The best of things

It changes you, even if you think it won’t. A year ago, virtual intruders injected my website with a malicious script that defaced one thousand published and unpublished posts and caused them to redirect to a website filled with spam. It was upsetting, but nothing I could not fix with a little patience and perseverance. Sure enough, the momentary paranoia subsided and I moved on.

A year later, almost to the day — for tests come in cycles, like ripples on water — we faced another kind of intruder. A pair of them, as far as we can tell, far more bold and brazen than the hackers that came by night to bring down just another random website in a vast virtual ocean of data.

These intruders came rampaging into our lives, invading our personal, private realm. Without fear or shame, they kicked their way into our humble abode, showering the floor with fragments of glass, stamping their indelible imprint on our souls as they rushed forwards to pillage and plunder.

How courageous they were — and also stupid — as they left a trail of evidence in their wake. They were after our riches, but they chose the wrong house because we have none. From the wall they ripped Turkish tiles, seeking out the safe that was not hidden behind them. In our son’s room, they ripped up floorboards, seeking buried treasure that was not there. They rifled through my desk searching for bank notes, but found only notebooks filled with scribblings on faith and the wayward soul.

In a cupboard they found a computer too old to steal. The illiterate ignoramuses passed by the wealth of the learned, leaving shelves of books untouched. Cast aside, words in an old picture frame entitled, The Best of Things, reminding us: “I did not find a better wealth than contentment in a little.”

It was a blessing that these intruders were uncultured, seeing no value in what we hold dear, but the sense of violation remains, as they turned over our home in search of anything they could pocket or easily sell. One of the pair took their time, carefully emptying drawers and leaving things in neat piles: a sure sign that they were a woman, or a child, or new to this wicked trade. The other, violent and hurried, hurling our belongings to the ground as they emptied every drawer they came across, whether it contained underwear, children’s toys or paperwork. Every box, however small, scruffy or insignificant, had to be prised open in pursuit of the prize they sought.

Even a jiffy bag containing an ancient laptop and a Palm personal assistant, that I had wrapped up to be presented to my great great grandchildren in 2121, had to be ripped to shreds. Even the case of my long neglected oboe had to be opened, its reeds cast across the floor. Even our daughter’s ukulele had to be searched for hidden pearls. Even a sewing box, the shoe cleaning kit, a box of prescription medicine, a child’s schoolbag, a box of photographs, a bag of birthday cards, a drawer of jumpers, a filing cabinet and so much more had have their contents strewn far and wide.

But after all that destruction, to the best of our knowledge, they found nothing. They came looking for gold, but the only buried treasure I have is a detailed model 00 gauge Pug locomotive from my childhood, worth about £10, stowed away from the prying hands of children in a carved wooden box in a secret hiding place. They found no rubies or diamonds, or strings of pearls, or shiny pieces of gold, or fancy jewellery, or piles of cash, or a mattress stuffed with our life’s savings, because we have none of these. These wannabe pirates may have entered our home thinking it a fine galleon, sailing the seven seas, laden with treasure, but they were sorely mistaken.

But though they failed to make off with anything of any value to them, they did manage to rob us of what we value: our sense of safety and security, the feeling of serenity we feel between these walls, the peace and tranquility, our hospitality for guests and openness towards strangers. Already I look upon others distrustfully, cautious of their glances, protective of my property. Already, the inner peace has been shattered.

After the intruders, come the police, traipsing around the house in their big heavy boots, trampling carpets usually kept clean, shining their torches into every private recess. Forensics follow: more boots, more equipment, photographs and samples. Then the clueless Community Service Officer, offering stickers and incomprehension, and more footprints on that now grey carpet. Workmen will no doubt follow, undertaking more permanent repairs. And inevitably salesmen offering burglar alarms, CCTV solutions, smart home gadgetry, monitoring devices, window shutters and whatever other intrusive technology currently exists to allow violated families to feel safe again in their own homes.

Suddenly every tiny sound, every voice outside, every closing car door, every creak or footstep sparks an investigation. Already, I can feel, it has changed me. And now I think of those families that have lived lives touched by war, insecurity, terrorism and intrusion on massive scales: how on earth do such people cope with far worse violations, over prolonged periods of time? However do they survive, and escape being driven to madness?

I suppose that in the coming weeks and days, our momentary paranoia will subside and we will move on, our lives returning to normal. Inevitably, we will spend hundreds of pounds to turn our humble home into a fortress, to grant us peace of mind, sending the wealth the burglar wanted into the coffers of those that claim to protect us. Not that it really matters. The loss of wealth is immaterial; physical objects can be replaced and wealth can be earned again. The safety and security of those you love: this comes first.

I return to those forgotten words, rediscovered in an old picture frame, roughly cast aside by rude intruders:

“I thought about all sorts of wealth, but did not find better wealth than contentment in a little. … I looked at all types of sustenance, but did not find better sustenance than patience.”

I pray our intruders find wealth and sustenance like that one day. If they have nothing and find themselves impoverished by life’s trials, may our Lord fill their lives with blessings, and turn their lives around, repenting and regretting. I hope they soon discover the best of things. I am grateful to them for this at least: finding that old picture frame I had carelessly misplaced so long ago.

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