! And I like the way you think!