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We were halfway through our holiday when the chirping of crickets – my ringtone – broke the silence of the mountains. It was my sister-in-law and neighbour calling – one of the few contacts I had programmed as “favourite” in my smartphone so she could reach me during our four weeks’ absence. She was the bearer of the unfortunate news that our house had been burgled during the night. The back door had been lifted out of its lock and judging by the messy trail left by the burglars, they had swiftly proceeded upstairs. That is apparently where most of us assume is the safest place to keep valuables.

We have – sorry, had – one item that looks especially valuable by the look of it: a safe. We thought we had hidden it well, in the back of a closet, behind some suitcases and junk, out of sight. They must have yelled “bingo” when they found it. Without looking any further, they must have dragged the heavy metal thing down the stairs. I would have liked to have seen their disillusioned faces when they opened it. Except for some documents and a few pounds and dollars, there was nothing in there they could turn into cash. No expensive jewellery, no gold coins, no thick wads of euros.

Coincidentally (!) I was just re-reading “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle when my sister-in-law called, and more specifically the chapter on “Identification with objects”. At a given point he writes, inspired by a similar story: “Has who you are become diminished by the loss?”

This made me think. Since the burglars did not take any items of sentimental or other value, I do not feel shaken by what happened, I do not feel that something fundamental has been taken away from me. But how would I react if that would be the case? And what if even more fundamental things would have been taken away from me?

I am thinking about people in regions plagued by war, as well as refugees and the horrible concentration camps of the past and present. The story of the Jewish pianist Alice Sommer-Herz comes to mind. Despite the atrocities she endured, despite having everything taken away from her, she was still capable of remaining free, deep down inside. To find “A Garden of Eden in Hell”, as the title of the novel about her life says. And there are many other similar stories about extraordinary people. Or are they ordinary people capable of doing “extra-ordinary” things? Detaching yourself from all things material and from what you consider your possession and your right is indeed not something we are used to.

I don’t suspect the burglars reacted in a detached way when they opened our safe. The fact that this kind of misdemeanours continue to take place is the living proof of our attachment to possession. But I am optimistic, I continue to cherish hope that every cloud has a silver lining.

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