Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Karma Macchiato

Written in December 2007

A Karma Macchiato
All sorts of weird things have happened to me this year. I had a cancer scare, a stalker, a mean guy dumped me and broke my heart, I got an ulcer and lost 15 pounds, then I lost my job and sprained my ankle. Oh, and I sprained my wrist too.

All of these terrible things have prompted my friends to ask me, one by one, that age-old question: "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

First of all I thank them for putting me in the "good people" category. I often wonder if I'm a good person, after all those poisonous and uncharitable thoughts I have towards other drivers while I'm in traffic and towards my loud, idiotic neighbor Todd, so it's good to know people still regard me as a good person - at least to my face.

There have been a lot of great books written on the subject of why bad things happen to good people. Those books tackle the issue far more eloquently than I ever could, but I do have some humble, unqualified opinions of my own.

Here's the first important fact, and it IS a fact: Bad things happen to everybody. They occur with the same statistical frequency to all types of people, good and bad, across the board. I think it's very funny that some people believe if they clean up their lives, start being good, start going to church, that bad things will stop happening to them. They think a virtuous life is a magic talisman that protects them against adversity. If this was true, then Jesus, the Dalai Llama, Martin Luther King and Ghandi would have had it made. Clearly, their virtuous lives did not make them immune to adverse events. It instead made things very dangerous for them.

The main issue that people struggle to understand is - how can good people die young, or lose people they love in violent, incomprehensible ways? This is true because of another hard, cold fact: Death is a part of life. It is unavoidable. We all die at different times and in different ways. People who are left behind are distraught, destroyed, pissed off, blaming God, but we all die. It is inevitable, and it's been part of the deal since the beginning of time. Death is not the problem. Our non-acceptance of it is the problem. 

As far as the ways in which people die - it is man, and not God, who created a violent culture in which wars and crime are still acceptable. God gave us all free will, and He is horrified that we choose to use our free will to violate his first Commandment - Thou shalt not kill. He is also horrified that people still die in natural disasters because greedy, corrupt governments won't spend the money for warning systems and protection of their citizens. 

God sighs and rolls His eyes a lot. He can't believe what idiots we all are, and yet somehow He still loves us. 

So - bad things happen to all people. They are simply a part of life, and it's our responsibility to learn how to navigate around the negative things that happen to us and learn from them.

When something bad happens to a good person, though, there is a bonus. Good people tend to have good friends, or even in the absence of good friends (if life has deprived them of such) they have good karma. I'm a Christian, but I believe very much in the Hindu concept of karma. Whatever energy you put out into the world, comes back to you. If you don't get a reward for the positive things you have done in this life, you will receive that award in the afterlife or in your next life. If you don't get punished for the bad things you've done in this life, you will be punished for it in the hereafter. (I'm also a Christian who believes in reincarnation.)

When bad things happen to bad people, they don't get the benefit of cashing in on good karma. They don't have kind, loving friends who rush in to help them and offer their love and support. If they are not spiritual, they have no force beyond themselves to to talk to about what they are going through. They have no one to confide in. Bad people are very much alone, and that is their karmic punishment. My ex-husband used to talk all the time about his loneliness. He dwelled on it constantly, and did not realize that he created it himself. He was a person who was cold, distant and secretive, so of course he was lonely. He lived in a walled prison of his own making. I was the only person he ever allowed inside, and even then he kept me at a safe distance. When he struggled with things in his life, I was the only person he could talk to and when I left him, he was again utterly alone.

When bad things happen to bad people, they suffer alone. Their punishment for being bad is loneliness, which is quite possibly the worst feeling on earth.

I have never, ever felt lonely a day in my life. This is my reward not for being perfectly good - lord knows I will never be as good as I wish I could be - it's simply a karmic reward for trying to be good - for letting people in, and striving to have deep, positive and authentic relationships. When bad things happen to me, I never suffer by myself. I have wonderful friends and a very loving family who surround me and help me through my troubles. Because I am a spiritual person, I have a higher power that I can always turn to, pour out my heart to and cry to when I am in despair, and it gives me tremendous strength when things aren't going well. I've gotten three freelance jobs and several odd jobs since I've been unemployed. All have been through friends. Sweet, nurturing Jason even gave me a brace for my sprained ankle, and he cooked dinner for me the night I was laid off, gave me a hug and said "Don't worry. It's going to be OK."

Most importantly, I have a spiritual community that functions as it's supposed to - as a support system. Even though I've been maintaining my finances pretty well I have been very worried about money - constantly scribbling totals on paper and adding things up on the calculator. Last night Carol, my beloved friend and the rector of my church, called me up and said "Are you going to be at church tomorrow for the Christmas Eve services?" I thought wow, now that's a lot of guilt if I was planning on not going...but I said yes, I'd be there. She said "Good. I have something I want to give you."

"What is it? I really hope you didn't get me a present. I can't shop so..."

"No, no. It's not a present. It's not from me. It's from a parishioner who wants to remain anonymous. Claudette, it's a check for $1,000."

I didn't know what to say. I was stunned.

"Who...who would do such a thing...?"

"When you told me you lost your job, I sent your resume around to everyone in the parish. Somebody responded by sending you a check. You better get over here and get it tomorrow. I know you need it. And hey - why the heck were you limping today in church?"

I told her the long, crazy story of my sprained ankle and she laughed with me. Then she said "I'll see you tomorrow night. Limp on back to the vestry and I'll give you that check. Merry Christmas."

Maybe it's from a friend in my weekly group, or someone I've counseled as a member of the prayer team. Maybe it's from one of the people I took communion to in the hospital or in a nursing home, or someone who was at one of the events where I mediated. It could be one of the elderly people I sang for at the monthly luncheon, or it could be a complete stranger who just felt like it was the right thing to do. 

And that is the reason bad things happen to good people - so other good people can help them. That way the cycle of good karma can always continue.

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