I have spent most of my life anticipating the bad things that will happen to me. When I am walking down the street alone late at night, I plan on what I will do if someone comes to attack me. If I am about to be attacked, my plan is to tell the attacker that I have AIDS. This plan has been set since I was about 15 and every time I walk alone I go over the details. I worry whether they will believe me, whether they will care, and what I will do if they don’t. This is a constant fear that I hold onto in the back of my mind. For a while, I wondered though, if it has a purpose-all of this planning, all of the fear. It is as if I believed that in holding these thoughts in my mind somehow they would protect me from any bad. It was my good luck charm. It seems that my belief was that if you think it, it won’t happen. What I have learned this year is that in preparing for suffering, all we are doing is suffering, whether or not the perceived threat comes to fruition. This year I had the opportunity to be part of a burglary and boy was it different than anything I could have planned for.
One night in mid September I returned home from my mothers house after a meal. I began to get into my bed when I heard banging. Imagining that it was the housekeeper sending her boyfriend out of my home secretly, I started calling out to her. When I didn’t receive a response I put my robe on and went to check it out. Coming down the stairs I called out again. This time I was met with a response, “si senora”. I stepped into the kitchen, turned to the right and screamed as I saw 2 men standing there. One man grabbed my mouth and said “Be quiet. Everything is going to be ok. We wont hurt you. We didn’t think anyone was home”. Immediately my mind became fully present and I just went with what they told me. “Where is your jewelry?” “Upstairs in my room.” “Ok show us.” I led them upstairs to my bedroom. One of the men stood behind me and pushed me up against the wall. “Where is it?” “It’s in the closet in an orange box that you keep nails in. Check the shelf, let me help you.” “No. stay here. Don’t worry-we will find it.” The man that was standing behind me was very gentle, speaking softly to me. “Don’t worry we wont hurt you. We didn’t think anyone was home”.
As they searched through my jewelry, I took deep breaths. I thought about my son lying in the next room, hoping they wouldn’t wake him and praying with all my heart that they wouldn’t take him. Counting my blessings that my older daughter slept out and hoping that these burglars would find what they were searching for in this world. Praying that they would take something positive from this experience, helping them to come to a greater realization about life and their chosen profession.
In the middle of all this I said to one of them “I hope that you use the money to do some good in the world”. He replied “You make me feel like a bad person.” “You are not a bad person you are just in a difficult life situation”. I felt like the monk in “Zen Shorts,” who finds a burglar in his house and has nothing to give but the robe on his back and he feels bad about this. At that moment I had such an intense amount of compassion for these two men, all I wanted to do was help them.
They then kindly asked me to stand in my closet. The one who had been standing with me went to check the rest of the house. The second guy watched me. He was not as in control as the first, he was a little more insecure. We had an interesting conversation. He said to me “Where is your engagement ring?” I said. “Sorry, I am divorced.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I was in shock. “Esther,” I thought, “what are you doing? Why are you telling this man this?” He replied, “What a shame…If we had met under different circumstances, maybe things could have been different here.” And I am not sure if I said this out loud or not, but what went through my mind at that moment was, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good time for a pick up line.” He then went on to tell me I have nice legs. As a shiver of fear ran through my body, I made a tsking sound. A. because my legs are not something I considered nice and B. because is he joking? is this what they teach you in burglary school? Anyway he was insulted at my tsking noise. So, to boost his ego, I thanked him for the compliment and explained that I was just a little bit nervous and I hoped he could understand. While this was happening upstairs the other guy was downstairs where he found my housekeeper hiding in the basement. He gently took her necklace from her neck and brought her upstairs to the closet with me. I hugged her and told her to be quiet. She started to tell me that she called the police and I quickly quieted her down. Then the two burglars spent the next five minutes discussing whether they should lock us up or tie us up and then decided it wouldn’t be safe for my baby in the other room. So, they kindly told us to count to 100 before we moved and then they left. The loudest entrance and the quietest escape-I actually wasn’t even sure that they had left in the end.
During the experience I was extremely calm but afterwards my mind came back,-the thoughts, the fear and the anxiety didn’t end. Someone told me weeks later that the fear I was experiencing after this episode was normal but the strength I showed that day proved my inner ability to deal with any situation. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t remember the strength. Panic set in and I went through weeks of sleepless nights and anxiety attacks. What is interesting to me in this moment is how during the burglary I was fine. Feelings arose, bad things happened and I was ok. Afterwards I suffered 100 times more than during. When I started thinking again, when I let myself tell stories about the incident, when I replayed everything in my mind, life became unbearable. How many times do we allow our thoughts to keep us suffering? How often do we plan for bad things to happen? And either they never happen or when they do, they are not as bad as we imagined. What is it about thoughts that keep us so engaged?
Rabbi Esther Azar