Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on Being Honest Even if it Hurts: or, Yes, I Stole a Backpack

Note: this is a guest entry from one of my parishioners, Julia Hurn. Enjoy.

Recently my husband and I gave a Game Boy to my son Aidan. To say that he really loves it is an understatement. When he first got it, he had no self-control. He could not turn the thing off, despite pleadings, bargainnings and even threats from us. We have had to wrench it out of his hands often. Things are getting better, but while we were on vacation, he was in the throes of Game Boy mania and decided to bring it with him to the beach one day.

On our way home from the beach as we were unloading the car, he decided to take a bucket full of seawater and sea creatures out of the backseat with the same hand that was holding his Game Boy. You can guess the rest.

I don’t know who was more upset, Aidan or my husband who knew by heart every word of the replacement agreement he paid for when he bought the thing…”water damage not covered” was what was echoing through his head. While it did not cost near what a new one cost, it was about the priciest toy we’ve bought him, weighing in at about $60, not including the game cartridges.

Well, Aidan was so dejected. He had this shocked, devastated look on his face. Shawn was hopping mad, and I was watching all this thinking; we never should have done it in the first place. Once the shock wore off and we got safely back to Brooklyn, Shawn had the idea of taking it anyway back to the store and seeing if they would fix it or exchange it, even though water damage was clearly not covered.

I wasn’t happy that he was getting Aidan’s hopes up, but Shawn did a good job of explaining to him that he might not get a new one and he should be prepared for the disappointment. (Big sigh) “yes, dad,” says Aidan.

Not more than an hour later, I hear the happy sounds of chatting and the electronic ping ping ping of a…you guessed it, new Game Boy floating up our stairs. In walks Aidan, happy as a clam. “What happened?” I ask Shawn, incredulous.

Apparently they approached the clerk, and Shawn urged Aidan to speak directly to her about what happened. Shawn did not say he had to volunteer that he dropped it in water. But, Aidan, with sheepish shame, head bowed, muttered “I sort of accidently kind of dropped it in some water.” The clerk took one look at him (the fact that he has sandy blond hair, freckles and huge, gorgeous blue eyes didn’t hurt) and said “the truth will set you free, my friend. Here’s a new one.”

When I heard this story, I have to admit to some feelings of ambiguity. I’m happy he got another one, of course, but a bit saddened that Aidan did not learn about the consequence of his actions.

How does an accidental dropping of a game in water constitute an action, you ask? We had warned him that the likelihood that it would get damaged was very great when he took it in the car to the beach. We told him not to do it, but he went ahead anyway. Because he chose to keep his precious possession in proximity to potential disaster, he has to take some responsibility for what happened.

But I am relieved that, in telling the truth, he was met with mercy and compassion. For a little guy who is six, I think this is very appropriate. See, because now that I’m a parent, I can’t hide from my own parental/moral uprightness. I’m ashamed of something I did recently, and as a way of avoiding being hypocritical (do as I say, not as I do), I’ve just plain avoided the situation.

About a year ago this summer, I was loaned a backpack by the good people at Prospect Park Audobon Center, filled with materials to do an educational experiment. I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that I did not do the experiment, and that the materials (including some clip boards, some plastic containers and mostly papers and bird guides) are sitting in my closet.

My regular backpack started to fall apart recently; and out of desperation, I appropriated the one in my closet containing all the stuff in it, toke the stuff out of it, and backpack for me. Pretty reprehensible, huh? I have always had some excuse for not returning it all…I don’t have time right now to do the experiment; we will get to it soon; blah blah (it involved observing ducks on the pond in the park).

My husband just recently pointed out to me that in reality, I have stolen that stuff as it was given to me in good faith to be used then returned and I have not returned it, and he doesn’t think I’m ever going to. He said this because it’s been sitting for a year in our closet.

And you know, in my paralysis of guilt, he’s right. I stopped recently thinking I would ever return it. In my mind there was a “statute of limitations” on returning it, and that if I did now return it, I would be really chastised…with questions, like: what took you so long? How could you be such a bad person as to keep this very important and valuable stuff from being used by some other well-deserving person/people?

The anticipation of the scolding and shaming I would receive really was the thing that kept me from doing the right thing. Rather than facing up to the possible bad reception by the staff there and just doing the right thing, I’d best just avoid it all together by keeping it, though every passing week and month I keep it, I feel worse.

Isn’t it the same with our children? The anticipation of the punishment for doing something bad prevents us and them from doing right thing and owning up. Being bad (or the Christian term Sinning) is something we all do because we are human. We screw up; we fail to give back what’s not ours; we try not to take responsibility for something bad we caused so we can get out of fixing it.

I love my husband for being my moral compass in these areas; my morality can get pretty loosey-goosey sometimes (one reason why I think I make a lousy Christian), and he often gently and not so gently reminds me to do the right thing. What does Jesus have to do with this? I think Jesus would laugh at me for keeping the backpack for so long. He would stand over my shoulder and say, “hey, you’ll feel so much better when you give it back,” with a smile and a wink, and then just walk away.

My plan is to go tomorrow to the Audobon Center in a car service to drop it ever so stealthily by the front door of the education dept. Anonymously, of course. If anyone asks me, I’ll just say: “I’m returning something I found to it’s rightful owners,” and leave it at that.

1 comment:

getreconnected said...

Julia, first let me express my delight that you have a son named Aidan. Our Aidan was born in 1984 back when everybody thought you'd made a mistake -- "Adrian? Adian? Adam?" Your Aidan sounds like ours at that age. My wife and I have waved goodbye to each of our four kids -- Aaron off to seminary, marriage, and impending fatherhood; the aforementioned Aidan through university and off to Malaysia in November; Miriam through school (almost) and off to Germany to work as an au pair; and our baby, Ted, successfully into his second year of university. And I find myself looking back on all those times when my wife and I thought it was really, really important to "teach him/her a lesson" so they would "learn from their mistakes" and "not do anything so careless and foolish the next time" because, you know, "actions have consequences" -- and how little effect so many of those instances had. I think there's a good reason why Christians continue to dare to believe in grace and mercy.