The urbanite's refrain after a smash-and-grab: It was just a purse

After several laps around Lake Montebello, I returned to see my Honda’s side window smashed out, and crumbled glass littering my grandson’s car seat. To steal my purse, the thief didn’t even have to open the door — just smashed and grabbed.

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

Even though the windows were tinted, I should have hidden it better. Even though I parked in a school lot frequented by early morning walkers, I should have only carried my driver’s license and left my purse at home.

And of course, it could have been worse. I wasn’t assaulted. He didn’t get my cell phone. No one shot at me. He didn’t break into my house.

Our minds think this, whether we say it out loud or not: Thank God he didn’t kill me. At least I survived the rape. It’s only an arm. I could have lost both legs, not just the one.

It was only my purse.

In my last robbery, the assailant took my cash and gave me the wallet back. So much more convenient. 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. Not losing the whole wallet was such a bonus I thanked him and called him “sir.”

I looked at the shattered window, the empty floor where my purse had been. “There goes the day,” I thought. New license, credit cards, auto repair, what else? Taking it in stride, 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 the 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. Driver’s license, insurance info. Fifteen dollars. All that plastic: 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. Pens, a notebook, receipts. New prescription sunglasses. Two lipsticks, one of which I liked. A nail file.

The cop was personable and sympathetic. “Sometimes they watch people leave their cars,” the cop told me. “I never even 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.

So, it could have been worse. But it was still bad.

Maria Garriott (mariagarriott@gmail.com) is the author of “A Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey.”

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