I don’t know if there’s a God. Whether there’s some Almighty Creator looking down on me from the sky, judging me, deciding that if I do this one bad thing, I’m going to get punished for it…I don’t know about that. I do, however, firmly believe in Karma (or something like it, anyway). The difference for me is very important. God is a figure we’ve created to help us deal with our inward anxieties: forgiveness, morality, hurt and pain. It’s easier to believe that we aren’t responsible for the things we put out into the world. It seems to me, that to be an agent of God means that your actions are not your own. You move through the world doing things because it’s all part of some bigger plan. If you have a moral misstep, it’s God we have to own up to first, then ourselves, then the one who has been wronged. That order feels so wrong to me, but it’s simply what I’ve observed.
Karma works a little differently. Karma for me is like Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Life for me isn’t about pleasing a deity in the sky, nor is it about believing that everything happens for a reason. Life is about balance. My personal goal (and one that I think everyone should inherit) is to make up for all the bad things in the world by putting more good into it. Really, when it comes down to it, you have to remember that just as sure as there will be morning, there will also be night. Bad things are going to happen, you’re going to make mistakes, and not everything is going to go your way. But there will be good things too, and that has to come from you. You can approach a tough situation by dwelling on how bad it is, or you can fight it and do something positive in exchange. The human condition is so strange, because we are all capable of good and bad things, but it’s ultimately what thoughts we act on and what good or bad we put out into the world that makes a difference.
(I can see why God might feel necessary for some, and I don’t discredit anyone’s experience with spirituality, because that’s extremely personal. But I don’t think it works for me. I’ve often observed friends, family, and strangers, praying to God for strength to make it through hardship [e.g "God please give me the strength to carry on"], but when I’ve prayed this way, what I’ve ultimately found is that the strength I need is already inside me. God didn’t reach into my conscious mind, find that small courageous blerb I need, and push it to the forefront of my mind. No, I did that. I found it inside me because it is simply instinctual. Since the dawn of time, we understand that obstacles must be overcome in order to survive, in the same way we don’t decide to have sexual desires. We just get turned on and want to have sex because our animalistic instincts subconsciously remind us we need to procreate to bring new life into the world, and keep our species alive. It’s all survival of the fittest.)
Anyway, life has done me dirty for most of the year. I was broken up with at an impossibly strenuous time of year and forgot to take advantage of my final semester at school. I got hired at an internship which both took advantage of me and totally dismantled my drive for a career in entertainment. I was jobless for about four months and as a result, my empty bank account made it difficult for me to maintain and build on certain friendships. I struggled to apply for grad schools (again), collecting additional materials, overcoming self doubt, and digging deep to write several several several drafts of personal essays to prove I am a worthy student/human being. I also learned a week or so ago that my hero and favorite professor Kenneth Speirs, passed away from a heart attack.
My heart still hurts from the immediacy of his death, but I take comfort in remembering his life. He was a one of a kind man- someone who believed in the goodness of people and seemed to draw the best out of every student. He taught me many things but there are two moments with him that really stick out in my mind as extremely powerful and remarkable. I once caught him after class, excited to discuss “As I Lay Dying” with him. I remember telling him how much I hated the book while I was reading it, but taking a step back, it was the excitement I got from hating it so much that actually made me love it. His response was something vague, referential, and wise (as his language usually was). Something like “Ah, that’s so good. That’s great– and you should really experience that hatred. I’m glad you’re using your experience as a means to get you somewhere bigger. You know, I’m someone who actually doesn’t enjoy answers. I really like questions. I like the discomfort in searching for something. Searching doesn’t always have to make sense, you know? Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re looking for. And you don’t always have to be right, but pushing in certain places, and asking questions, and struggling is really where you learn the most from a novel…and life too I think.” An elaborated version of the expression “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. But I’ll always remember that and aspire to take comfort in the uncomfortable as Kenneth did. It’s so important, I think, to remember the value in making the most out of a bad situation. Balance, balance, balance. That’s what it’s all about.
The other moment that comes to mind, was in a friendly email, just to check in and say hi after graduation. Part of me will regret not responding to his last email. His parting advice to me was “Keep going; be more, much more, of who you are and always play your game with dogged stubbornness. You know but don’t forget.” Looking back at his wisdom reminds me so much of the final words of “The Great Gatsby”, the first book our class read under his instruction.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——”
And one fine morning, we will pass as all things do… as Gatsby did. As Kenneth did. But what do we do before that happens? We stretch ourselves, we run faster, we push, we search, we love, we create, we keep going and become more, much more, of who we are. Why? So that when life, oh so fragile, finally cracks and crumbles in our full embrace, we leave something good in our wake.
Move, and take all your angels and demons with you. Every step forward is a lesson. Make the most of it, even when you trip.
Forget about God for a bit. Don’t be so dependent on him. Create your own good. Beat the bad by doing good. Learn to forgive yourself before you ask it of someone else. Find your own courage before you ask someone else to find it for you.
All that’s really left to say is that I hope I’m making him proud.
- UC Berkeley English lecturer Kenneth Speirs dies at 49 (dailycal.org)