[Note: I’m posting the below article from Spring 2014 because I had cause to think back to it this week, when my landlord announced that he has decided to raise the rent by 10 per cent, despite the fact that I’ve been living in my shared house for just six months and got robbed two weeks into living there. Dublin, eh? Oh, the humanity! I wrote the below piece on an iPhone — I’d come home at 7pm to write my column that night, but then of course, with the robbery, had nothing left to write the piece on except the phone I was carrying. Nothing was ever recovered — which won’t surprise anyone, I guess. Anyway, here ’tis.]
Artistic Licence: After the break-in
By Nadine O’Regan
How do you measure what’s valuable to you? One answer, I guess – at least if we agree to forget about monetary terms for a while – is this: its value can be calibrated according to how much you feel the pain of its loss when it’s gone.
I’ve had cause to think about this question lately. Not to go all U2 on you (you may not start humming ”all that you can’t leave behind quite yet”), but last Wednesday night I came home to discover that my house had been broken in to and many of my things were gone. So many things that it hurts to think about it.
So many things that when I walked into the Dublin 6 house, past the forced and jammed front door, after my housemate told me the news, I felt a little faint. The drawers from my bedroom lockers lay sprawled across the ground. Photo albums were open on the wooden floorboards. Bits of my life – notebooks, mix CDs – were flung into odd corners. Even my wash bags had been rifled through, suggesting the thieves thought I had diamonds buried in my toothpaste. I had been living in the house just two weeks.
When the guards arrived, they quickly adopted what I’ll call The Calm Face of Crisis. Garda Brian saw my stricken expression, as I started reciting what I had lost – laptops, a microphone, my jewellery – and his face grew calmer and calmer. By the end, he was so calm that I felt myself almost sedated by his placidity, ready to crack jokes about the burglars’ borderline offensive taste in my possessions – why did they skip taking my sunglasses?, I found myself idly wondering. Did they not like them? Is it possible to be aggrieved that your burglar didn’t steal something?
Of course, as the hours spiralled on, I couldn’t help but dwell on the missing stuff that’s of little monetary value, but that was still hugely prized by me. They took an old laptop with a bad virus on it, but which also contained the novel I wrote between the ages of 21 and 24. Now let me tell you, I wasn’t about to give James Joyce a run for his money. It was an intense coming-of-age drama, and I would never have wanted to publish it. But still: it was part of my history. They also took a necklace given by my late father to my mother, who gifted it recently to me. Bad timing, I guess.
People ask you questions when you’ve been robbed. Questions about house insurance. Landlords. Locks. Security. Questions that, when you answer, you feel like you’re failing an exam. They talk, too, about violation of space, and it’s true that you do feel differently. Did they look at your pictures? Do you even want to think about it? Or should you just concentrate on being glad, glad that you weren’t there, glad that no one was harmed, glad that Apple Macs and fancy gadgets can be bought back with money? And grateful to remember that at least you’ve never been too hung up on possessions anyway? And that it’s not good to be so?
A friend of mine took a decision a few years back to become a Buddhist monk. He went off to a monastery in England. For two years, he wore orange robes, he gardened, he meditated, he sought to reach a higher plain. Then, abruptly, before Christmas, he left, deciding that his fate lay elsewhere. The last time he emailed me, it was from Thailand. He was raging because his Kindle had broken. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t help it. If a trainee monk can get upset about a broken Kindle, then there’s hope for all of us yet.
I’m going to do my best not to mind the burglary. And to be very evolved indeed. But reader: I may be a while with this. And if anyone buys a laptop off a truck with a brooding, unpublished novel on it in the meantime, let me know, will you?