The ancient Sanskrit word “karma” began appearing regularly in the English language about 200 years ago. In Hinduism or Buddhism, “Karman” referenced the sum of a person’s actions, in both this existence and all previous states of existence. How a person acted determined who – or what — they would be in their next state of existence. In other words, if you were a shitty person, you might return as actual shit someday. Or at least a dung beetle.
Cosmic justice is appealing thought. Western culture ate it up. Along the way, though, our definition of karma changed, possibly because in Western religions, there is no reincarnation. Karma in the United States came to mean that the universe would – eventually – pay you back for your behavior. In this life, and in spades.
Or, as one of my friends yelled at the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me at my office Christmas party: “Karma’s gonna get you, Jim! Karma is SO gonna get you.”
My fellow AMWF blogger Lina recently posted about bento boxes and karma. She asked if other people believed in karma.
I laughed. I mean, if there were any justice in this life, an ignorant racist who mocks the disabled, assaults women, glories in NOT paying his debts, and believes leading a country means openly enriching his personal coffers WOULD NOT BE ELECTED PRESIDENT.
Mid-laugh, though, a different take struck me. Perhaps Donald Trump is karma’s way of getting back at the U.S. for decades of setting up/ propping up dictatorships — now we have a would-be dictator of our very own.
Or perhaps karma is actually paying us back for our appropriation of cultural elements like, well, karma.
Maybe karma is just another word for irony.
But, since the world could use some happier musings in these dark times, I’ll share the karmic anecdotes Lina’s post brought to mind.
Let’s start with rescue animals. I opted for rescue cats because saving a life seemed like the right thing to do, even if my cats came with baggage instead of shots and pedigrees. Bat Cat came with fleas. Commando Cat came with worms, a virus, diarrhea, fleas, and mental issues (this happens when you get left in a box at Burger King). I spent plenty of time and money at the vet with my rescues cats.
Ditto for my dogs, to the power of ten. (Ten times the size = ten times the bills.) Especially my rescue dog from South Central L.A. She paid us back directly by being an excellent guard dog (see this post), but all my rescue pets had a hand in sending good karma back my way.
I left my wallet on top of my car when I was pumping gas in a tiny town New Hampshire. As I drove off, my wallet flew into the street. I never noticed. Someone took it to the police officer (yes, there’s only one, I told you it was a tiny town). Faced with a California driver’s license and no relatives with my surname in the whole state, the man had no way of contacting me – until he found a vet appointment card (at least one pet always has an upcoming vet appointment). The cop called my vet in Los Angeles. She gave the officer my cell phone number. The officer called me before I even realized my wallet was missing and canceled all the credit cards.
Undoubtedly some of you readers are thinking, “Yeah, yeah, small town America, salt of the earth, no crime, what would happen in Los Angeles?”
Well, the other time I lost my wallet was in Los Angeles. And I lost it the exact same way, leaving it on top of the car while I was pumping gas on my way to work. (I’m clever like that.)
I realized I’d lost my wallet when I couldn’t get a muffin at work for breakfast. I immediately canceled all my credit cards and steeled myself for a four-hour visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles to replace my driver’s license. Because, like all my cynical readers, I knew that my wallet – which held at least a hundred dollars in cash – was gone forever.
Like Blogger Lina when she lost her Bento box, I was bummed. I knew it was my own carelessness, but I’d saved other people from their own carelessness. Earlier that year, my dance buddy Tom had found a hundred-dollar bill on the floor of a nightclub. He rushed over to me, beaming. “Look what I found!”
I told him he needed to turn it into the bar. His face fell, but I went with him and we told the bartender the story. The bartender looked at us like we were crazy, but he tucked the bill away in the register.
Ten minutes later, the DJ interrupted to the music to call Tom to the bar. A patron – without much hope — had listlessly asked the bartender if anyone had found a hundred-dollar bill. He was shocked when the bartender actually produced the hundred. The man insisted on thanking Tom personally and buying him a drink. “I can’t believe you didn’t just walk off with it,” he kept exclaiming.
But by 8 PM on the day I lost my wallet in Los Angeles, I accepted the fact that someone did walk off with my cash.
And then a woman showed up on my doorstep, holding my wallet. A Latina mother. She told me her son had spotted it at the gas station. They would have brought it sooner, she said, only she had to work until 7 PM.
I thanked her profusely, especially for coming all the way to my house.
She said, “We have to look out for each other.”
All the cash was still in my wallet. I pulled it out and tried to hand it to her. She refused.
I reluctantly put back all the cash except for a five dollar bill. “You have to take it, please, I can’t thank you enough, you’ve saved me from hours at the DMV. Can you at least give this to your son? As a reward?”
She accepted those five dollars for her boy. He deserved it. She deserved far more.
Maybe karma made sure she got it.