Saturday, June 13, 2009

God vs. Karma

On our way home from a long, late lacrosse game, I cheerfully told my three passengers that we had to stop at the pizzeria before I took anyone home. My younger son had been there earlier in the day, I explained, and he forgot to pay for his food.

“Mom!” my older son groaned. “We’re so tired! You don’t have to pay for the food now.”

“Really,” agreed his friend and teammate. “That was so long ago. They won’t even remember.”

I told them I had to. They asked why. And I said Karma.

One of the things I love about teenagers – especially teenage boys – is their propensity to argue about every piece of information that lands remotely in their direction.

“Karma!?” said my son’s friend. “What does Karma have to do with anything? It’s not like you’re going to come back as a bug if you don’t pay for an order of French fries.”

I told him it wasn’t about "coming back as" anything.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” I said.

My son and his friend beseeched me, harangued me and even mocked me. “Just bring us home,” they pleaded.

“Besides,” said his friend, “you can’t believe in Karma if you don’t believe in God.”

“Well, that’s not true,” I said. And then I tried to explain the Law of Karma as it had once been explained to me. The teacher had said, “the only way we can have an experience is if we have created that same experience for someone else. Good or bad, without exception. This means that whatever quality or experience we desire, we must set out to create that very thing for others.”

“It has nothing to do with God,” I went on. “It’s a natural law of the universe. But, that said, I do anyway.”

My son’s friend was a little stunned. “Do what? Believe in God? You believe in God? What are you, like, the only person in Montclair who does?”

I took a deep breath and smelled the mix of grass stain and boy sweat that filled the car alongside the music and their giggling. Sweet air rushed at us through open windows and the sky was moving fast toward purple night. The three boys in my car were funny and smart, beautiful and perfect, and had exactly their entire lives in front of them.

What I said to him was, “Yeah, maybe.”

But what I thought was, “Oh, Sweetheart, how could I not?”


  1. How could you not believe in God?...hmmm, let me count the ways. Karma?...well, those things make for cute poetry...but how about basic, practical, Kantian as if your actions would become a universal guide for everyone. We meet our obligations because we want our own lives to be better, easier...and once we have internalized that idea, we are appalled by those who "cheat"...and in being appalled by such behavior, we make sure to avoid it ourselves...

  2. Karma

    Having two sons is why I call my mother every week and apologize.

    Do not love thy neighbor for fun and profit.

    If you claim to be a photographer you will
    come back as a cockroach.

    Take offs are optional but landing isn't.