Burgled, or the ax gets returned. Eventually.

Recently, I was the victim of a crime, which I discovered only after giving the perp a few dollars, a hug and all the goodwill I had to spare that day. What he left me in exchange is this story.

I was sitting in my basement with my cats, watching a little afternoon TV, when I noticed an unfamiliar car in my driveway.  When I went out to inquire, the driver — a young man holding a big red gas can — explained that someone had told him he could get gas at my house.  This was confusing for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that my house is not a gas station, but the lean stranger, barely out of his teens, seemed distraught and a little confused.

Steve — his name, he said — explained that he was not from around here, that his car was packed with everything he and his girlfriend owned because they’d just been kicked out of their storage unit and also a hotel that very day. And, he had no friends here. And, to top it all off, he thought his girlfriend might at that moment be having a miscarriage in Pueblo — about 40 miles away  — but she had both their cell phones, so he could not reach her and desperately needed the gas to go find her.

Now, this fabulous assortment of misfortunes, plus the improbable, nonsensical items stuffed into his car –some of which I later realized were mine — plus the fact that my walk-in garage door was ajar, might have tipped off a person who wasn’t actively trying to practice kindness and who, also, was not so touched by Steve’s callow, distraught face and moist, doe-like eyes. I was not that person.  I was the person who clambered into the car’s passenger seat, heaving its former occupant, a heavy glass aquarium, onto my lap as I directed him to the Sinclair station about a quarter-mile away.

On the way,  Steve cried a little, and thanked and thanked me, then protested when I tried to give him a few dollars, offering me one of the sundry items stuffed in his vehicle because, he said,  he didn’t like to take anything from anyone for free.   I told him I have more than I need — which is true — and gave him a big hug. Then I wished him well and walked home, thinking that maybe he was not only upset but high, but that didn’t matter, because he was another human being who needed help.

I didn’t grasp the truth until I walked into the garage and saw an assortment of my belongings stuffed in buckets and bags, ready to be made off with. My car’s back license plate was bent, as if he had started to remove it.  The fuse-box lid was lying beneath the steering wheel; the hood latch had been released. The garage-door remote on the visor was gone, as was the car’s registration and proof of insurance.

I’m not sure what else Steve took.  At least this: a couple of hand saws, their teeth worn by use,  a pruning saw, a yellow-handled ax I use to split firewood, some old license plates I’d kept for sentimental value.

I was still basking in my Good Sam glow when I discovered this, so I wasn’t really mad at Steve. But I called the cops anyway, because Steve was —  you know — a thief, and I wanted to protect my neighbors.  (Also, I was angry when I thought he’d taken my aluminum ladder, but that passed when I realized I was standing on it to re-program my garage-door opener. ) The officer came, made the requisite report and left me alone with my thoughts, which were still unreasonably rosy.

Part of it, I admit, was the thought that I’d been burgled, which lacks gravitas. Not the act, mind you, but the word — say it out loud; I’ll wait — which makes it sound as if you’ve been tickled or pranked or something else entertaining. Plus, I kept thinking — gently, with a lot of self-love — what an idiot I’d been, but also that “kind” may be better than “smart,” and while I’ve been smart a lot in my life, I  need to catch up in the kind department. And I was grateful that I had not also given Steve the box of Girl Scouts Thin Mints I’d bought the day before, which had crossed my mind,  and not just because I really like Thin Mints, but because in Buddhist cosmology, stealing from someone who gives you Girl Scout cookies — especially Thin Mints — is seriously bad karma, requiring lifetimes of purification.

But also, I wondered if this might be a transformative moment in young Steve’s life, that he would feel so guilty about stealing from a person who had been nice to him that he would mend his ways.   That he might even sneak back overnight and leave quietly outside my door the things he’d taken — not with a note or anything, but with a profound and regretful silence that let me know he was sorry and that he would now go forth and sin no more.

And you know what? That’s exactly what happened.  When I went out the next morning to stock the bird feeders, my good yellow-handed ax was back,  propped gently against the basement door. Neatly arranged nearby were the other missing tools, the license plates, the car documents and the garage-door opener.

Just kidding.

Steve still has everything he took, including what I have not yet discovered missing.  In fact, as I write, he is probably  hoodwinking some other mildly retarded homeowner with his Story of Many Woes, his soft, distraught eyes and his tender man-child tears. Assuming of course, the homeowner happens upon him mid-burgle — I love that word —  and hasn’t the sense she was born with.

