Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer To A Thief

You stole more than a bicycle and you robbed from all of us.

By Susan Hesson

JANUARY 24, 2000:  When I saw you walking casually up the street — an average teenage boy, neatly dressed with a backpack over your shoulder — I honestly didn’t give you a second thought. I went back to the task of strapping my four-year-old into her car seat after shopping for dinner at a midtown market. I figured you might have been studying at the nearby library and were now headed home on foot.

You looked me in the eye, so I nodded and said, “Good evening.” I’m trying my best to teach my daughter to be polite, even to strangers, and she commented that I spoke to you. You even smiled and nodded in reply. You seemed like the kind of kid I’d want living in my neighborhood.

So when you casually strolled up to a bicycle that had just been parked against the rail by a last-minute shopper, hopped on and rode off, I was initially too stunned to react. Recovering somewhat, I alerted the owner of the bike, and watched — “shocked and appalled,” to use my daughter’s favorite expression — as he pursued you with another customer.

Turning my attention back to my daughter, I shook my head in disbelief. She asked why you had ridden away on someone else’s bicycle. I was at a complete loss for an explanation. I couldn’t explain it to myself.

You see, when I’d picked her up that afternoon, she was proudly waving a little red feather. Her teacher had given it to her as a reward because she had admitted to secretly doing something that had hurt another child’s feelings. It’s difficult for young children to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions, so her spontaneous admission was a real milestone. I was so proud of her, and had just spent the last fifteen minutes praising her for her honesty and goodness. I told her she really made me proud that day.

And then right in front of her innocent, wondering eyes, you stole someone else’s bicycle.

I don’t know why you did it. You may have needed a ride. It was cold that night, and you were on foot. You may have known the owner and wanted to do something to hurt him. Or you just may be the kind of person who doesn’t give a damn what’s right or wrong, and acts purely on impulse, with no regard for how your actions impact anyone else.

But in that brief moment, you stole a lot more than just a bicycle. You stole a young man’s sole means of transportation. He chased you with the help of another shopper, then trudged off angry and disgusted into the cold, dark night.

You stole my sense of security and contentment with the neighborhood in which I live. My home is minutes from where this took place. I don’t like the idea of witnessing a theft anywhere, but certainly not in my own front yard.

You stole my hope for your own generation. Every day, we are bombarded with stories of terrible things teenagers have done. And while we also hear about the good in today’s kids, somehow those stories are diminished by the increasing frequency and horror of the bad.

You stole a sense of pride and accomplishment from your own parents. Surely they didn’t teach you to steal, did they? Were they proud when you rode up that evening on an expensive mountain bike that you didn’t own when you left that morning?

But the most valuable thing you stole in that moment was from my daughter. You stole a part of her innocence and childhood. You robbed her of the lesson of doing the right thing, even if you don’t come out ahead.

Stealing that bicycle may very well have meant nothing to you. Perhaps you noticed it was unlocked and thought it would be a lark to ride away on it. That evening could have been the first time you ever took anything. Or it could have been the hundredth. Either way, you probably won’t be punished for it. But maybe you’ll read this, and realize just how much you really took in that moment and from whom.

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