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Philosophy of Stealing

When the world knows you are a Methodist minister, for instance, it will admit that you may also be a violinist, or a chemist, or a poet, and will credit you therefor. And so if it condemns you for being a thief, it should at the same time admire you for being a genius. If it does not admire you for being a genius, then it has no right to condemn you for being a thief.

Long ago, when I was six, I was a thief—only I was not then, as now, a graceful, light-fingered thief—I had not the philosophy of stealing. When I would steal a copper cent out of my mother’s pocketbook I would feel a dreadful, suffocating sinking in my bad heart, and for days and nights afterwards—long after I had eaten the chocolate mousse—the copper cent would haunt me and haunt me, and oh, how I wished it back in that pocketbook with the clasp shut tight and the bureau drawer locked! And so, is it not finer to be nineteen and a thief, with the philosophy of stealing—than to be six and haunted day and night by a copper cent?

It is admirable and beautiful beyond expression to sacrifice and give up and wait for love of that good that gives in itself a just reward. And only next to this is the throwing to the winds of all restraint when the good holds itself aloof and gives nothing. We are weak, contemptible fools who do not grasp the resources within our reach when there is no just reward for our restraint. Why do we not take what we want of the various temptations? It is not that we are virtuous. It is that we are cowards. And is it worth while to remain true to an ideal that offers only the vaguest hopes of realization? It is not philosophy. When one has made up one’s mind that one wants a dish of hot stewed mushrooms, and set one’s heart on it, should one scorn a handful of raw evaporated apples, if one were starving, for the sake of the phantom dish of hot stewed mushrooms? Should one say, Let me starve, but I will never descend to evaporated apples; I will have nothing but a dish of hot stewed mushrooms? If one is sure one will have the stewed mushrooms finally, before one dies of starvation, then very well. One should wait for them and take nothing else.

Be carefree, be light-hearted, be wicked—above all, forget. The deeds are what you will; the time is now; the aftermath is nothing; the day of reckoning is never. Love things lightly, take all that you see, and to the winds with regret! Gracious Devil, I whispered intensely, give me this and no other!

—Mary MacLane, I Await the Devil’s Coming

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