Somewhere between last Shabbat and this one, my gum and your story got connected, in a very nasty way. On Tuesday morning I opened the door of my car, turned on the ignition and was about to hit the radio button when I noticed it wasn’t there. Instead, my dashboard was corkscrewed sideways and the front piece of my radio-CD was on the seat, along with the surrounding panel. The door to my glove compartment was on the floor.
I hadn’t locked the car the night before. I was having trouble with the service door to my garage and thought, why bother? My neighborhood is pretty placid, and wouldn’t it be too cold for people to go prancing around looking for stuff to steal? We were supposed to be heading into the coldest night of the year. I pressed the lock button on my car—or at least I thought I did. But if I had, none of this would have happened.
You walked inside, opened the car door, and tried to grab what you could. Later on a policeman said my burglar was probably a kid who couldn’t get the CD player out fast enough, and decided to move on to the next garage. Which you did, a few doors down, and then stole a moped.
We managed to get my dashboard straight again, and set the radio panel back where it’s supposed to be. But when the policeman left I sat in the car a while, thinking. I have been thinking ever since, as Shabbat approaches, about your visit.
In my mind’s eye you are about 18, hooded, wearing gloves and (hopefully) a parka. You didn’t take my phone or CD player. But when I looked down at the seat, I saw my gum was gone.
You left the cold-weather snacks – raw peanuts and pecans, and instead swiped my Extra. My husband said you realized pulling out the CD player was going to require tools you didn’t have. He guessed that you are much younger than 18, and this might have been your first burglary. Maybe you were with friends, and they may have been no older than you.
I’m trying to picture you, while getting ready for Shabbat. It’s a day I’ve come to appreciate more and more lately, a time to light candles, see people at synagogue, have dinner with friends and family. A precious time when I am working on what seems like a million freelance projects with very little time left for anything else. When I was younger I used to wonder about the Torah commandment, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Now I think it’s not us keeping the holiday; Shabbat is keeping us.
How cold were you in my garage on Tuesday morning? What time was it? What were you wearing? Why were you there? I don’t want to meet you; but for ten minutes, the ten minutes you were in my garage at least, I want to be you. To see and understand what you were doing there. Because you took my gum, and that tells me something about you. Something hungry and lonely; something sad.
I should be no stranger to burglaries. I can’t swear to it but think most of the people whose houses or cars are broken into tend not to be rich, because rich people have better protection—gated communities, dogs, and alarms. In New York, where I came from before moving here, my apartment was broken into at least twice. I kept cash inside my bookcase, hoping thieves wouldn’t be able to find all of it and I’d at least have a chance of holding onto some.
My favorite robbery story occurred on the subway a few nights before I moved to the Midwest. I had a purse and one of those “shleppy” bags New Yorkers always carry around with them, since most of us don’t have cars and have to shlep our stuff around. On this particular night, my bag held some Dead Sea salts and a magazine with Nelson Mandela on the cover. I was distracted, thinking of all the things I needed to do before moving, so I boarded an empty car that was dimly lit.
When a young man walking through the cars saw me, he must have thought I was an easy mark. He grabbed my bag and ran to the next car before I could even register what had happened. I looked down, realizing that my purse was still intact, and had to smile. When I told a friend about the robbery she grinned. “Dead Sea salts and Nelson Mandela. He had all the world in his hands, and didn’t know it.”
Jewish law asks us to give tzedakah, to help others as we get closer to Shabbat, and to help others anyway, whenever we can. There is also the saying that if you give someone a fish, that’s great, but if you teach someone to fish, that’s even better. But you can’t give everything to everyone. You can’t make everything better. And sometimes you aren’t even asked.
You got my gum, I got a story. You got cold; I got fear and anger, curiosity, and something else I can’t explain. I’m at my table on Shabbat and still thinking about you. Wondering if you are having any kind of dinner, if you’re with family or friends, if you are alone.
There are prayers I am saying, that I know how to say because I learned them early; prayers that ask for healing, blessings over bread and wine, praises for the holiness of rest that sets it apart from days we spend working. I know prayers cannot protect you, but they can keep you safe. What I mean by that isn’t safe from burglars, but from burglarizing, mistreating, abusing. Prayers and Shabbat teach us we are part of a community, a strong community that has meant a lot to me.
The police say they found the moped, abandoned in a parking lot less than a mile from here. Maybe that means you felt bad about stealing it; I hope you did. I see you taking off your hood, maybe sitting at a table with candles and a dinner with family and friends. People who listen and laugh when you talk and give you somewhere to go besides my car at 2 a.m. Where you get some bread, maybe a blessing. Something more for you to chew on besides my gum.
That is what I wish for you, as the weather gets warmer and people unlock their garages, homes and hearts. Shabbat Shalom.
(Photo: richt-what, 2008)
Filed Under: Being Jewish