What If vs. What Is

Our cars were broken into last night. On the surface, it’s not really a big deal. Kealoha lost his iPod and some spare change. The thief (or thieves) didn’t break anything or damage anything. Ten years ago, I had my car broken into at work in the middle of the day. They smashed the window with a brick, grabbed my CD player and CDs and no one notice. I felt angry and violated then. I don’t feel angry now. I feel sad.

Maybe it’s the writer in me. Maybe it’s the mom in me. I don’t know. But I can’t stop thinking about WHO would do this, and more importantly WHY?

Here are the scenarios my brain comes up with:


Maybe it’s a couple of teenagers who go from car to car and collect stuff because there’s a rush to stealing. Okay. Fine. But then my mind goes further. What kind of family do they have when they can be out in the middle of the night? Why do they want this rush?  Why don’t they have other things that can fill their time? Do they have anyone who cares about them? Why is this act even an option for them? It makes me sad.



Maybe it’s someone who’s some kind of addict and needs money so desperately that they’re grabbing stuff they can exchange so they can get what they REALLY want. Again, this makes me sad. I’ve seen how addiction changes people. I’ve had friends when I was in my twenties who drank a lot, maybe did some “soft” drugs to party, but flash forward a decade and their bodies are worn, their spirits are broken, and getting high becomes THE most important thing. Again, it makes me sad. To have a need so deep that you take from others.



Maybe it’s someone who just doesn’t have any money. Maybe they’re poor. Maybe they can’t get a good job. Maybe they’re hungry. Maybe they have kids who want gadgets and there’s no way they can afford it. Maybe they ARE kids and they’re mad at everyone else who has MORE. This makes me saddest of all. I remember being poor. Really poor. Poor enough that we lived in unsafe neighborhoods (where, again, a lot of people got high). Poor enough that I know what real hunger is, and fear, and a deeper fear of not being safe. I’ve pulled myself out of that, but it’s been through sheer force of will and heavy helping of luck. Sometimes, you can’t pull yourself out of poverty no matter how hard you try.



What I’m thinking more about is what would it take for ME to steal? Would I ever do it?

Well, the truth is, I HAVE done it. Once I took $20 from a roommate because I had no money and I was hungry. I later told her and returned the money, but something broke in our friendship. And it broke something in me. I could justify it: I was hungry; She had stacks of money. It didn’t seem fair. So I took it from her.

I guess I can understand and empathize with people who steal. I should’ve just waited another day or so until I was paid instead of taking my roommate’s money. I could have asked her for a loan. I could’ve waited. I was HUNGRY but not STARVING. I was too embarrassed to ask for a loan. I took the $20 bill, and I still feel bad about it.

A decade later, haven’t I changed? Sure. $20 isn’t a ton of money to me anymore. If I’m hungry, I eat. In fact, I eat so much I’m now trying to lose weight. Would I steal again? NEVER!

But wait…

Would I steal if there wasn’t enough food in our house? I’d try not to. I’d try anything I could until there was no other choice, but then, yes I would. Would I steal if my kids were hungry and by taking $5 off of a waitress’s table, I could get my kids a meal? Yes.

Would I steal if I couldn’t pay the mortgage and I knew that if I only had $100 it would mean the difference between shelter for my family and being homeless? Some people have to make that choice. What if the difference between being moral and trustworthy was just $100? What if on one side of that $100 you go homeless; on the other side, you have one more month of security. One more month to get your life together. Would I steal? In my mind, I’m already opening the car door and slipping my hands inside.



I know I’m being overdramatic. They’re probably just kids goofing off. But it’s the What If questions that haunt me. What If someone broke into our house? What If we lost our jobs? What If circumstances change, and my kids are forced to have the kind of childhood I had? What would I do?

My answer kind of scares me: I’d do anything to protect my family and make sure they have enough to eat. Anything. If pushed hard enough, I’d probably even kill.

This is why I’m sad about whoever broke into our cars. It’s not about the theft, but whatever place of desperation it comes from to cross the line from What If to What Is.

I hope I never have to make that choice in the real world.