Yep:  Steve still has my stuff.  And I still have this feeling that it’s OK, and not just because my new ax is black and sleekly muscular, whereas  — if I’m honest — the yellow-handled ax always felt a little girlie.  I understand that Steve gave me a story,  that I get to write the moral, and that it goes like this:

Love is never wasted.  Not the emotional commerce that often passes for love between people — you meet my needs and I’ll meet yours — which is rife with loss, but love liberated from expectation.  Kindness matters, even when it seems to be misplaced, even when good is seemingly repaid with bad.  Trying to help another human being always falls on the side of the angels, even if we don’t immediately see how. Our vision is so limited, our lives so constrained, so fleeting.  But somewhere — I know it — love connects to love.  And the ax eventually gets returned, though not always in ways we witness or apprehend.

I hope so, anyway.  Because Steve gave me this story.  And this is how I’m ending it.




  1. Ellen · · Reply

    I’m not sure how I stumbled upon your blog, but I’m so glad I did. The way you use words and weave a story is magical. This particular story is one in which I could easily see myself as the kind-hearted subject of the burglar (yes… great word!) with the doe-like eyes. In fact, I probably have been in some form or fashion multiple times. I appreciate you helping me view my susceptibility to being suckered by being kind through a different lens.


    1. What a lovely compliment; thank you. I’m glad to have you as a reader!


  2. As I have been recently over-obsessed with justice, this comes at the right time. And fittingly tied in with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem I read, “Live not for the battles won, Live not for the-end-of-the-song.” Letting go of the outcome without becoming apathetic is the challenge. Thank you so very much.


    1. What a kind and thoughtful reflection. My appreciation back to you.


  3. grateful that your most
    precious possession
    was not taken, dear Cate 🙂


    1. Thank you, my sweet friend David.


  4. Loved this post, thank you! Letting go of the outcome is essential practice, even if one sometimes feels a bit foolish when the outcome comes back on you. And kindness… every little bit counts in today’s world.


    1. You put it well: letting go of the outcome. This encounter was good practice indeed, as it met me at the level I’m at, which is still remedial. I’m grateful for that, and for your encouragement.Thank you.


  5. Reminds me of the Chinese saying: You will find crows everywhere: they will also be black everywhere. Perhaps louts and freeloaders have roamed the earth since life was simpler like the amoebae. Someone above has spoken about Karma. It is good only insofar as he keeps refreshing the felony and eventually runs out of luck.


    1. That’s a wonderful saying; thanks for sharing it. As for karma, I can say only that I’m glad ultimate justice is not my concern. Thank you for continuing to read and offer such insightful comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for the reminder that “Kindness matters, even when it seems to be misplaced,” Cate. Great essay.


    1. Thank you, Jane, for your appreciation.


  7. I have one word.. Karma. Yours is good his is bad. Wonderful job Cate!


    1. Thank you, my friend. 🙂


  8. I want to believe that people asking for help actually need it, so I’ve been guillible on multiple occasions. But why do they insist upon adding to their already improbable fabrications after they have our money (goods, etc.) in hand? Guess I just have that “soft touch” look. 😬


    1. I’ve seen your photo, Bob, and you DO have that soft-touch look. Don’t change a thing, as it’s nearly as appealing as your poetry. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wouldn’t know how to change. Iamb what Iamb! Or something like that. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  9. slukwago · · Reply

    Cate, this is beautiful. A beautiful story. Captivating. You have all the wonderful things that make a story so good. And I agree with D’Arcy Fallon.


    1. Thank you for your kind words, my friend. And, as always for the gift of your time and attention in reading my work.


  10. Jane Turnis · · Reply

    How is it that you can have us giggling all the way through your crime-victim story? (And really, the pregnant girlfriend thing didn’t seem a little over the top?) This is fabulous. Happy axing!


    1. It was over the top! I am exceptionally scammable, apparently. 🙂 Thanks for reading, giggling and commenting, mi amiga. You must come see my new ax soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. D'Arcy Fallon · · Reply

    Cate, I love this. And I’d say you came out ahead, darlin’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Precisely, Bunkster! That’s how I felt. Thanks for reading and commenting, old friend.


  12. I had a similar experience this week – of trying to do something good and having it turn back on me. I like your story and the moral. Perhaps it will help me to reach a more positive one as well.


    1. I know you will, as I’ve repeatedly seen your lemons-to-lemonade capacity in your wonderful posts. Kudos for intent, always. And thank you for reading and commenting.


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