Happily Even After
Crime and Punishment
by Josh Noem
Recently I became a victim of theft.
I was preparing for a weekend retreat with students at the university and had stopped at a rental agency to pick up a vehicle we would need. I placed a rolling suitcase I had packed for the weekend outside the front door of the agency while I filled out paperwork. I was inside for maybe four minutes, but when I came back out, it was gone.
Someone had simply taken it and walked off.
I spent an hour in a frantic search, asking anyone who might have seen anything, and came up with few leads. The security video from the agency showed a man who looked like he was living on the street, or close to it, walk off with it.
I felt angry. I also felt sad that I had lost some valuable items I had packed for the retreat—a nice sleeping bag, a good pair of waterproof hiking boots, a rain shell, a solid flashlight, and some books, among other things. I also felt disappointed and disheartened in humanity. I began to look at everyone I passed on the street with suspicion. The world had become a dark place.
After a short time, though, I tried to come to my senses. I convinced myself that these are only things, and that there was nothing that was lost that cannot be replaced.
Just the week prior, I was reflecting on the Church’s tradition to adopt practices in prayer, fasting and almsgiving for Lent. I had clear ideas of what to do for prayer (morning prayer each day) and fasting (giving up music around the house and in the car) but could not think of what to do for almsgiving.
This would do nicely, I resolved. I had basically packed a perfect survival kit for someone on the streets. I wanted to let it go at that.
Now I’m a thinker more than I’m a feeler, so it is not hard for me to reason myself into a line of thinking. I didn’t want the experience to distract me from the retreat I was helping to lead, so I simply put it out of my mind.
The problem was that refusing to think about the theft didn’t change the way I felt about it. I felt violated, and had to come to terms with that fact if I was going to overcome feeling angry and disheartened.
As a man, it is not easy to acknowledge and own my feelings. It goes against the ways that culture formed me. Marriage and family life have made me much more healthy in this regard.
Even though I was without Stacey and the kids during the weekend retreat, I was able to recognize the inclination within me to acknowledge and share my experience and feelings about that experience. Before I was married, I think I would have been much more inclined to stuff those feelings away. I found ways to speak about it on the retreat, and Stacey and I talked about it a good bit when I returned.
It still stings, but I can speak of it freely now. It is not a huge loss, but the crime itself no longer has any power over me. I’m grateful to be in a position where we can begin to replace some of the things I lost.
My next challenge is to think of how I should respond when I see a man walking towards me wearing my rain shell and hiking boots. I’m praying that I’ll be able to greet him with a smile and, without any irony or sarcasm, ask him if he’s staying warm and dry.
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