In my lifelong search for meaning in life, the notion of “just desserts” has helped. In the shoot-‘em-up movies, I shed not a tear for the evil villain who gets killed by Spiderman, indeed rejoice that he got what’s coming to him. The notion of eternal hellfire for one’s sins in this life always seemed a bit too harsh, especially when sin involved things like kissing Susan Hermann at the 8th grade make-out party or talking back to your parents when they were being unfair. The Hindu idea of karma, that what goes around comes around, makes a bit more sense. In life’s game of Chutes and Ladders, one’s bad choices send you down the chute, but you always have the option to climb the ladder and redeem yourself.
So in my 9th day of feeling pity for my non-stop coughing hacking self, I can’t but wonder what I did to deserve this. I believe I did a good job teaching kids this year and helped end school with the proper ritual and festivity, spoke words of kindness and affirmation to the kids I genuinely loved and likewise appreciated—and gave details of the appreciation—to my wonderful teacher colleagues. So what’s the cause and effect here? Why am I being unduly punished with this cough that just simply will not improve no matter what I do—rest, cough syrup, water, eucalyptus aromas, honey-ginger-lemon tea? It defies all theories of cause and effect and though it’s a small consolation that it’s so minor on the list of bad things happening to good people in the big picture, it doesn’t make me feel better when I’m awake at midnight after having taken a sleeping pill that looked like it would get me through the night. No such luck. Two hours of uninterrupted sleep, a coughing fit and here I am.
So up the middle of the night here, I’m going through my life’s bad choices and the things that could be rising up to get their revenge. And I thought of my neighbor's Christmas lights on 7th Ave and Sheridan Ave in Roselle, New Jersey. Back when I was 10 or so, my friends and I had a fit of “boys will be boys” and unscrewed lights from the decoration and then gleefully tossed them into the street to hear them pop. That was our idea of fun, little thinking about how it would make our neighbors feel. I believe I did feel remorse later on and I think we might have even left a bag of new lights on their lawn the following year, but it was a long time ago—my memory may be faulty.
At any rate, oh gods of Karma or punishing God of revenge and retribution, if that’s what it was that’s keeping this cough with me, I’ll accept my punishment. But for how much longer? Send me a sign!