If you’ve ever been the victim of a crime you know that there’s no greater moment of disappointment, violation, and anger. Add to it being outside of your element while traveling and you wind up in a situation of complete helplessness. This is exactly where I found myself one cold December night while on a business trip to Washington DC. But more than the broken car window, stolen belongings, police reports, and lack of sleep that ensued was the interaction I had with a complete stranger and their outreach to me.
At the time I was a recruiter for a healthcare network and spent a good part of my fall traveling to college campuses recruiting students for internships and full-time positions. After a full day of presentations and interviews I proceeded to a little area down the road from the school to Roscoe’s Neapolitan Pizzeria. It’s a fantastic wood-fired pizza place in a quaint area of Takoma Park, Maryland. The area is full of little boutiques, designer shops, and restaurants. The dinner was superb and if you’re ever in the area it’s a must stop. After dinner I casually walked to my rental car parked around the corner and sat down in the front seat. As I punched in the return address on my GPS I noticed glass on the passenger seat. As I looked over my shoulder I saw that the rear window was broken in. I quickly scanned the interior of the car and found that my briefcase which had been sitting on the floor (what I thought was out of sight in the dark and through tinted windows) had been taken.
I immediately went into autopilot, calling the police dispatch to send an officer then quickly texting my manager and director to inform them of the situation. The initial concern of my boss for the company laptop adding to my anxiety for the moment. He wanted me to try to remember everything that I had in the bag as well as saved on the laptop. There were resumes, internship brochures, business cards, the lap top, and…
My heart sank as I remembered I had stuck my personal hard-drive in there to do some writing on the flight. Months of work were now gone. Replacing those moments of inspiration would be impossible, even if I were to piece together some of it from older back-up files at home. My manager’s voice turned into one of those teachers from Charlie Brown as he droned on about corporate integrity and contacting the IT department. I knew the laptop was useless to anyone outside the network servers and I didn’t store any classified documents on it. He said his piece and I basically hung up on him as the squad car rolled up and the two officers stepped out.
After an hour’s worth of filing a police report, calling the rental car company, and following up with my boss one last time, I was back on the road to Baltimore where I would swap out the car. The drive down the interstate was excruciating. The cold winter air rushing in the broken window behind me a reminder of my loss. Then about 20 minutes down the road I got a call. Since the number was a DC number I assumed it was the police. Could they have actually found something? With all the real crimes going on did they actually do more than file the paperwork?
The voice on the other end of the phone was foreign with an Indian accent, definitely not the officer I had spoken with. The man introduced himself as the Dean of the school of Business for Strayer University. He had found my information in a laptop bag his security officer discovered while doing rounds outside his building. I was dumbfounded. I could actually care less about the bag, but the possibility of retrieving any of the contents gave me hope. I briefly explained what had happened that evening and asked if it was possible to come by and still retrieve my items that evening since I flew out the next morning. He responded with sincere sympathy that he still had some evening classes that evening and would look forward to seeing me.
It took all I had not to drive a hundred miles per hour going back just a few blocks from the scene of the crime where Strayer University was located. I parked the car and upon entering the building, approached the security guard sitting right inside the door. He was an older gentleman who stood and greeted me with a smile. I introduced myself and explained who I was there to meet, hoping he wasn’t aware of the situation and avoid the embarrassment of retelling the story. He said he was actually the one who found the bag and then walked me to where the dean was teaching a class.
As we reached the classroom the security guard poked his head in the door. I could hear the dean excuse himself from class to step into the hallway to meet me. The dean was intelligent and professional looking wearing a tan suit and tie even this late at night. His grip was strong as he shook my hand, but his eyes were compassionate as he expressed sincere sympathy for my misfortune. He had my bag with him and handed it to me. He stood quietly as I scanned the contents of the inside glad to see the resumes and information from my day’s work inside. However, my hard drive and the laptop were missing. I’m sure he saw the hope leave my eyes as I closed the bag and looked back up at him. He said “please go have a look outside with our security. He can show you where he found the bag and maybe something is still there. I’ll look again myself in the morning daylight and if I find anything I’ll let you know.” He handed me his card and before stepping back in the classroom asked that I email him tomorrow with an update and to let him know I returned home without further incident.
The security guard and I headed outside to a group of trees where he found the bag. With flashlights in hand we began searching the area. We found a few post-it notes and loose business cards blowing around, but nothing where the bag was. The guard was ready to head inside when I looked at the base of one of the trees and saw my black hard drive. The guard couldn’t believe my luck. After finding a few more things I decided to call it a night and thanked the guard for his help.
The entire drive back and next day I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Not only the loss and recovery, but the kindness of a man who didn’t owe me anything. Regardless of the inconvenience to himself, he showed me grace and kindness that no one else did in that situation. He didn’t take the chance interaction as casually as I would have. He didn’t know how much I needed that kindness in my life at that moment. And that’s what was so amazing and humbling about it.