death, travel
Comments 16

Losing My Sh*t

My wallet got stolen out of my purse last Monday evening, most likely between classes at the yoga studio I teach at twice a week.  I went early to take a class before teaching one.  I actually didn’t even realize that anything was amiss until an early morning call from my credit union, asking about suspicious charges on my debit card from the night before.  Sure enough, my wallet wasn’t in my purse, or my inside coat pocket.  So began the process of listing out missing items, calling cops in two jurisdictions and credit card companies and the store where my debit and credit card had been used to find out if they have surveillance cameras and dealing with the unpleasantness of life lived on the grid.

It’s not as though this was my first time.

I’ve been held up at gunpoint in rural Mexico.  (The old man’s hands were quaking and I figured the hold-up was due more to hard economic times than criminal habit.  When he ran off into a field of coffee trees with my backpack, I had the foresight — and chutzpah — to scream after him.  “Sir, surely you don’t need my passport?  I can’t get home without it.”  Within a minute, he emerged, unzipped my bag and let me reach in for my passport.  As he was closing it, I made another attempt at getting back what was mine.  “And what about my journal?” I asked. “It’s in English, and worthless to you.”  “Take it,” he offered.  “And would you mind terribly if I also grabbed my….”  “Keep the backpack, just give me your pinche money.”  With a sleight of hand, I managed to hide all but about $50; he also got a lovely silver ring handmade for me after another unfortunate misadventure several years before in Belize in which I was almost killed.)  Ironically, I was walking with a man who trained German Shepherds for the Veracruz police department.

In Pompeii, two guys on a motorbike dragged me along a road until they managed to cut my bag off my body.  (I was wearing it diagonally across my chest.)

In Esquipulas, the Guatemalan town famous for the Black Christ carved out of dark wood by the conquistadores, a man I had been traveling with for a week and planned to head into El Salvador with stole all my money and my passport.  I went racing to the bus depot when I realized what happened, but he was long gone.  I begged a ride from a kind bus driver to the capital; I can’t recall how I made it to the posh neighborhood which houses the U.S. Embassy with no money.  My government, which had in weeks before this incident invaded Panama and participated (and quite possibly led) the torture of an American nun, took 7 1/2 weeks to get me a replacement passport.  During this extensive wait, my Guatemalan visa expired.  I am the only U.S. citizen I know of to be deported from a Central American country.

I’ve been jumped in my Washington, DC neighborhood at midday on my way home from leading a training for volunteers on how to teach English as a Second Language.  A necklace was ripped from my throat .  (That time, I ran up the block to find a cop to whom I yelled “follow me.” To his credit, and my continuing gratitude, Officer Moises A. did.  Another squad car caught the dude and my necklace was returned, though sadly, it was later pawned by a lover who had no idea how to love.)

So I’ve been through this before.  I’ll make more money in my life, and though my dealings last week felt time-consuming, the few days will seem like nothing in a few years. Still, it did feel icky to know that a theft happened at a place where people come for meditation and movement and healing, and where I try to practice generosity with my students, even when I feel less than full.  Ironically, the theme of my class that night was on death and letting go.

As you might imagine, my spiritual identity is much more profound than my official one.  Being human can be beautiful — and annoyingly bureaucratic. When the police officer took my report, he went down to his squad car to run my stats in his computer.  Turns out my license had been mistakenly listed as suspended for more than a year.  Which actually means that I could have been pulled over at any time when driving a zipcar, gotten the damn thing towed, and my ass arrested.  It took two visits to the DMV — including the only branch in DC where you can go to deal with suspensions, which is so small, understaffed and under-resourced that there is always a line of folks waiting outside. (Elderly?  Accompanied by small children?  Compromised immune system?  Who cares! You must still stand in line outside, usually upwards of 30 minutes, in order to stand in line inside, and finally wait in an actual chair for someone to call your number.)  The staff person who helped me had to use her own cell phone to call the DMV branch which had made the clerical error the year before since there aren’t adequate phone lines; the DMV does not reimburse its staff for these expenses.

A Polish passport from 1933, safely in my possession

To make matters worse, when my wallet was stolen, I went to the safe place where I store additional credit cards, and other important identity documents.  Most everything was there, except for my passport and my birth certificate. The latter is easy enough to order online (though it’ll cost you).  I have turned my place upside down looking for my passport, which I last used to get back into the country in the summer of 2009.  Nothing.  Now, I am a fairly well organized person.  I even have my grandfather’s passport from when he emigrated to the U.S. during the Third Reich but before the Final Solution.   I have my father’s green card from that same year (which indeed is green and was issued from the Labor Department).

If I could hold onto these documents, how come I seemed to be losing my own shit?

My dad’s immigrant ID. Check out them ears!

Deflated, I finally called the passport agency to report it lost and they suggested I try looking for it for another few days.  In any case, I needed to wait until I had the vestiges of formal identity back to do anything about my passport.  With my “clean” license in hand, I will await the arrival of birth certificate this week and we’ll go from there.

On Friday night, I came home and picked up “Magic of the Ordinary” by Rabbi Gershon Winkler from my bookshelf and opened it at random to a few paragraphs that included the following:

The lion in the kabbalah is symbolic of the east…It symbolizes the animal power within us that transforms into new places….thus when a lion runs off with your wallet, it isn’t yours anymore and is up for grabs for anyone who can snatch it back even while you are running after it claiming ownership.  Because it has been relinquished by the power of the lion, the place of new beginnings.  Relinquish it, step back, and new beginnings in your life will, in turn, be given the space necessary to fruit…..the hyena is the scavenger, who cleans up after death, feeds on death, and is nurtured by death….If a hyena grabs your purse, surrender it, because your purse is now rendered lifeless.  Any money that you may have will wield no yield, will end up buying for you what you don’t need for your aliveness.  Let it go. It has already been snatched into the realm of lifelessness a realm void of spirit….”

