Stolen Goods & Sine Waves

Part of my “Article of the Month” series in 2000

Last month (that would be May to avoid any confusion; yes, I’m very behind in my monthly articles) a couple of Significant Events occurred that either promised good fortune or were good opportunities for other avenues of creative endeavor. They were, respectively, an offered writing position with, and attendance at the USA Film Festival. Both uniquely restored a sense of assurance with my life and what I’ve been doing, even though what I’ve been doing hasn’t been necessarily ground-breaking.

This month (June) proved to be the downward trough of the sinusoidal wave of life for me. Let me divulge:

Paramount Significant Event:

An event of paramount significance happened upon me this month. No, I was not elected President of the United States. No, I didn’t scale Everest. Neither did I find philosophical enlightenment. No, instead I realized the difference between ownership and materialism. The benefits and banes that accompany the right to ownership, as it were. How did this basic civic institution come upon me, you say? Simple. I was robbed.

The details: On a normal weekend in mid-June, I had my golf clubs and recently constructed speaker box/amplifier sitting inside the back of my car, a 1992 Nissan 240SX.

Now one should know that this car is a hatchback model, so that while you can see inside the back, one would be hard-pressed to actually make out the contents of the hatch without either: A) watching me load said contents into the hatch, or B) breaking into the hatch to discover the contents.

Well, the latter of the two definitely happened, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the former did as well, since my hatch has a cover so that the contents are always obscured. In either case, the fault was nevertheless mine. I had carelessly left my clubs and speakers in the back of my car. And the car was parked outside of my apartment, in plain view. So the chance of robbery was greater, but still I didn’t heed the likelihood.

At first, I thought of everyone besides myself whom I could blame in this situation. There was obviously the thief who — in my opinion at the time — didn’t deserve to live, much less consume the same oxygen as me. Then there was the apartment properties company, whose poor lighting in the parking lot and weak security certainly didn’t discourage the thief. And then there was my automotive insurance company, whose $500 deductible policy on all claims made it impossible for me to actually reimburse my losses. And finally, there was the police officer who seemed rather apathetic and even inept at finding the perpetrator responsible for the crime.

Quite simply, it seemed that everyone was against me. Now back to the lesson I learned in the difference between ownership and materialism.

As granted to each US citizen in the Bill of Rights, this simple yet profound human need is both fundamental and inhibitive. Property, whether we want to admit it or not, defines us. In the end, it seems, our lives all come down to acquired estates and goods. The maxim “can’t take it with you” notwithstanding, the cold hard truth is that we are our stuff. Up until being burglarized, I personally doubted this, thinking myself above mere material hoarding. But this truth further hit home when some good friends of mine recently lost an elderly relative, and their family is now caught in a struggle over the estates.

And then it hits me. If I’d taken to heart the message of the film American Beauty, I’d have realized that “this is just stuff.” It shouldn’t define me. It shouldn’t complete my identity. I am more than the sum of my goods.

Materialism’s a fact of life. It’s one thing to say in a romanticized manner (as enlightened creatures we fancy ourselves to be) that we can rise above our possessions. It’s quite another thing to actually live that way. Especially growing up in the capitalist West, where materialism is more than just a system of economics. It’s also a cultural institution, a way of life. Easier said than done. So said Tyler Durden in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.”

The good news in all of this is that my golf clubs were replaced by my homeowner’s insurance. Not only were they replaced, the new set is better than the old. And of course I couldn’t see this blessing in disguise at the time because of my tunnel vision blame.

But the important thing to remember was that the blessing had to accompany the curse. The low points of that oscillating wave always seems to come before the high points. Another of life’s sinusoidal lessons, I suppose.

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