Karma

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We often toss the word karma around whenever we witness someone getting what we believe are just desserts. We like to believe that good acts will eventually be rewarded and bad acts will be duly punished. In most situations such things might occur, but when a good person has bad things happen while a bad person seems to enjoy a consequence free life we begin to falter in our understanding of how life works. We desperately want to see that our actions whether good or bad result in appropriate outcomes.

Sadly we all know of individuals who are beset with suffering for no apparent reason. My mother was saintly in her behavior. It would be difficult to find a kinder more generous person who walked this earth, and yet karma seemed to have forgotten her. She watched her own mother being taken away to a mental hospital when she was still a toddler. That moment frightened her so much that the trauma stalked her for most of her life. Nonetheless, she set out to create a calm and secure existence for herself and her family. For a time it seemed as though she had succeeded in keeping the ghosts of her childhood at bay until her husband died when she was only thirty years old. She was left with three young children to raise alone on a meager income that kept her in a chronic state of anxiety. 

She succeeded in making her home a haven for her family until her own mental health began to deteriorate when she was about forty years old. She would spend the rest of her life battling ever increasing and debilitating bouts of depression, mania, and paranoia. If karma had been real and fair none of this would ever have happened to her, but it did in spite of all the good deeds that she had done. Somehow she remained kind and loving to the very end of her days, finding joy in the smallest of pleasures. 

If there was even a hint of karma for her it was found in the love that she had spread to the people around her. Upon her death those who had remained faithful to her told touching stories of times that she had brought them out of their own sorrows with a phone call or a sweet message sent in a card. Many had abandoned her because they feared her illness, but those who kept the faith with her understood how precious her unremitting love was. Perhaps in her case karma was always there but hidden under the weight of the challenges that always threatened to sideline her optimism and forgiveness.

On the other hand, I have known individuals who are selfish and abusive that never suffer like my mother did. They seem to be coated with teflon that allows them to avoid retribution for their horrific behaviors. They don’t even seem to realize how toxic they are. Somehow they always have good fortune and a following of people who actually admire their unfeeling ways. They proceed through life with little or no thought of the hurt they have inflicted on others. Karma never seems to darken their doors. 

We humans want to believe that there is a semblance of fairness in life but we too often see just the opposite. The man whose son was murdered knows that neither he nor his child deserved such a tragic end. He watches the murderer laughing and exchanging high fives while he is grieving. He wonders why he has to endure this pain. He knows that he has tried his whole life to be a good man and that his son was an innocent victim. Karma means nothing to him. 

The truth is that bad things happen to good people and good things sometimes happen to bad people. It is a conundrum for those of us who want to believe that consequences for our actions should always be appropriate. We desire rewards and positive reinforcement for our good deeds that do not always transpire. We want justice for the bad things that happen to us. Instead we live in a highly complex society in which many times we must simply be content in knowing that we are living honorable lives with only the reward of being able to feel good about ourselves. Perhaps that is all that really matters. 

I don’t believe that the person whose home burns down is receiving some kind of retribution any more than I believe that the individual who lives a life of luxury and privilege is somehow being rewarded. I think that things happen randomly and some people just have misfortunes that have nothing to do with who they are or how they live their lives. Neither God nor karma randomly inflict people with tragedy anymore than they choose others for happiness. It would be a very unfair world indeed if such were true. Instead each of us should strive to be like my mother who remained good and loving simply because she believed it was the best way to live.

Perhaps we all get our just due when we leave this earth. There are no guarantees while we are here. We are not unthinking puppets being manipulated by rewards and punishments to do right. We choose how we will live because we understand that there is a good and just way to be. We try our best to follow the good path not in hopes of getting a pat on the back, but because we know that it is right.

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