I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.”  There might be many interpretations and lessons that emerge eventually, of course, but when we experience something, the most life-affirming possibilities usually involves delving deeply, rather than placating ourselves with spiritual triteness.

That said, I’m a huge fan of imbuing meaning into the events and landscape of my life, since a life without meaning feels like a wasteland.   I was, for example, delighted to see a male cardinal in my backyard when I came home from the DMV. Why not?  It helped me to see the good things in my life: the friend who brought me wine and groceries, another one who treated me to a pedicure, and yet another to an indulgent and outrageously delicious meal, the student who paid for a private yoga session in cash, all the offers of rides, and going back to the studio and once again practicing and teaching, and realizing it’s all going to sort itself out.  Who knows:  maybe I need a new passport for all those adventures in the making.

As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear from you!

This entry was posted in: death, travel


I'm a yoga therapist and coach who is fascinated by the ways in which scientific inquiry has converged with wisdom traditions in concluding that our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being are intrinsically connected. I try to use this knowledge to help people feel more resilient, courageous and alive.


  1. Roberta says

    Thanks for the great story. I’m glad I took the side trip from what I should be doing to read this. I believe my favorite part of your story is the realization that we all go through some crazy stuff from time to time but, if we are fortunate, at the end of the day we get to see that there is more good to the world than bad. I will definitely pay closer attention to your writing from now on. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Thanks Roberta for side-stepping here! I too think there is undoubtedly more good than bad, and the bad is often more pain-in-the-tush than evil. And it’s all rich fodder for writing if nothing else 😉

  2. Leslie Neustadt says

    Dear Yael, Your story of all the times you have been robbed, attacked, etc. is a testimont to the adventurous brave woman who you are. I am honored to know you even as I am pained by how many hassles and how much suffering you have endured in your life. You are an incredible mixture of spirituality and toughness that is extraordinarily rare, like a diamond or a ruby. Having one’s identity stolen, as well as money, particularly from your yoga studio, is terrible The ultimate crime of the information age. You teach in each moment of your life. I love the reference to the Kabbalah and your impulse to find meaning without using your spirituality in a rote or simplistic way. I am glad to hear that people how love you have stepped up to the plate. I wish I lived closer. :There is a possiblity of a May 1 workshop at the Schenectady Jewish Center for your yoga and writing workshop. I suspect that Dan could help me set up a reading or two. Let me know if that interests you. Love, Leslie

    • I wish you lived closer too. But then I couldn’t enjoy spring in upstate NY (YES! Let’s do it!) As I wrote this, I realized a few things: (1) that I have probably been robbed more than most, (2) this is because I leave the comfort zone more than most, or at least did in younger years, (3) it might also be because I’m 5 feet and a woman, which i can do nothing about other than keep myself physically and emotionally fit, (4) actually, i just remembered being beaten up but getting away without anything being stolen on at least one other occasion, (5) i am not willing to stop living my life, (6) my identity is much deeper than a piece of paper, and can never be stolen — though I can of course, let my smaller selves die, again and again, until the time comes when I am ready to merge with my largest and best self. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my dearest Leslie. May you remember how much you are loved, each and every day of the year, and how much your love sustains us, even from far away. xoxxo

  3. Thank you for the detail that the old man’s gun-toting hand was also trembling. I bet what he took from that encounter went far beyond the immediate value of those fifty bucks.

  4. sheri says

    i’m always amazed at how you can turn something that would debilitate me in a storm of negativity into a paradigm shift (i’m referring to the paragraph by Winkler). wish i had more of what you got 🙂

    • Rabbi Winker is the shit. I did a weekend long course with him up in NYC a number of years back, and he was instrumental in shifting how I viewed Judaism. And, whatever I have is yours too.

  5. KaYing says

    Yael! What awful things you had to experience. But without them, you would not have these great stories to share. Your intellect and insights always find healing in everything. But now, I regret that nothing eventful happened when you visited me in Laos. What stories can you tell about SEA? 🙂

    Indeed, a life without meaning is a wasteland. Agree completely, that’s why I need to return to the US… soon.

    I’ve been to the DC DMVs, worst than bureacracy in a developing country. Sending lots of love to you.

    • Well, you and Tu and Jimmy clearly took such good care of me that not a single item of mine was stolen! But all kinds of cool stuff went down — I was happy just going into the markets, or to the steam baths, or the temples. Or: remember when I had that hallucination in the van heading up toward the Chinese border that turned the mountains into a pyramid? I then had another one in Jimmy’s house, but it was more hearing what sounded like a huge army marching outside. And not even so much as a drop of alcohol, either time! That was something!

      Let’s turn Jimmy’s land into a retreat center where we can do meditation and writing and yoga and cooking and loving. Speaking of love, sending you lots and lots of it on this Valentine’s Day. xoxox

  6. Yael, I am sorry about the loss of your wallet. Thank you for sharing your experiences in such a reflective manner. Your storytelling always amazes me. Surrounding you with love and light.

  7. Yael, you are incredible…in your writing, in how you lead your life, pretty fearless! i would say. I have been so down since January, and one little acupuncture needle from the miraculous Dr. Orceyre, and 20 minutes to let it simmer, and I am back! Home today, i get to do all the things i love to do on a friday…one of them is reading your blog! Thank you thank you thank you and thanks to all those who responded with such words of wisdom themselves!

  8. I don’t know how fearless it is to lose sh*t — and of course, I have since remembered other times when stuff was stolen (but no guns were involved)…ao maybe my karma is to not get too attached to the material. Glad you are feeling more like yourself. Date soon?

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