“Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”
― Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
My father, as fathers often do, taught me many things. He did not teach me how to ride a bicycle or how to swim. He did, however, teach me how to make shoes from banana leaves (in case I was ever a prisoner of war in the jungles of Vietnam and needed to escape). He taught me how to land safely from a great height so that I could jump out of airplanes into enemy territory. He taught me how to kill someone with a plastic straw.
While I stopped practicing those particular skills decades ago, there is one that has never left me: Reading a room upon entering. Who is in it, where are they in relation to you and the closest exit, where can you sit to maintain a strategic awareness and minimize surprise attacks. This practice has also made me more aware of security flaws and blind spots. How easy it would be to grab that person’s wallet, or cash from the till, or to pocket those sunglasses.
My life of crime was brief and without consequence. It began when I was around five and part of a trio of thieves. The other two being my older brothers, twins, who were around twelve at the time. They were seasoned by then and grateful to have an innocent-looking blond hair, blue-eyed child to distract the teller with a woeful tale and an endless stream of tears while one of them would, indeed, pocket the sunglasses.
We took our act on the road and expanded into con jobs. Getting free ice cream cones and free sodas as I would cry about dropping the one we just bought (and that would miraculously appear in another vessel that the twin waiting a block away would be holding). Learning which arcade games would give you a free credit if you unplugged it and plugged it back in. Or which coin slots were easiest to fish coins out of. One day, we hit the jackpot with a racing game a Disney arcade: a quick kick in the right spot and coins tumbled out.
Over time, I became less convincing as a child in distress and more demanding about my share of the cut. I mean, I became more aware of the error of our ways and opted out. One of those is surely true. Regardless of the reason, I stopped coming home from the dentist with random tools in my pocket or from my friends’ homes with their pens.
Yet the urge, the need to map out a possible criminal act, has stayed with me. Action matters, of course. Those plans have all remained unfulfilled. But I know what I’m capable of, know what I’m thinking. My thoughts define me as much as my actions, if only to myself.
Like other parts of my upbringing, I have to remind myself the first thought I have is my conditioning, the second thought is who I am now, and the third thought holds the possibility of a better world. With compassionate witnessing, I have become skilled in moving quickly through those layers. At least as far as thievery goes.
Still… you might want to keep an eye on your pens.