28 January 2010

I almost shoplifted today

Los Angeles. Glendale Galleria.
(I am in LA for a little while to get an employment visa to go back to India and work at a job that I got as an Editor at a media company in Mumbai.)

I went to the Apple store at the mall today, because my computer has some issues. When I got there, it wouldn't start up at all. I could see it when I connected it to another computer, but it wouldn't start up on its own. I've got a few months left on a 3 year warranty, so they'll take care of it for me, but first I need to back up some files, including my photos from India, because when I give it to AppleCare, they will most likely erase the hard drive. I backed everything up before I left, but not anything I added in India, which are mostly photos and some work files. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to connect it to my Mom's computer in Florida, copy some files over, and then send it off to be fixed. Then, when it comes back, I can restore it from backup, and copy the photos and other files from my Mom's computer back onto it.
On my way out of the mall, I stopped for some pizza. Carrying my computer and the pizza, I made my way back to the door from which I entered, where the car was parked. Just before leaving the mall, there was a little mall kiosk that sold drinks and chips. The mini-kart. I saw they had Vitamin Water, which I've really missed in India, so I stopped for one. I took it out of their refrigerated case, and walked to the corner of the kiosk with the cash register. There was no one in sight. I looked around, and saw someone sitting nearby, on the ledge of the escalator, almost on the floor, with his head and arms resting on his lap. He looked like he was asleep. I figured he was the one working at the kiosk, and hesitated for a moment.
I have shoplifted a few times in the past, many years ago. The last time was probably 10 or 12 years ago. Only small things, and generally only when the store was making no effort to help me or let me check out. Once in college I had little money, and was buying soup at the grocery store, and didn't want to buy a whole loaf of bread, so I opened a loaf and put a couple pieces of bread in my pocket, and paid for the soup. A couple candy bars here and there. A couple items where I was going to pay, but the store clerk was nowhere to be found, so I just walked out. I justified it to myself in a few ways. I only stole from giant corporations who were, in my mind, sticking it to the average consumer in the first place. Never from small mom & pop stores, never from individuals. And only when they really didn't seem to want to take my money. I thought of it as redistribution of wealth, and harmless. I didn't think of myself as immoral, but perhaps amoral, or differently moraled, making up my own rules according to what I thought was right. I know none of these justifications is worth anything, and that I was fooling myself, but that is the confessional truth.
Today, i was disturbed because of my computer dying, and I'm feeling serious sticker shock as to how expensive everything is here in the US, compared to India. And i really didn't want to wake the guy up in order to pay. I had an impulse to just walk away, and I did so. I hadn't done that in a long time, but it was an instinctual impulse. I could get the drink i wanted and not pay $2.50 for it, and not wake up the poor sleeping clerk. If they really wanted my money, they'd be watching the store. And money is such an issue right now, short term and long term, every 2 dollars really does make a difference. Plus, there is a bit of a thrill to walking away like that. I walked right out of the mall, got in my car, and drove away. Nothing happened, no one saw, I had gotten away with it.
When I exited the parking structure and emerged into the bright light of daytime, I started thinking. What kind of person do I want to be? It's one thing to shoplift occasionally when one is younger, but do I really want to be doing this anymore? Don't I believe in Karma? Don't I have an advanced sense of guilt, perhaps due to my Jewish roots? (While Catholic guilt comes from the fear of disappointing God, and not wanting to sin, Jewish guilt comes from not wanting to disappoint your mother.) Who am I? Who do I want to be? Just because I can get away with something, do I want to? Don't I want to respect Vitamin Water, which I love, and the people that own the kiosk, and the clerk, even though he was asleep? and myself?
I made a choice. This is not for me anymore. I want to live consciously, honestly, and with integrity. I don't want to shoplift, even if I can get away with it.
I turned around and headed back for the mall.
I put the Vitamin Water in a shopping bag and hoped he would still be asleep. When I got in the mall, he was up at at his post, but I was able to walk around the kiosk, past the refrigerated case where he couldn't see me. I opened and shut the case, and pulled the bottle from my bag, then walked around the corner of the kiosk again, this time to see the clerk sitting there.
And of course, of course, as if to validate my choice, a choice which should have been obvious but took me a while to arrive at, as if God or the Universe was saying "yes Bhakti, you acted like a grown up, it's ridiculous that you did what you did but we're proud of you for coming back, for rectifying the situation, we're glad you came to the right decision even though it took some time, yes we forgive you", the clerk was from India. And not only was he from India, but after some chatting, we discovered that he was from Mumbai, from a suburb called Andheri, which is where my office is for the editing job I will be doing when I return. He knew the neighborhood that I lived in, and I knew the area that he was from. We chatted about the city, the crowded commuter trains, and I practiced my Hindi a little. He was very nice, very sweet, shook my hand when I left, said it was nice to meet me, and we said Namaste to each other. I see you. I see God within you. I paid for the drink and headed back to the car.
Let this be a turning point for me. I want to live consciously, with integrity. I want to respect all people, all life, and especially myself. I'm not a kid anymore. It's up to me to decide how I want to live, who I want to be. I will create my own Karma and live my own life. May I always remember to live consciously, in every moment, with every decision.
And thank you, dear readers, for not judging me too harshly.
May all beings obtain happiness and the causes of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

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