The nuns who taught me at Immaculate Heart of Mary School always exhorted us to pray to St. Anthony when we lost something. We always thanked him later when the missing thing turned up.
I need to thank him again -- and a young man named Ryan Gray, a senior at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Metairie.
Two Fridays ago, my vehicle was burglarized and my briefcase stolen. That's no surprise, given New Orleans' crime statistics. What's surprising is that it happened between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in one of the safest neighborhoods in town -- Lakeview -- on the Harrison Avenue neutral ground, during rush hour. Such audacity!
Ryan fared even worse. His car was stolen in broad daylight -- from the parking lot of a popular Metairie restaurant -- four hours earlier. He lost his schoolbooks (in the middle of exams), along with some expensive musical instruments and sound equipment.
I prayed to St. Anthony for a miracle ... and called 911 to report the theft.
Ryan started looking for his car.
A very nice policeman came to my home to take the report -- nine hours later. Meanwhile, a friend had suggested I go back and search the scene of the crime the next morning in case the thieves realized there was nothing of value to them in my briefcase. Maybe they tossed it nearby.
I didn't give myself much hope, but I figured as long as I was asking St. Anthony to help, I might as well do the same.
The next morning, before I began looking for a needle in a haystack, I read a newspaper story about a grisly drive-by shooting Uptown. A man and his wife were sleeping in their home when a hail of bullets shattered their slumber -- and their front window. When the man finally ventured outside, he found a man with nine bullet holes who had crawled onto his porch seeking help. The bleeding man apologized for the violent intrusion.
That kinda put my little dilemma in perspective, but it also made me realize that New Orleans has such a culture of violence and lawlessness that no neighborhood is safe anymore. I also realized that I had lost a lot more than a briefcase.
I had lost my sense of hope.
All I found along Harrison Avenue was evidence of another vehicular break-in -- shattered glass several parking places from the one where my vehicle was broken into. Great, I thought. Someone else had his or her hope stolen as well.
About the only thing I hadn't lost by then was my long-held faith in St. Anthony. Say what you will, but I asked for his help one more time -- and I promised to forgive whoever had stolen my hope along with my briefcase. As I drove my vehicle to the glass shop to get a new window, my feelings toward the thieves turned from anger to pity to profound sadness. They probably lost their hope a long time ago. So now they're taking everyone else's.
Ryan, meanwhile, heard that a friend's previously stolen vehicle had been recovered near a chop shop off Elysian Fields. Against all odds, he and his buddies started looking.
They found his stolen vehicle near a chop shop two days later. Inside it, police found five driver's licenses, a hunting jacket, purses, keys ... and my briefcase. Ryan's mom took my briefcase home and called with the miraculous news.
I am truly grateful for the return of my briefcase -- both to St. Anthony and to Ryan -- but some things still stick in my craw. Why is it, for example, that a high school senior from Metairie and his buds can find a stolen car near a chop shop, but the New Orleans police can't? Why did it take police nine hours to respond to my 911 call? Why is it that a guy who gets shot nine times in a drive-by has to crawl up a stranger's doorstep and apologize? And most of all, how did New Orleans become so lawless?
Have we all just lost our sense of hope? If so, I've got a much bigger miracle to ask of St. Anthony.