Adam Marton tells a story about his car being stolen several years ago.
It was taken from an auto shop, just before Adam was set to go on vacation. Insurance covered a loaner. Adam’s livelihood and safety, even his personal comfort, weren’t ever at real risk.
I’ve had my car stolen, and it sucks. When you’re the victim of a serious crime, it cuts in different ways. New fears take up residence in your psyche. You become more suspicious of strangers, less expectant of goodwill in others. You have easy access to bitterness and rage; you’re more ready to assume the worst in people and situations.
Crime does real damage, even when the victims are resilient.
A few weeks after the theft, the police called to say Adam’s car was found, and please come pick it up. He went to the impound lot, hoping the car wasn’t completely trashed, and was truly surprised by what he found when he arrived.
There was a car seat buckled into the back seat, and the cab was strewn with job applications. New stereo equipment had been installed. Someone had been driving around, in his car, acting like a real, regular person.
Adam was a victim of another person’s wrongdoing. He also had unexpectedly become a witness to another person’s care and aspiration. The car was a crime scene; it was also a window into someone’s life, a snapshot of mundane and relatable human concerns. The thief was a criminal and abuser; he was also a young man who cared for a child. The theft was an act of violence and violation; it may also have been an act of desperation, a misguided attempt at self-improvement or just plain escape.
Adam never got to know the man who stole his vehicle, though he later learned more about his life, and his violent death at age 28. The man’s name was Thelonius, and the event that connected them was not Thelonius’ first crime, nor his last.
It’s not always possible to see beyond a person’s transgression, especially for the victims of the person’s actions. But sometimes, through a process of discovery and imagination, we feel ourselves drawn away from fear and malice toward understanding and compassion.