Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I got a nice lesson in karma the other night on my subway ride home.
I read this fabulous book on Tibetian Buddhism recently and I've been trying to adopt some of the principles that the author discussed.
I found the whole karma business fascinating--the idea that every action you take causes a reaction in the future--intrigues the hell out of me.
I tried discussing this with my shrink during one of our sessions and he started interrogating me.
"Do you believe in karma?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose--"
"You really believe in karma?"
I felt like I was being accused of something so I immediately denied all knowledge. I told him I like the feeling I get when I do good deeds, but, as a rational 21st Century humanoid, do I really believe good things will result from my acts of kindness?
Well, I guess not, but I don't think I should have to pay this guy to shoot down my little delusions. The big ones, of course, but save me some bits of craziness or what's the point of living? I might as well be a plant.
So I was taking the train home the other night and my shrink wasn't with me. I had just finished a brutal session at the gym and I needed to sit down and go to sleep in a hurry. It was 7 pm, I was sure the rush hour would be over and I'd have my pick of the best seats in the train.
The train was packed, like a cattle car. I don't know if any earlier train had broken down, or everybody else on the R line had gone to the gym, too, but whatever the reason, I was standing in a crowd of tired New Yorkers, not an empty seat in sight.
All right, I accepted the situation, took out my book, and started to read. It was going to suck standing all the way home, but that was the situation. But I got lucky at Court Street when some guy got up from his seat and allowed me to slip right in.
It was an end seat, right against the door guard, just perfect for napping. I wasn't going anywhere. Well, that lasted for two stops, when the doors opened at DeKalb Avenue and an elderly lady got on board. She walked by me, craning her neck as she looked for a spot and I just couldn't stay seated.
I've got to confess that I have occassionally pretended to be asleep when a more seat-deserving person walks by. In fact, it's more than occassionally, I actually pull that trick a lot. But not this night.
I tapped the lady gently on the shoulder as I stood up and pointed to the seat was formerly mine. Her eyes lit up like sparklers and she gave me the nicest smile.
No, Really, I Insist...
"Thank you," she said, in what sounded like an Eastern European accent. "Thank you very much."
I felt like I had done the right thing. I was exhausted, but I had given up I really wanted to someone more deserving. (Schmuck!)
I went back to reading my book standing up. I lost track of time, but somewhere around 25th Street I felt something poke me. I thought I was in someone's way and I turned to see the old lady smiling as she stood up and pointed to the chair.
"Sit down," she said. "Sit down."
I confused for a second; maybe this was some kind of Balkan seat-exchanging custom I was not aware of. You take my seat, I'll take your seat and I'll be in Belgrade a-fore ye...
But, no, she was just getting off at her stop and returning the favor. She held on to the pole until the train came to a full stop and I could see her bag was full of yarn, so she apparently did her knitting on the train. I was fascinated by this woman and I wanted to know her story.
How long had she lived in America? Did she have a husband, children, or did she go home to a cold, lonely apartment, cook herself dinner, and knit in front of the TV? I'd like to think she's got a loving husband and children, and a whole mob of grandkids for her to spoil.
She turned back to me when the doors opened, smiled, and wished me a good night. Then she was gone, but she made me feel very good. I only wish my shrink could have been there to see this bit of karma-raderie.
We pulled into 36th Street and the station manager was telling the crowd of commuters that the N train they were looking out on the express track was going over D line. I accept this kind of thing quiet easily, but I wonder what this must sound like to a foreigner--the N is a D? It's like some cold war spy code.
"The next N train will be here in a minute!" The station manager's voice filled the platform. "The next N train will be here in a minute!"
I thought that was the end of the annoucnement, but then I heard the same man's voice starting to sing, yes, sing, into the PA system.
"When I was seventeen--" was as far he got before the mike went dead.
I'm not certain, but I think he was starting to sing that song Frank Sinatra made famous, It Was a Very Good Year. You know, the one about small town girls and soft summer nights and blue-blooded girls of independent means who rode in limousines? Yeah, that one.
Well, he must have suddenly realized he had left the mike on and cut the sound. Either that or his co-workers got fed up with his singing and yanked the microphone away from him.
I like the idea of people showing their human side, so we know it's not just a recording coming out of the loudspeaker. But honestly, this man's voice was definitely in the don't-quit-your day-job category.
So I went from karma to karoke in one subway ride. I definitely got my two bucks worth that night. And a seat.