Dear Debra: A Lesson On Tshuvah
Our burglar alarm began shrieking at 2 a.m. Stumbling awake, we heard male voices downstairs. As my husband slammed our bedroom door and slid the lock, I heard one of them say, “SH**, who turned on the alarm? Where’s … ???.”
Part of my brain said, “Sounds like two drunk teens here by accident.” The rest of me pushed the panic button and grabbed the phone. The dispatcher kept me on the line until the police arrived.
When we got downstairs, the officer said there was “no sign of forced entry.” Our bad. We’d left the door firmly closed but unlocked. But we had heard voices, and I told the cops that it sounded like two drunk teens who’d wandered into the wrong house scaring us half to death. I wanted to press charges and give their soused selves a piece of my mind.
The officer’s tempered reply was to give me a choice. “When I pull someone over,” he said, “I reprimand them or give them a ticket, not both.”
In case he ever pulled me over, I went for giving them a piece of my mind. Twenty minutes later, three police officers returned with the boys — 21-year-old men, actually. Sure enough, they’d forgotten where their friend lived.
I shook their hands and introduced myself. One of them looked good and scared. The other one immediately started in with “Ma’am, I am so, so sorry. I understand …”
That’s when I told this Eddie Haskell (my millennial readers, Google it) to close his mouth because he reeked and understood nothing. I told them how angry I was. How much they had frightened us. How fortunate we hadn’t had a gun because we would have been well within our rights to shoot first and ask questions later.
I was furious and determined to get through the fumes wafting from them to tell them just how risky and stupid they were. I reminded them how fortunate a life they had, that I imagined their parents had given them every opportunity to succeed, sending them to good schools, clothing them, feeding them.
As the quiet one looked on and the brown-noser tried to once again to tell me that he understood, I told him he would understand nothing until he had a child of his own and was projecting his hopes into the future that held all kinds of dreams for that child’s health and success. A future in which he’d pray every single day that his child would not make dumb decisions, that dangerous people would never cross his path, that he would grow into an honorable person.
I told him he was probably too drunk to remember anything, but that I hoped something of the evening would remain. The officers led them back up the street. After checking the lock three times, we headed upstairs.
A couple of days later, the young man up the street whose friends these were was at my doorstep with a huge bouquet of flowers and a card. His voice was quaking as he apologized for his friends’ (co-workers, I learned) behavior. He offered to do extra yard work for us, anything, anything else, what could he do to make this up?
I accepted his apology. He wasn’t blameless, but the intruders should have been at my doorstep with apologies.
I told him I was seeking the bigger lessons in this. Maybe those two drunk men were sent to remind us to lock our door, perhaps heading off a worse plan the cosmos might have had in store. Maybe something got through to them, and they’ll think twice before wandering about three sheets to the wind. Maybe they’ll stay sober for a weekend.
I recalled the choice the cop gave me — pressing charges or scolding, a good lesson about tempering anger and meting out appropriate consequences. My young friend had certainly learned a few things. He didn’t know the word tshuvah, but he was doing the hard work of owning up and asking for forgiveness.
What is our part in our own calamities? What can we learn from them? What can we teach? How do we show our gratitude for coming through safely? My young friend planned to write the police a note of thanks, something I can do as well.
I’ll go into the new year with his brave and heartfelt tshuvah bright before me. As for his co-workers, not a peep. Next time, they might not be so lucky.
Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at debradarvick.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or look for an anonymous question submission form on Debra’s online column at www.thejewishnews.com.