The Urbanite’s Refrain after a Smash-and-Grab: It Was Just a Purse

My purse was stolen this morning. After two laps around a well-traveled reservoir in Baltimore with my friend Debbie, I returned to see my Honda’s side window smashed out, and crumbled shards of glass littering my grandson’s car seat.

A smash and grab. He didn’t even have to open the door—not that Baltimore City police would dust for fingerprints for a mere larceny anyway.

The experienced urbanite responds two ways: it was my fault. And it could have been worse.

I shouldn’t have brought my purse to my pre-dawn walk; I should have only carried my wallet or driver’s license. I should have hidden it better, even though the windows were tinted. Even though I parked in a school parking lot frequented by early morning walkers.

And it could have been worse. It was only my purse (a birthday gift from my daughter) and wallet. I wasn’t assaulted. He didn’t get my Bluetooth or cell phone. No one shot at me. He didn’t break into my house. Our minds do this, whether we say it out loud or not: Thank God they didn’t kill you. At least you survived the rape. It’s only an arm. You could have lost both legs, not just the one. God protected you from worse.

Some people blame God when bad things happen. I have no quarrel with God on this robbery. God has often protected me from my carelessness or stupidity. The robbery is inconvenient, not traumatic. I believe all humankind is fallen. Perhaps the thief has an addiction, or is chronically unemployed. Or just a bad dude. (I’m stereotyping him as male. So judge me.)

The last time I was robbed, the assailant just took my cash and gave me the wallet back. That was much more convenient. I thanked him and called him “sir.” The scruffy-looking white guy had climbed into my back seat as I entered my car, and waved a knife at my daughter and me. I just wanted my daughter safe.

I looked at the shattered window, the empty floor where my purse had been. “There goes the day,” I thought. New license, credit cards, what else? I started to drive away, then realized I needed to file a police report. Even just for larceny. This is Baltimore, hon, post-Freddie Gray; police are busy with murders and shootings. Stick-ups and home invasions are farther up the pecking order, too, so I’d have to wait until a cop had a leisurely half hour to deal with a middle-aged lady’s purse. While I waited, I searched nearby dumpsters and bushes, hoping the thief was on foot and had tossed my shopping-bag sized purse. I called my credit card companies. He had already used my credit card at two nearby gas stations.

“What else was in your purse?” the cop asks. The stuff a woman packs. Driver’s license, insurance info. Fifteen dollars. All those cards: credit cards, bank cards, business cards, health insurance cards. Panera and Chipotle gift cards from my credit card points. A restaurant gift card from my daughter. Two lipsticks, one of which I liked. Pens, a notebook, receipts. New prescription sunglasses. A nail file.

“Sometimes they watch people leave their cars,” the cop told me. “I never let my wife lock her purse in the trunk.”

It can all be fixed: new cards, new glass in the window. More street-smart behavior on my part. I have deeper concerns rumbling through my family, issues my friend and I had prayed about as we circled the reservoir. Children’s illnesses. Broken relationships. Financial insecurity. Her husband traveling to a dangerous foreign land. My husband transitioning out of an urban pastorate after 37 years. In the grand scheme of things, the purse is nothing.

Some people blame God when bad things happen. I have no quarrel with God on this one; He has often protected me from my carelessness or stupidity. The robbery is inconvenient, not traumatic. It’s further evidence that all humankind is fallen, as if we needed that. Perhaps the thief has an addiction, or is chronically unemployed. Or is just a bad dude. (I’m stereotyping him as male. So judge me.)

But if the theft didn’t bother me, why was I so tired when I got home? Why did I lie down and listen to an audio Bible reading, to be reminded that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”?

Perhaps, in an age of trauma, we’re all a little more fragile, a little more on edge, than we’d like to be.

A version of this appeared in The Baltimore Sun on Nov. 1, 2017

Leave a reply