Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In the Land of Oz

At the Circle K store this morning, I saw a young man leave his laptop at the table outside while he went in the store to buy something. Later in the afternoon, at JCO coffee now, three women, sitting separately and each alone, left their purses at their tables while they went inside to buy their coffee and donuts.

Clearly, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

For this, in the western world, is unheard of nowadays. You leave it, you lose it. That’s the prevailing wisdom; and, sadly, all too often the prevailing reality. You are not a part of an honourable community, you are in the midst of a den of thieves; and if you are careless enough to give the thief an opening, you yourself are thought culpable, and at least half as much to blame.

This is the new standard. Suspicion and distrust. Don’t leave your bags unattended. Don’t leave your keys on the table or in the ignition. Don’t leave your purchases at the counter. Your brother is definitely not your keeper.

We are amazed, therefore, to see these things in Bali -- trust, community, morality, peace of mind. We remember them, re-experience, as in a glass darkly. Or those of use who are old enough do. And we seem to have come home, somehow. The world has missed us, and we have missed it; and we have lived long in fear and nagging distress.

So long have we lived in trepidation, so long in dread, that our extravagant inclination, now become natural, is to either warn these women about the risk they are running, or at least keep guard of their purses for them. The bogeyman is not only real, he’s common, and he’s everywhere.

And yet no one so much as glances at these purses. No one touches, or even seems to see the lonely laptop.

Do things ever get stolen in Bali? Sure they do. And when they do, you’re sure to hear about it. Everyone in the neighbourhood hears about it, and spreads the news far and wide to everyone he meets, as if this were something important, something particularly meaningful.

Because it is.

“Did you hear about that guy on the motorbike who grabbed a backpack from a tourist? He’s not from around here, I can tell you that.”

“Or did you hear about that guy who robbed the man at the ATM? Other people, neighbours, chased him down and beat him senseless by the time the police arrived.”

Stealing is wrong. It’s not normal, it’s wrong. There’s a consensus. It’s not something that just happens, oh well. It’s not something that happens if you’re careless, or failed personally in some way to take necessary steps. It’s not something that’s tolerated, thought to be just another part of life, like mosquitoes or rain or a flat tire. It’s a crime, and the perpetrator has betrayed the community in the most essential way.

Not everything in Oz is good. There are at least two wicked witches. There are beasts in the forest. Lions and tigers and bears. And there are those flying, ill-tempered monkeys, perhaps worst of all. But there’s safety too, and order, and agreement, and colour, and kindness -- sound thinking, and compassion, and courage.

You can breathe again, sit back, relax, fill your lungs with the fresh air of simpler times. And you can leave your laptop, as I am doing just now, at the table outside, with your phone and your pack and your lighter and your glasses, to go buy a second cappuccino and donut without dreading what might happen while you’re away.