We were robbed last week. Someone took Jim’s golf clubs out of the trunk of our car and my prescription glasses out of the front seat. Our car wasn’t locked and it was in our open garage. Still it felt like a personal violation and it takes time to replace stuff. After allowing ourselves some time for a pity party, I started thinking more deeply about what it means to be robbed and even more about what it means to be a thief.
Of course it’s wrong to steal. The thief not only stole our goods but also our time and sense of safety. Then I started to think about who would do a thing like this. Surely it wasn’t a terrorist or even a mean spirited, nasty person who wanted to make life miserable for another human being. Probably it wasn’t someone who played golf. People who can afford to play golf are usually at least middle class and don’t have to steal clubs. What are the chances that they had exactly the same eye prescription as I do. The fact that we had these things is a sign of privilege.
No, most probably it was someone who needed some cash. Why? I don’t know. It could have been a teen, an addict, a person down on their luck. Whatever the reason this person needed money more than I do – at least these days.
There was a time that both Jim and I had given up golf because it was a sport that was too expensive for our income and too time consuming for parents of young children. We defaulted to tennis at public courts and later to simply walking. But our kids are grown and now we could pay to replace the clubs.
In an ideal world, I’d like to think that a person who “honestly” needed money could just come to our house and say, “Hey, I’m short on food, or gas money, or whatever – and we would just give it to him or her. Several times we’ve hired folks who came to our door needing money to do some yard work or painting. But that’s not usually how our society works. We farm out charity to churches or the government.
Actually, I don’t think that’s a bad idea since when it works well, institutional programs can provide more than a quick fix. They can offer training, social support, addiction treatment, mentoring, and a way out of systemic poverty. But our society isn’t perfect. Some people take advantage of our tax dollars and generosity – and not all of those people are poor. Some are smart financiers or executives who know how to take advantage of tax breaks and human vulnerabilities.
So what’s a conscientious, well-meaning person to do?
• Hang out a sign saying “Take what you want.”
• Figure our taxes should cover those in need.
• Lock everything up tight.
• Be generous with panhandlers.
OR, spend some time working or volunteering for organizations that provide education, recovery programs, or other preventive measures that will help people in need develop self-sufficiency. It’s a long, slow slog and there’s no one solution that fits everyone. Electing political leaders who understand this is part of the solution.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to forgive the thief and give my money to causes that help, but not hang out a “Just come and take anything” shingle. The poor will always be with us. How do you manage this conundrum in your own personal and spiritual life?
UPDATE: When looking for replacement golf clubs at a used sports store, Jim found his bag and clubs for sale. The store asked for a police report which he provided. Soon he will get his bag and most of his clubs back. The store has the name of who sold the stolen goods to them. We are curious as to whether they will share it with us or the police and what the next step might be.