Thursday, January 8, 2009

June 2005: Karma Koncerns

God teaches me lessons. Sometimes, the lessons are quite subtle and I miss them. At other times, I am sorry to admit, I ignore them. On Father’s Day, June 19th, a lesson was delivered that was quite clear, immediate, and impossible to ignore.

I was in a great mood. I was calm, serene, and really quite content. The weather was beautiful. I was up early, had breakfast, and wrote my daily page while watching the Stooges. I read part of the Sunday Times and then decided, as a Father’s Day prerogative, to make breakfast for Judy and Armené. I copied Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast and prepared blueberry pancakes, fried eggs and sausage.

After breakfast, I left to go get the propane tank on the barbecue filled. I decided to go to Stew Leonard’s, the Norwalk based Grocery/Dairy store featured in Tom Peter’s book In Search of Excellence. Stew Leonard’s had the best price on propane refills plus I thought I would get a few other things. I was in a great mood. May I re-emphasize that I was quite calm, serene, and content. Everything was right with the world. I drove with the windows, sunroof and back window of my 4Runner all open with my favorite music on.

As I was shopping, I was marveling and amazed at just how awfully polite I was. Going into the store, I was whistling what was just playing in the car. I would wave cars, with clearly stressed and edgy drivers, to pass in front of me. I allowed my clearly more nervous brethren, to take a cart first, go first if it were congested in the aisles, and other little random acts of kindness that come so naturally when one is calm, serene and content.

I bought some fruit, soda, and cheese. I then decided to buy some barbecue chicken wings thinking they would be a great addition to whatever it was we were going to have for dinner. Stew Leonard’s has a great ready to eat salad and hot food bar for which you pay by the pound. Next to the food bar, there is a place where you can buy shrimp and chicken, baked, fried or barbecued.

At the chicken and shrimp counter, there was a lady being waited on. I maneuvered my cart right behind her. While waiting, another lady and her daughter approached. The other lady told her daughter that she wanted to get some chicken. The daughter said “OK” and proceeded to the check out. This lady, who seemed to be in her sixties, then edged between my cart and the lady being waited on to look at the various chicken and shrimp selections.

I placed a bet with myself that this lady would be served next, taking my place. Sure enough, she did. I did not say anything. Why should I? I was still seated Buddha-like on this wonderful mountain of calmness, serenity, and contentment. I barely noticed that first pebble dislodge and roll down this mountain.

She was interested in herb baked chicken wings. Apparently, they were a favorite of her and her family. If the order had been filled quickly, it might have been the end of it. But, she started asking questions about how long the chicken had been sitting there, if there was enough in the tray to fill her request, and when possibly, the next fresher and hotter batch might be coming. I still did not say anything, though I was fully aware now that more pebbles and larger rocks were beginning to roll down my mountain of calmness, serenity, and contentment.

The Stew Leonard’s employee went to check on the next batch. He returned and said it would be a few minutes. The lady scrunched her face in deep thought and then stated, “Oh, I’ll just take what is here.” Did she want a half-pound or a pound? I was surprised that she did not hear that boulder break loose and rumble down my mountain. She decided on a pound of herb baked chicken wings which the Stew Leonard’s man packaged and marked with the weight and price.

Do I say something as she was departing or let it go? It was too late, the avalanche alarm was blaring and a full landslide was imminent. I had enough calmness, serenity, and contentment remaining to simply and evenly tell her, “I admire you slick move.” She responded, “I beg your pardon.” I retorted still in a most even tone, “I like the way you weaved between my cart and the lady being waited, looked at the display, and then placed your order even though I was next.” “Oh, I didn’t see you, I am so sorry,” she said.

I loved this response, I have heard it before, and am amazed when someone does not notice me. I am not a small presence by any means. I actually am amused to hear this kind of response. I was just about to say, “It’s quite alright,” and end it there. But right at that very instant, as soon as I noticed that she was visibly and physically upset and even trembling a bit. She dropped her order of herb baked chicken wings. Splat! Herb baked chicken wings everywhere!

My mountain of calmness, serenity, and contentment was gone. I was now perched on a much larger mountain of shame and humiliation.

I immediately, bent down picked up all the herb baked chicken wings putting them back into the container and placing it on the counter. I asked for a towel from the Stew Leonard’s man and cleaned the floor. I told the lady, “Please go ahead and get some more chicken, no problem, I’ll wait, I am so sorry.” She was shaking and obviously more distraught than I was either shamed or humiliated. She said, “Never mind, I am having a bad day,” and left.

No sooner had she left, the fresh batch of herb baked chicken wings arrived. I ordered exactly what she had and the barbecue wings I had wanted. I went to the checkout where she and her daughter were and handed her the wings. I told her, “God teaches me obvious lessons I need to learn. I am sorry to have upset you and make you drop your order. Here is a fresh batch.” She mumbled a thanks of sorts. Her daughter said nothing. I proceeded to another checkout as far away as possible knowing my karmic loss was lessened but still a net loss.

Karma. I am not sure exactly what it is but partially, it must be self-defined. Karma is the internal emotional bank account of how we treat others and how others treat us. Life would be better if all our accounts had positive balances.

I could have looked up Karma on the internet and find a lot of mystical psycho-babble, what a previous generation might have called “mumbo jumbo.” It is not really. The basic principle of Karma is in line with the two basic Christian principles: the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and, as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The principle is basic. If you act well and do good deeds, you tend to reap goodness and kindness from others. If you treat people rudely and consider others as nasty and evil, you can expect the same in return.

Beyond this there is another adage that is intertwined in this Karmic, reap-sow, and Golden Rule principle. This one is from Shakespeare, as Polonius wrote to his son Laertes in Hamlet. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” This must be kept in mind and acted in tandem with the Karmic principle. I know this. I learned it, sensed it, felt it early on and most recently had it confirmed in Stew Leonard’s. I tried to be something I am not, snide and crass. Immediately, instantaneously, there was Karmic equilibrium. As President Bush is so fond of saying, I was humbled.

Let us leave the notable saints and sinners out of this discussion, e.g. the likes of Gandhi and Hitler and consider the vast majority of humans living between these extremes. I have known both nasty ornery SOBs and veritable saints in my life. People in these classifications are always true to their own selves. Nothing ruffles, flusters, bothers, or depresses the saints I know. I am equally amazed at the constancy and consistency of the SOBs.

The rest of us in the middle are simply trying to make sense and do our best oscillating between the nasty and the saintly, dare I say yin and yang, each to our own bio-rhythms (here is concept we do not hear too much about any more). The vast majority of us are simply trying our best to behave in society juggling whatever it is life throws our way with our own moods, bio-rhythms, astrological influences, and whatever else is in this crazy mix. We know that keeping our Karm-a-Meter on the positive is what we should do, but knowing never equals doing. For those of us not born an SOB or a saint, mastery in good Karmic behavior takes lots of practice and an occasional divine lesson.

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