KARMA, GOODNESS, & JERRY SPINELLI'S "STARGIRL"


Karma is a sweet, sweet lover.

Or, so I’ve heard.

I’ve also heard that “what goes around, comes around.” It’s the belief that one good deed will, someday, bring a reward. It’s the circular faith that a person’s misdeed will, someday, result in some sort of payment. It’s the cause and effect belief that good warrants good and bad warrants bad.

Karma, they say, influences the future of an individual.

Karma, I’m sure, could be a sweet, sweet lover.

But karma isn’t my type.

Karma’s too manipulative.

Karma would watch my every move, my every step. If I tossed my spare change into the Styrofoam cup of a homeless man on the corner of Illinois and Washington, karma would caress my cheek. It would whisper into my ear, do more. But, maybe I’d slip up. Maybe I’d forget to call my mother. Maybe I’d gossip and refer to the villain of my story as a “dick.” Maybe I’d lose my temper and scream obscenities. Maybe I’d break something that wasn’t mine. Maybe I’d break someone’s heart.

I would live in fear. I would anticipate the moment karma would forcefully push me against the wall, my jaw held in place. You know why I’m doing this, don’t you? it would ask. You know you deserve this.

I would have to be careful. I would have to watch what I say, what I do, where I go, how I feel. Because karma would know.

Karma would know more about my past—and my future—than I ever would. It keeps tabs, it holds grudges.

Karma doesn’t forget.

It would be too risky, putting my faith in karma. So, instead, I believe in something else.

I believe that good inspires good.

It’s simple, I know. Maybe too simple.

But I believe, perhaps naively, that people are inherently good. They mean well. Their hearts are “in the right place.” They know that people matter. It’s true that some individuals forget who they are, forget their kin and their loyalties. They may bend the laws, or even break them, to protect others who do the same. I’ll admit that I don’t always understand. I’ll admit that most won’t. And that’s okay.

The best I can do is smile, laugh, and refuse to pass judgment. To be a forgiving, empathetic, kind-hearted soul. To be a helper.

In Jerry Spinelli’s “Stargirl,” the title character is compassionate, kind, brave, and individualistic. She cheers for both teams at sporting events. She comforts the heart-broken, dances in the rain, and spreads happiness anonymously.

She doesn’t believe in karma, either. She believes in kindness.

     Throughout the day, Stargirl had been dropping money. She was the Johnny
Appleseed of loose change: a penny here, a nickel there. Tossed to the sidewalk, laid on a shelf or bench. Even quarters. 
     “I hate change.”  she said. “It's so … jangly.”

     “Do you realize how much you must throw away in a year?” I said.
     “Did you ever see a little kid's face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?”

She may be fictional, Stargirl, but, God, how I want her bravery, her selflessness, her whimsy, her … her … her goodness. She makes me want to toss spare coins toward the thousands of homeless individuals in this city. She makes me want to say “hello” to the security persons who guard the doors of my office. She makes me want to write cards to those back in Iowa, to the senior citizens who have known me since I was small. She makes me want to praise the small things—the color of someone’s eyes, the fit of their shirt, the sound of their voice, the talent in their hands. She makes me want to paint the town red. And green. And blue. And purple. Any color, really. She makes me want to pause, to stop and look—really look—at my surroundings—a door frame, a window, a half-choked flower, a cloud shaped like a cactus, a woman in a polka-dotted coat, a taxicab with just one taillight. She makes me want to dance in the rain and not care about the opinions of others.

Because, really, if I warm a heart but embarrass myself in the process, what does it matter? As Ty’s grandfather says, “Who’s gonna know in a hundred years, anyway?”

Hmph. I’ll tell you who: karma.

Karma will know. Karma always knows.

But, according to the theory, if you do good, you will blessed in another way. And when that happens, dear friends, karma is at its most affectionate, whispering sweet, sweet nothings into your ear.

5 comments:

  1. I don't think Karma is such a bad thing.. Karma reacts/acts in the moment... We can control our fear.. Karma doesn't pass judgment nor does it remember what u did/didn't do... Call me crazy, for me Karma has taught me that I should of gone w/my gut feeling and not gone w/a decision that I did not feel 100% behind. For me its kept me in check..

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    1. I guess I never thought that karma "acts in the moment." I had always assumed that it keeps one in check by threatening them with the possibility that they might have something bad happen to them in the future if they wronged someone in the present. (Sort of like, "Don't worry. He'll get his kumupits someday.") I suppose it's open to interpretation? Below, Ayla mentioned that she she feels relief and comfort after making the right decision, but that there is lingering hesitation and uncertainty if she makes the "wrong" decision. That reminded me what you said here--that is is sort of a gut instinct. Like when you see someone on the street who needs help carrying something, or looks lost, you can dash over to them and assist them, knowing you did the right thing.

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  2. in my quantitative mind my brain wants to keep tally of every good thing and bad thing I've done. It can be overwhelming so I just stick with doing what makes me feel right. Generally I know I did the right thing because after I do it, I feel relief and don't think about it again. When I feel hesitation and uncertainty then that's when I know I probably didn't do the right thing.

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  3. I don't believe in "karma" per se. The saying I use (adopted from my best friend's dad) is "life's not fair, but God is always just." In different seasons it's meant different things but it's stuck with me over the years.

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  4. Oh man I remember reading stargirl when I was a kid. I really loved that book, there was something so magical about it. I think I want to read it again, or at least get myself a paper copy!! Karma is...an interesting idea, I make jokes about getting karma points, but I don't really believe it. If there is any true guiding force in the world...it's physics and randomness and those don't really have direction. I like what you said, about taking time to "warm a heart", and some days it's easier to do that than others.

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