MARY READY: Don’t steal my cheese, my joy — or my sign
We’ve all experienced being robbed. Sometimes money, credit cards, a vehicle, or some materially valuable item. We feel angry and indignant, especially if the loss sets us back financially or renders us deprived of something we worked hard for. If you’re like me, you fantasize about the thief, and hope he gets hit by a large, speeding CARma. Or maybe catches bubonic plague. Sometimes, it’s the small loss that hurts the most: grandma’s antique ring, or perhaps some little item that just made us smile. For years, I’ve grieved over a heart-shaped necklace with three tiny gemstones my grandfather gave my mom when she was a baby. It was stolen while in my possession. Last week, a quirky, weather-beaten old sign was taken from my yard right by the front door. I had just bought it at Harvest House for four bucks. When I saw it, I laughed out loud at its message and just had to have it. Emblazoned on its green-painted wood were the words “BE NICE OR LEAVE.” I set it beside my doorstep, and every time I came up the steps and saw it, I got a laugh out of it, and so did visitors. I got to enjoy it for a few days before it was stolen. It wasn’t a cheap piece of wooden signage that was taken; it was my joy that was stolen. I live on busy Kelly Street where sidewalk passersby have visual access to everything in neighbor’s yards. My decorative pelican perched on a piling has been stolen, a garden statue, a drill sitting on the porch while my husband went inside for a cold drink, and even my entire mailbox along with its post. My neighbors report the same kind of losses. From the driveway, behind our RV and chained to the fence, three bicycles were taken, one of which was my husband’s 3-wheel handicapped bike. Bob’s Bikes in Fort Walton tells me that Destin is the stolen bicycle capital of the county. Several of the J-1 students who won bikes at the Methodist Church this summer had theirs taken within a few days. Oddly enough, stolen money, bikes, and replaceable stuff don’t bother me as much. When I’m singing along to a really great song on the radio, I’m experiencing a moment of joy. Then my husband starts making fun of it, loudly singing his own crazy lyrics. Angrily, I snap off the radio, sulk and pout. He doesn’t realize he just stole my little piece of joy. Maybe if I keep explaining this a few more times to him, he’ll finally get it. Ilene Hochberg’s “Who Stole My Cheese?” is a parody of the popular tale Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson. Both books involve rat characters whose sense of well-being depends upon nothing interfering with their cheese. Symbolically, the cheese is their joy, their reason for being. In Hochberg’s story, Snivel, Scurry, Hid, and Hah are trapped in a maze looking for cheese to sustain them and bring them some small measure of happiness, in a relative sense. They are, after all, trapped in a maze … These little creatures are indentured to the absolute whims of life, like someone else making up absurd rules for them to follow and thwarting them at every turn. "Cheese" is a metaphor for what you want to have in life — a job, romance, peace of mind, success, leisure time, etc. And the "Maze" is where you look for what you want. In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. Who stole my cheese? Where did my job go? What happened to my life savings? Why did someone steal from me that little thing that gave me joy? The little things that give me joy are my cheese, and like the rat in a maze, I scurry about trying to replace what can’t be replaced. My life verse is Habakkuk 3:17: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls... Yet I will JOY in the God of my salvation.” (Notice, joy is used as a verb) So, I gotta think of the true Source of joy, and try to let go of the sorrow I feel when something special to me is stolen. Let go of the cheese, Mary. But, in the meantime, if you see my “BE NICE OR LEAVE” sign, let me know. Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.