Sometimes we do things we don’t feel great about. Or perhaps I should speak for myself.
It started with sneaking out a few pens and some travel-sized toiletries—toothpaste, mouthwash, mini dental flosses. The habit ramped up and five years down the road, when there was no way I could get caught, I was slipping unopened 5 packs of notepads, sturdy paperclips that they just don’t make anymore and a box or two of zip lock bags— into my bag. Hey, it's not like I went rifling through her bedroom drawers while she was sleeping; these items were all out and obvious.
She had way more stuff than she could ever use, even if she lived another decade. And after she died we would need to keep or donate or sell her things anyway. Plus, it would be our job to do all that cleaning-up.
My sweetie (her son,) didn’t mind. Be my guest honey; have at it. But really, old Tupperware...
Twenty-five years ago, on a layover from Zurich to Portland, I left my purse on a chair at Chicago O’Hare airport—with $5000 in cash. You might be wondering why I would travel with that much cash and then leave it on a chair. Well, I was jet lagged. I had never made that sum of money before in one month. And I was planning on buying a car. Does that explain it?
Shortly before I boarded my plane home, when I was finished filling out the paperwork, the airport police assured me I’d never see my money again. Professional thieves worked the airports and had probably already left the country.
I cried a lot. I also did inner work with an almost hysterical fervor, meaning I attempted to explore the thief as a disavowed part of myself from whom I needed to learn something. Here’s an (edited) excerpt from my journal circa 1991. Minus the parts where I tortured myself:
Fuck! Who is this thief? Have I seen him in my dreams? Someone cold-hearted. Insensitive. Greedy. RUTHLESS (caps included). Going for what he NEEDS (more caps). Am I denying myself this ruthless quality…? I need to steal something really big-- something worth $5000…. Steal your life. Believe in yourself—do whatever you want.
And so I had marched through the next few days disrupting key areas of my life, including where I lived, how I worked and with whom I spent time. Less than a week later, I returned to my apartment to find a voicemail on the answering machine from the Lost & Found at O’Hare, asking me to call immediately. A very bewildered airport official said that said my purse had been returned—including all of the cash! Something like this had never happened before.
He said I had some mighty unusual luck. Yes, indeed.
Jerry and I just spent the weekend sorting through his mother’s things, organizing her house for the estate sale. Now that’s she’s gone, it’s time to work our way through all those drawers, file cabinets and closets. Hers was no ordinary accumulation of a lifetime of things, it was a very special kind of hyper-organized hoarding that included meticulous record-keeping of every bill paid and house repair completed since the 1960s and enough perfectly rolled, folded and color-coded bows and wrapping paper to gift-give through a dozen additional lifetimes.
And still, as we sorted through, I wanted her stuff. More stuff. I NEEDED things. Never mind I already had them.
When I got home and got undressed, still dusty and dry from rifling, I discovered I had lost one of my favorite earrings, probably on the plane. Just the other day I was thinking about how I always lose earrings and how amazing it is that I have held on to these special favorite ones that I had bought as a gift for myself back in 1991 when my stolen money was returned.
Today the airline Lost & Found is an on line form, which I did fill out. But I’m not expecting a call (email) this time. Take my earrings world! I got the message.
So before I get in any more trouble with my inner thief, I’d better get some loving discipline on. I have my own gifts to wrap and give away.
Thank you Ruth. And may you rest in peace, free of your things.
What do you really need to take? And what do you want to give?