by Elise Seyfried
For more years than I care to admit, I left my front door and my car unlocked all the time. In a neighborhood of beautiful homes, who would bother with This Old House? If someone did, I imagined the would-be robber surveying the contents (including an 18-year-old TV and an assortment of cheap costume jewelry) and leaving us a few items out of pity. And what self-respecting thief would lust after a bottom of the line Hyundai with scratches, dents and coffee-stained seats?
I think of gasoline as “good to the last drop,” and therefore the tank is usually almost empty, so the stolen car would sputter to a halt at the end of the driveway anyway. I was sure we were well under the radar screen when it came to breaking and entering. There was, I believed, safety in dilapidation. I thought of myself as a trusting soul, who daily appealed to the outside world’s better nature, and for the longest time my luck held out. In reality, I was more lazy than trusting, living in a la-la land where everyone kept their mitts to themselves.
But all that changed recently. In the span of 4 months, my wallet was stolen (from church!) and my Facebook account was hacked. My habit of leaving my purse within easy reach of anyone entering the building was my undoing in the first case. In the second, I’m guessing my habit of using the same “weak” password for my every online account (why bother to memorize a bunch of letters and numbers?) made Mr. Hacker’s job an easy one. In both cases, not much damage was done (I hope my wallet-snatcher enjoyed his $35 shopping spree), except the damage to my faith in mankind.
So now I am hyper-vigilant. I hide my purse in my office in places so obscure that even I can’t find it. I now have an encyclopedia of computer passwords. House and vehicle are locked tighter than drums. And even with all these precautions, I don’t feel safe anymore. Every stranger, from the six-year-old in the park to the gray-haired granny on the train, looks highly suspicious to me (oh yes, granny! I’m on to you and your clever disguise!), so I avoid making any contact with those I don’t know. When I left my ancient cell phone at the library the other day, my immediate, but erroneous, thought was that it had been swiped (even though mine is such a stripped-down model that you practically have to dial it). I cling to my “stuff” for dear life, and that life is now a buttoned-up, battened-down one.
I’ve been thinking of two women I love very much lately: my late sister Maureen and my younger daughter Julie. Though they never met, the two have a great deal in common — including vast amounts of trust. Both of them never met a stranger, and ended any trip to the store or on public transportation by making a new friend. Theirs is/was not foolish trust; the appropriate locks have always been secured. But both Mo and Jules always sought — and found — the best in people. They never feared encountering others. As a result, 30 years after her death, I still hear from folks I don’t really know who remember my sister with love. Julie also has a huge array of buddies from all walks of life.
Is there danger in this open-hearted approach to life? Of course. But I now err on the side of caution to a ridiculous degree, and still feel threatened. The danger here is closing myself off, assuming the worst of my fellow man, losing the desire — and finally the ability — to relate to the stranger. My big wide world is rapidly shrinking, and I hate it. But I despair of turning back, of opening myself up again. Too risky. Better to clutch my belongings and stare straight ahead on the street. Better to assume just about everyone is up to no good.
And I have to be frank; there are MANY times I don’t trust God any more than that shady-looking man on the subway. I don’t trust that God is at work in my life, don’t trust that He has things under control. I place all my trust in me to do the heavy lifting, and — surprise, surprise — I regularly let myself, and others, down. Most people are kind and honest, and when I stop trusting, I stop seeing that. Stop seeing God in the stranger’s face.
I may have all my “riches” secure, but my life is much the poorer if I choose fear. So let me take a page from Mo and Julie’s notebook. Let me make contact — eye contact, heart contact — with people again. I’ll take the necessary precautions, but after that let me relax. Trusting in a beautiful world, filled with friends I just haven’t met yet.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.