Sometimes you have to cash in on the goodwill of others. Because no one can get it right all the time. Sure, you try to, but mistakes happen. When they do, that little bit of unearned generosity and sacrifice can make a world of difference.
The concept of karma is so elementary, even children — as selfish as they are by nature — can comprehend it’s fundamentality. Do good things and good things will come your way. Simple.
But, it’s not that simple. Everyone is nice. “Nice” is easy. Don’t be a dick. Done. The bar is literally so low that if you can manage to just be cool, you’re perceived of as “nice.” But “nice” isn’t enough. Just like “happy” wants to be “joy,” “nice” wishes it were “good.” Because “good” is the part that makes change. “Nice” is welcome, obviously, but “good” can actually have an impact.
As much as I want to believe in karma, deep down I know it’s a false premise. Good things happen to bad people all the time. Surely, if you make enough selfish decisions, eventually it will come back to burn you. And the human conscience can be a powerful force against your own mental well-being. But the universe just doesn’t seem to have the energy to actively work against malice. She must be too busy.
Even with this sad realization, I can’t help but to be somehow stirred towards working for betterment, especially on an individual level. “It doesn’t really matter.” Well, it did to this one. And how far will those ripples reach?
The make of a man doesn’t hinge on one particular event — good or bad. We all fuck up. Okay, fine. Then what happens next?
“Brian, you don’t mess up often, but, man, when you do it’s of spectacular proportions.”
A throwaway thought from a friend, but one that I can’t seem to shake. Because it rings true. Too bad my grave maker is so small. No other sentiment would make a more apropo engraving.
What happens next for me is to try to find ways to make things better. To right the balance. How much? How many? How long? What is enough? It’s a fool’s errand and I’m well aware of this. I know full-well that redemption doesn’t work like that. Equally, I remain enslaved to my sentence. So, I do good. Or, at least, I try to.
Today I haven’t necessarily been doing good. But, I have been doing. It’s been a long, tiring, yet fulfilling few days. Planning and preparing for an event that has passed just hours ago. Our state of contentment, mine and my wife’s, is ideal for a walk in the woods.
Back a trodden path to a favorite campsite we walk hand-in-hand, replaying the day’s events while our youngest dog skampers through the trees, leaping moss-covered logs and sprinting to and fro. This is a place of peacefulness and serenity.
Our inconsequential destination has a boarder for the night. A hiker at the beginning of a week-long journey. We share a few words with him as he works to extract some heat from too wet wood. It’s been raining for weeks. He’s in for a chilly night.
It’s always mostly cool under the canvas of trees. When it isn’t downright cold. I sympathize with his predicament.
How far is he going? The whole way. 70 miles in 6 days. He needs to think a few things through. I can relate.
“You get to a certain age,” he says with more than a hint of sorrow, “and God starts taking things away.”
He needs some time alone to come to grips with this unfortunate reality.
We say our goodbyes and leave him with the solitude to which he’s committed his week. Walking back toward our truck it’s evident that I’m coming back. I have some dry firewood in a back corner of my shop. She’ll pack up some leftover treats she baked for the party we’d held earlier that day.
Wood is heavy. And the hike back isn’t arduous, but it is long enough to limit how much I can carry. I bundle what will likely only amount to an hour or two of comfort in a red and white candy-striped length of rope, grab some kindling and she hands me a baggie of chocolate chip, peanut butter and no-bake cookies. Accompanied by a dog that is more than pleased to have another immediate untethered stroll, I head back to this stranger’s transient home in the forest.
For a second time in the same hour, I briefly interrupt his seclusion, telling him it’s not much, but maybe it’ll help a little. And that God still gives, “even to us old fuckers.”
Will this trivial bit of kindness help set the tone for the rest of his journey? Perhaps add a little light? I honestly believe it will. It might actually matter. To this one. To him.
“God bless you,” he says.
Walking back to the truck, it starts raining yet again. Cold drops hitting my face, but I’ll be protected by windows and walls soon enough. And I know I haven’t earned any invisible points. But I’m still allowed to feel good.