Theft, Generosity, and the Gray Between

As we walked down the hallway she stuck her hands in one bowl after another, sometimes keeping what she had grabbed and sometimes, after examining her take, putting it back. She was particularly taken with the candy bars – Three Musketeers. Peanut butter cups? Not my thing, she says as she put them back. It is the practice of tenants of this building where we were staying to put candy out on a table along with some tchotchke.

You are taking an awful lot of candy, I would say as she joyfully pilfered her stash and tucked them away in her pocket. But in truth, word was out about her. Some in the building who had learned her preferences were actually feeding her habit. These folks are on a fixed income, I noted with a sense of big-brother urgency; and maybe the candy is meant for the grandchildren who frequent the halls for visits. She was not deterred.

Then there was the wonderful woman who would put the unopened shampoo, conditioner and body lotion bottles in her purse to take home. Each day she stayed in the hotel, even if she didn’t use them, she would stash them away fully expecting the supply would be replenished by the staff – more for her to take the following day. Upon returning home from her travels she would take these items to the Thrift Shop where she would donate them.

Isn’t that stealing, I inquired? It’s for the poor, she responded. And besides, she rationalized, they are just going to throw them away at the hotel.

Not the unopened ones! I protested! And where is the line exactly … the point at which you could rationalize taking the towels to give to the homeless?

These two women I have referenced are my sister and my mother respectively. We have good-naturedly debated the line between personal greed and propriety, between theft and generosity. (And I have exaggerated just a bit for the purpose of retaining reader interest.) We have not arrived at any definitive conclusions given the conditions under which their behavior took place, and with Mom gone these past four years she can no longer weigh in to “splain” herself.

But the take-away for me is simply this: There’s a lot of “gray” out there between the “black and white”. And most of it seems to be in our ability – or inability – to agree on what’s black and white in the first place.

Let’s not be afraid of the “gray spots” in our lives; and let’s acquire and then retain the capacity for laughter – first at ourselves, and then with others.

A blessed Tuesday.


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.