“And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.”
So shortly before I left the US, my car was broken into and a CD wallet stolen. This wallet contained 72 CDs, which I’d just spent some time sorting; I’d been collecting them since I was twelve; and I estimate their total value to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000.
I have two responses to this.
It’s been said that the reason why we regard life, liberty, and property as sacred is because they represent temporal states: to steal your property is to steal your past, to steal your liberty is to steal your present, and to steal your life is to steal your future. If my current emotional response is any indication, this is a remarkably accurate characterization.
What really stings isn’t the financial loss, although that’s significant; it isn’t the loss of resources, although most of the music from my shows has been drawn from this library; it’s the loss of *history*. There’s music in there that I’ve picked up on my travels to other countries; music burned for me by friends and girlfriends; music that got me through some hard times, and some harder ones; music that played in the background as I composed scenes for plays. I’m a materialistic guy, and I get too attached to *things*: but those things carry part of my past with them, and their loss can’t help feeling like a violation of that. *That’s* the ultimate reason that theft is evil, and property is important: because you’re not just stealing an object, but its history, as well.
Which may well be my trying to rationalize how fucking pissed off I am right now.
And yet — maybe as a product of just how chaotic my life has been for the past couple of weeks — when I realized it was gone, there was actually a moment of — serenity? I mean, I’d spent a lot of time sorting them, not alphabetically but in chronological order of the composition of the earliest song on each CD. I — ah — get wrapped up in certain, uh, rituals and patterns, and that turned out to be a big job. And suddenly — whoosh — it was gone. I’d been liberated of it.
I mean, there’s a big part of me that’s disgusted with myself for even owning that much stuff, y’know? And not just the stuff — the *history*, that I’m carrying around that much stuff *mentally*. I’m the kind of guy that keeps boxes of every letter, note, object I received from every terrible relationship I’ve been in, because I *can’t get rid of it*. I have pictures of most of my ex-girlfriends in my wallet, because I don’t know how to throw them away. And, yeah, the bulk of my response to the theft is anger.
But there’s a small, very small part of brain that wants to thank the thief for liberating me of my possessions. Does that make me crazy?
“Ryokan lived in a small hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief broke in, only to find that there was nothing in the hut worth stealing.
When Ryokan returned, he found the thief and said, ‘You’ve probably come a long way, and you shouldn’t return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.’
Shamefaced, the thief took the clothes and left.
Ryokan sat down naked and looked up at the sky. ‘Poor fellow,’ he said, ‘I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.’"
-Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones