Monday, January 7, 2013

Karmic Nickels

A man stood too close to me in line at the grocery store today and hollered about his great karma. It would seem that he came up five cents short for his bottle of vodka and went away empty-handed only to find a nickel on the ground in the parking lot. He and the man on a motorized cart at the lottery ticket machine yelled congratulatory things to each other over the top of my broccoli and bargain shrimp.

They spoke to each other in boundless, booming voices and laughable lies. I listened, because that's what I do. I soak it in and make attempts at sense and without particular judgement. The vodka man's breath was toxic and it was ten thirty in the morning. There are certain logical conclusions to be drawn from that. He stood exclaiming and making my eyes water and blessing his sweet luck. It was lucky, indeed, to find the nickel he lacked. Who wouldn't be excited about a gift from the parking lot being offered up in exactly the denomination you sought? From my perspective, it is no luck at all to be able to purchase off-brand vodka mid-morning. I'd be barfing by lunchtime. But he didn't ask my perspective, only exulted in his own for me to hear and stood inside my admittedly large body bubble and touched my coffee cup. How was he to know such things were off limits?

My friends' baby died Friday evening while they were getting ready to sit down to dinner. This lives like a balloon in my head and inflates and touches everything I think these last few days. This knowledge makes the world taste different, look different, feel different. Everything seems to distill around this one simple fact and vanish or become grotesque and out-sized beside the corpse of a tiny two-month-old boy. The man with his lucky nickel and his morning hair of the dog and his capering resilience has no way of knowing this, either. It is unfair to expect it of him. As it is similarly unfair to expect the crows who sit and squawk on my back deck to know they are interrupting my thoughts.

Sometimes I think karma is a load of so much rotten meat. I'm not Buddhist, so I can't really cop to being a believer in karma. But the notion is held in the Christian principle of "you reap what you sow." These friends of mine have sown service, unconditional love, good humor, patience and mad silliness to the people whose lives they touch. It would be tempting to allow all this goodness to be swallowed whole by a small heart that no longer beats. To look and say how unfair the world is and cast about for someone to blame. I wanted to blame the man and his nickel this morning, layering yet more unfairness upon unfairness. I refrained then and refrain still. But I wonder. I wonder that this man walks and hollers and collects dropped change and purchases morning spirits and calls it karma - the recompense of his good deeds come back around to greet him - while my friends get to decide whether to embalm or cremate ten pounds of innocent human flesh. It would seem I blame him just a little bit, in spite of myself. He was just an easy target, so loud and tangible in my ear. I know better than this.

There are no clear and satisfactory answers to this. I am too small to see the entirety of the human picture. I am too narrow in my view and too dim in my understanding. I have to accept this to be able to move on. Not just from the tragedy of my friends', but to move on from everything, every day. To be able to walk day to day surrounded by the absurd and the moving, the beautiful and the horrific, the tragic and the joyful and somehow contain it all, make my peace with it all; I must walk with steps one in front of the other and discover where they lead me and leave the larger forces to shuffle the pieces of this puzzling existence around.

It's dizzying in its magnitude, this species, this race of which I'm a part. That we humans can contain the reaper of karmic nickels, a blameless little child, weeping, grieving parents, a man buying lottery tickets and telling fantastic lies about fishing yachts, and me - a tired and confused housewife who only wants to buy her toilet paper and get home, who finds herself in a moral and existential struggle while bagging up the meats, who tries not to judge and does it anyway and tries again to erase the judgement, who smiles and takes her receipt and her tainted coffee cup and wishes everyone a good day. We are all part of the same organism, cut from the same basic cloth. We are all of these things and none of these things and some days, the contemplation of it makes me tired. I get tired and my eyes start to blur. The ugly details start to fade and the images soften and run together. I catch a quick and finite glimpse of the whole and its beauty takes my breath away.

18 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry for their loss.. So very sorry. Sometimes it's all we can do to continue living for those breath-taking glimpses...

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  2. I too am sorry. Your words touched my heart and I will be praying for your friends.

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  3. There's a song I love by a woman named Hilary Weeks. The song is called Beautiful Heartbreak. The message gives me much hope in times like these. (There's a youtube video of the song- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyX-I-um5Kk )

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    1. Thank you for this, Jewels. I sent it to my friend and she loved it.

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  4. I'm so sorry for your friends. You have captured it all here with such aching, wonderful truth. The great catastrophe, and the music.

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  5. The best part here (to me) is that we all are too small to see and understand it all. There's just no way to. We can only make our choices, sometimes guided by our understanding of karmas and the like? And then heal and love each other when tragedy strikes. Because it always will, eventually.

    Lots of prayers and hope for peace and healing for your friends, I cannot imagine their pain. xoxo

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    1. Thanks, Marie. It always strikes. Such is life. I agree, acknowledging the smallness of ourselves is a comfort to me.

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  6. There are too many things to say but none of them really mean what I mean. Still I wanted to say something because...so. There it is.

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    1. What she said. This is one of those things that leaves me mumbly and sputtery and feels too big to put into words.

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    2. I understand these sentiments.

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  7. My heart is breaking for your friends. I can't imagine a harder blow. Thoughts and prayers for them and all who love them.

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    1. Thanks, Marianne. I really appreciate it.

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  8. THIS IS CLEARLY ONE OF YOUR BEST WRITTEN PIECES MY DEAR LADY. THERE ARE STROKES OF BRILLIANCE HERE IN THE WRETCHED DARKNESS OF DEATH OF INNOCENCE. THE BABY, PERHAPS YOURS.


    GARRY.

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    1. Wow. Thank you, Garry. Such kindness.

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