July 25, 2008

Stomach Trouble

Sometimes we use labels for ourselves to help make up for shortcomings. I'm an agnostic Christian because I have to be. I'm too naive, too trusting of people, when I should be more skeptical. I think I'm a skeptic, but then something like this happens to make me question every assumption all over again.

The world is a dangerous and uncertain place.

People are not always like you think, and they're not always like you. Not everybody has good intentions, and not everybody holds other people with high esteem. Some people think other people are there to be used. I guess we must all feel that, to some degree, but the best of us learn to deal with that inside ourselves better than the rest.

I've had a lot of thoughts popping around my head the last twelve hours ever since I found out. I'm not one hudred percent certain yet, but the evidence is mounting up. Before things happen to us we think we know how everything works, but we don't. We think we're smart enough, that we can spot the inconsistencies, but that's not really true. We don't tend to think about what we didn't do, we think about what we did, we think about the experiences we've had that make us good people, not the experiences we haven't had that make us ignorant.

We're biased.

When I first hung up the phone I thought I was going to be sick. How could I have been so blind? So stupid? I handed it all over on a silver platter and paid them for the experience. I know this all sounds very dramatic, but for someone who tends to think the best of people (despite his claims to be a real skeptic), it's a very shocking experience. Let me start back a little ways.

My wife is computer-phobic, sort of. It's not that she hates using computers, but she's convinced that they hate her. But I figured that what that really meant was that she just wanted them to do different things than they did, or at least, if they did those things, do them in a different way. PCs have a way of freezing up or not working when she uses them. It's not really that the PC is bad, just that she didn't know what to do with them. So one day I had an idea and brought her to the store and she tried an Apple iMac.

Worked like a charm.

But how to afford this little wonder? Enter craigslist and the two laptops we had, one sitting around, the other in use but potentially replaceable. The first, the older of the two, I sold in two days, to a guy here in Lexington who met me at a Starbucks. No problems, really nice guy, bought it for his kid friend to write out some "tracks" (which I found is slang for "music"). For the other laptop, the newer and far more pricey of the two, I got several offers, all of which offered to pay with paypal. I chose the buyer who offered the most (from California) and who was willing to work with my timeframe (I had to get the mac first to transfer data) and went from there. I sent her a bill using paypal, and received an email from paypal telling me that her payment had passed but would not be posted to my account until I sent confirmation tracking numbers for shipment.

To Nigeria.

What I was thinking at this point, I don't know. Hindsight is a lot better, I'm finding out, because at the time, I was quite certain that the whole thing was legit - after all, Paypal had confirmed the payment which included shipping. So I mailed it, and started getting emails from paypal about how there was a glitch with posting the money. Then one saying that the glitch had been fixed, but that she had paid too much for shipping, and that I should send the extra to her via a banking transaction service. That's when it stopped making sense to me, and I contacted paypal directly, by phone. They'd never emailed me confirmation of the payment, nor had they ever had a glitch.

I'd been had.

Now, I'm not 100% certain of this yet, and I keep hoping it's some sort of horrible mistake. But I'm more and more figuring out that it's a mistake on my part for being so naive, so blind, so stupid, and so horribly ignorant of the way the real world of the internet works. I let my own anxiousness to get that new computer for my wife blind what little street-sense I have, those little warning bells in my head - oh, and a warning from a friend at school about using craiglist - they all got covered over by my impatience.

I didn't think. And I paid dearly for the experience.

The helplessness of the whole situation is what kills me the most. I can't do a think to get the money or the laptop back. Fortunately the laptop was completely wiped of everything before I sent it, but still - a silver platter in the form of USPS International Mail, who can't recall the shipment since it's left US borders. Fedex or UPS could've, I've just learned, but the buyer specifically requested USPS. I've gone back and looked through all the emails and all the little inconsistencies are starting to add up, to fit together into a new bigger picture. And it's not pretty.

And yet I keep hearing that little voice in my head. Two of them actually; one that tells me how horribly naive and worthless I am, how I should've seen it, and the other that says "give them your coat too." One says "they hurt you, get even," the other says "love and pray for those who persecute you." I believe very strongly in free will - we choose to do what we do. Sometimes other free agents distract us as we choose, but ultimately our actions are our responsibility. But I also believe that God has plans too. I don't know how, but somehow He manages to direct all of this towards good ends. I worry about what that laptop will be used for (hopefully the worst it could be is more spam in my inbox about Nigerian fortunes just waiting to make their way into US bank accounts), but maybe some good will come of it, even if it's that I've learned something the hard way. But it'll stick, and when my stomach stops being queasy, I'll be stronger for it. I'm naive, but I do learn quickly.

Nigeria, I'm trying to forgive you, and I'm trying to pray for you. Maybe one day I'll even hand you my shirt too.

But my stomach still hurts.

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