I stole something today. I’m not afraid to admit it. I won’t tell you who or where I stole from, since I’m pretty sure Safeway doesn’t read this blog. I don’t want to tell you what it was. Doesn’t matter what it was. To ease your mind, I’ll tell you it was small and inexpensive and edible. The fact is, I took it without paying for it, and so by any standard of the act, I am a criminal.
Astonishing, how easy it is to cross that line.
One moment I was a law-abiding citizen. Clean record. Good health. Just your average middle-class male. Then, with the smallest action, the pocketing of a small, easily forgettable item, I became a wanted man.
The truth is, though I don’t think this will hold up in court, I simply forgot that I’d put the item in my pocket. Cross-my-heart honestly forgot. After perusing the other aisles for other goods with the intention to pay for them, its presence in my pocket slipped my mind. Didn’t think of it again until I was outside unlocking my bike. Woops. My bad.
I’m a criminal, regardless. A thief.
In the same vein, you could just as easily become a sinner. A liar. A cheater. A terrorist. A bully. A bigot. Sometimes all it takes a single act (justified or not) and suddenly you’re labeled, pigeonholed, identified for life by that title. Acts like these, their weight is determined by a jury of our peers. We don’t have a re-do button. There’s no going back from certain actions.
Do it once, shame on me forever.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some titles ought to stick: like murderer, molester, rapist… I think there are lines that people cross that shouldn’t be forgotten. Inhuman acts. Hurtful acts. Such marks on your record ought to be written in permanent ink. Then there are smaller degrees of criminal or indecent (I say even forgivable) acts that should be written in pencil, something that time or behavior could repair. Yet even these, we still label as though the labels had been carved or tattooed on peoples’ foreheads. I’m not sure where the line is. I’m not sure what makes one label more severe than another; why some stick and others fade.
I stole, and so did Bonny and Clyde. Do I deserve the same bullet salad the cops served them during that climactic ambush? I don’t think so.
But how long until I’ve shed the label of thief, from your perspective? Personally, I don’t consider myself a thief, even though I’ve thieved. But according to your guidelines, or the guidelines of the law, how much time has to pass before I’m back to being a regular guy without a criminal label?
I say I’m a criminal for as long as it takes to completely digest the evidence.
But you may never look at me the same way again.