I was on my way out of town, way out of town, because our family was moving out of the city. It was a bittersweet move for me and I was having trouble envisioning myself outside of New York. I had just gotten on an almost deserted subway car and was alone with my thoughts.
In a split second, a young man jumped out of the shadows, grabbed the canvas bag strap hanging over my knee and ran into the next car. I did not give chase.
Luckily, he did not grab my purse, which I was holding onto tightly (because you don't grow up in NYC without knowing something). I had to laugh a little to myself to think about what my thief would find when he opened the canvas bag.
Dead Sea salts and a magazine with a cover article about Nelson Mandela.
Over the years, I've experienced burglaries more than robberies (where someone actually steals something off you personally) and of course it's never been good. It also seems to be a fact of life for most of us.
Though we tell our kids stealing is wrong and never to steal, somehow there's always someone who didn't get the memo--and then you have to figure out how to talk to your kids in a way that helps them deal with stuff like this.
When my son was twelve, he had cash stolen out of his locker and I had to tell him to be very careful with his money (and leave it at home, where he could keep it safe). It was one of those life lessons you hate seeing someone learn, though - because we mostly never catch the petty thieves who steal so much more than material things when they steal from us. I suspect that is part of what they want, though--to make us feel small and vulnerable, and to make themselves feel bigger.
That's why I told him about the thief who ripped my canvas bag away from me in New York, some years before he was born. It's my own little revenge story against all the jerks who stole big and small sums from me and people I love.
I remember telling a friend this story and laughing about how disappointed the guy must have been opening the bag. She said, "He actually had the whole world in his hands, if he only knew it. Dead Sea salts and Nelson Mandela."
"Yes," I said, agreeing with her. Because thieves don't usually get whatever they believe they'll find when they steal things. I'm betting they never get enough cash to make someone's bag really worth stealing, but the thrill of taking things makes up for that.
Which is why Nelson Mandela would have so much to teach them, knowing as he did how hard it is and how long you have to fight to get what you want. After which, I suppose, you could try taking a long bath in Dead Sea salts.
I hope that's what my subway thief did.
Dead sea salt photo: israeltourism