A few weeks ago someone stole our grill. They parked their car at the end of our well-lit driveway, walked past our two parked cars, picked up the grill on the other side of the bedroom window behind our bed, shoved it into the trunk of their car, and drove away. It was 10:30pm and we had gone to bed five minutes earlier. The only sound the thief made was a thump as he tried to fit the grill in his trunk, alerting the dogs. Michael got up to look, saw the car, and only realized what had happened when he saw the wheels of our grill sticking out of the trunk as the thief drove away.
It was a $60 grill.
I was angry for days. I couldn’t believe someone would be so bold. I couldn’t believe the dogs didn’t bark earlier. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard anything.
I felt jumpy the next week. I kept the doors locked and the blinds open, and I watched every car and pedestrian that passed the house. I didn’t run or walk the dogs in my neighborhood. I signed up for daily emails listing robberies in my neighborhood. I felt suspicious and unsafe. What if he came back and tried to break into the house?
I wanted to get a shotgun and a pit bull and install cameras and floodlights around our house. I felt like the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino.
A few years ago someone stole the hanging flower baskets off our front porch. Michael left the ladder out one night and we saw the footprints the next morning through the backyard where someone had walked in from the alley and taken it. I was angry those times as well, but not like this. This was a seething, vengeful, pit-of-your-belly type of anger. I wanted to catch the thief and spit in his face. And worse.
I got over it, but it took awhile. It felt personal, but I was thankful it was only a cheap grill. It made me think, however, about why I felt so angry.
Years ago, when I was a single mom finishing up my college degree and living in student housing on campus, I came home with both kids and a few sacks of groceries. I took the kids and some bags upstairs to our apartment, and left the rest downstairs. When I came back the groceries were gone. Surprised, but not angry, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, someone must have needed that food more than me.” As I walked back upstairs, the hall director came running up the stairs with the missing groceries. He was prone to pranks.
There’s no way I would be that magnanimous today. Look how I reacted to someone taking our grill. What had changed?
What does this say about me, that stealing something stupid like a grill would make me want to go Rambo? And what does it say about our world, when you would risk jail time or getting shot over something that insignificant?
I was shocked when I started reading the police reports for my neighborhood. Apparently there are a lot of houses and cars being robbed. Even more alarming are the increasing numbers of armed robbery.
And it’s not just my neighborhood, it’s all over the city–and probably the entire country.
The guy who stole our grill was a pro. Stealing is his job. It was too dark to see the grill from the street, which means he had seen it earlier when the cars were gone and came back later when we turned out the lights.
Is this what happens when there aren’t enough jobs to go around? I doubt it. There always have been and always will be people who steal.
The worst part of this minor, insignificant incident was the way it suddenly made me feel distrustful and suspicious. Losing the grill was unimportant. Losing my feeling of safety was huge. I like to think that people are inherently good, and that if I’m careful and observant I’ll stay safe. Having something stolen, no matter how small, reminds me that there are others out there who are lost–and dangerous.
And this is perhaps what made me so angry, that my view of the world could be wrong. I’m not so naive as to imagine the world is like a Disney movie, where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get caught. I’ve known bad people. But knowing there are people who make their living by stealing and threatening and physically hurting others makes me angry. I want them to go away and be better people.
I read a report of an armed robbery a few blocks from my house. A man was walking back to his car from a restaurant and was accosted by two young men with a gun. They got angry because all he had was $23 in cash and an iPhone.
If you would hold a gun to someone’s head for $23, and be willing to take a life for an iPhone, then your own life must be worthless.
And that is truly heartbreaking, for all of us.