In college we had a penchant for petty pranks.
It began as ways to mess with cocky frat boys. We’d switch tire covers on side by side jeeps. We stuck cotton balls on a frat’s lion statues, turning them into sheep, and in one event that probably went a wee too far, we held hostage an initiation paddle.
Eventually the pranks seeped into the surrounding neighborhoods. For Sale signs were swapped in front lawns, particularly tacky pinwheels were plucked from garden beds, and yard décor rearranged. We were bored in a college town whose heart beat solely for the university. I mean, Walmart was considered a viable change of scenery. Nightlife extended to one decent bar. It carded heavily and the rest were regularly raided dives. Our pranks brought disorder to the order of things. The frat boys deserved to be messed with and the community was a sitting duck.
Then I aged into a duck.
Sometime in the last decade New Orleanians decided to use the backside of their cars as a way to broadcast their associations. The announcements are blatant: a black and white saddle oxford, a gold crescent, a giant L. Then the social krewes, sports clubs, and even daycare magnets began to stick to us, a proud symbol: “I am among the magnetized. I belong.” I have four on my mid-sized SUV. Had. All were victimized by what I perceive as a flamboyance of immature pranksters, dumb kids who think they’ve put me in my place. Punks.
Karma is a briny bitch.
Karma is one of those words that I say with the same Catholic school fear that prevents me from blurting out, “Holy Shit!” when I see a cockroach. It’s like I’m afraid Sister Flavia will come around the corner to slap me with a ruler. Karma is a completely cosmic belief. What goes around comes around. And theosophy or not, I believe in it.
A coworker lies about another in the office to save her own neck. She relishes a continued paycheck, yet unbeknownst to her, her actions against the other prevent her from a position elsewhere that would have doubled her salary. That’s karma.
Or that time in second grade, when I found a delicate ivory necklace hanging from the water fountain. Instead of turning it in, I quickly hid it in the pocket of my red cardigan and later locked it away in my pink jewelry box. I never wore it for fear someone would notice and turn me in. Or worse, I’d be stoned on the blacktop as a traitor among eight-year-olds. It stayed hidden in my room for years, a stain on the pink velvet cushion on which it lay. Each time I lost something precious—a Barbie shoe, snoball money, a private note from a class crush—I’d picture that ivory necklace, locked and keyed, a ballerina spinning above it on her judgmental axis. I finally brought the necklace back to the same fountain. I was in seventh grade and returning it to karma felt like stepping into a hot bath.
That was seventh grade and this is now. If I have a bad attitude going into something, my experience is worse. If I’m a jerk, I get no sympathy when I need it most. But, when I give to someone in need, I’m more euphoric than regretful. Should I take the extra minutes to let my child ramble, I feel better than if I hadn’t. It’s not a matter of consequence and reward. This is about an energy, one for which, whether we like it or not, we are accountable. Energy suspends like an omen, unobtrusive at the start and palpable on the way out. Poor choices lead to a poor existence, from bypassing the lost and found to polluting the earth.
Karma sounds like a selfish concept at first, but when we look outside of ourselves, we see our actions multiply, affecting well beyond us. To ignore that is to be indifferent to the most basic idea: What we put out into the world, we eventually receive—as an individual, but also as a species. If we all committed to stuffing as much positivity into every nook and cranny on this frazzled planet, imagine the return on investment.
I know enough to know that call it karma, or destiny, or grace, it’s all the same. We reap what we sow. And “sow” on and “sow” on. When I listen to my child, she’s elated and likely to be nicer to someone else. If a stranger buys my coffee, I’ll pay it forward somehow. It feels too good to be the beneficiary to not share.
I’m not sure if the outline of a magnet on the rear end of my Toyota was caused by the myriad pinwheels stashed in my dorm room. At first I fumed. Stupid kids with their stupid collections of yuppie magnets. Then I laughed at my own expense. They’re freaking car magnets, Annie! Get a grip.
That’s the other thing about karma. It’s merciful when we are.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.