At times this may seem a little disjointed but I hope it comes together by the time I am finished. This take on karma is coincidental with a tripe I made to Knoxville, Tennessee which was a stop on the way to Pigeon Forge, TN. Just prior to leaving Gainesville, I got a letter from an old student who was in a county jail for a new trial and in the process of the legal machinations, had been in solitaire for over a hundred days.
Make no mistake that if we follow the thread of karma it goes all the way back to beginingless time. We may think we know where a story line (karma) begins but the reality is we only know what we know and that is only a pinprick in the infinite line of time.
This story of Karma starts in the Korean war. To get an understanding of the intensity of this war in general and the Chosin in particular, I have included a Youtube link to the Chosin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amgLyiXEahI.
Fast forward in time from the Chosin to June 1961, when I graduated from a high school in Maine. Three days after graduation, I found myself in Parris Island and the three Drill Instructors who made life a living hell had all marched out of the Chosin maybe a decade earlier. These were sergeants who only know one thing and that was how to be a marine and they made sure that every man in our platoon had that ingrained down to the last fiber of their existence.
I think the strangest way it played out was in my marathon running. I guess for over two decades I did some 9 marathons and 1 triathlon. Never was a world class runner but the test in a marathon is not so much in time but just getting to the finish line. Putting one foot in front of the other for 26 plus miles is not a challenge on the level those that came out of the Chosin faced but drive to complete the task you set out for yourself is the bigger lesson. After I retired from the Army, it played out in a totally unanticipated way and that was in the prison programs that has consumed the last 18 years of my life.
If you will, the karmic lesson that held for me over the decades to ensue was ‘Just do it.’ I don’t think that I ever realized how it penetrated down to my DNA till I got opened a letter last night from a young lady that had spent the last 100 plus days in a county jail waiting for a new trial. Most of those reading this post are aware of the challenges associated with a 90 day Kol Che but this is a solo retreat without good food and koan interviews. However, 90 days in a county jail solitary cell presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities that can make a Kol Che look like a cake walk.
Most people think of the Chosin in terms of cold steel heroism but for me it has come to represent getting out of your own sense of suffering regardless of how bad it may seem to you and reaching out to help another. Our young lady in Polk County jail has been able to make this transition after 100 days. Her observation “….Lots of screwed up people too. Stuck or lost but don’t really mean to be. Trying to make sense of life. Hurt and pissed off people, struggling. It’s amazing how far a little kindness does. I’m learning more and more-its important. Why we fight this is beyond me. My automatic pilot is a jerk. Its easy to forget to slow down and be mindful/meaningful.” This is from a woman who has done a fair amount of time and if her re-trail goes wrong will have at least a couple of decades more to do.
Have often wondered just why I am still doing prisons after 18 years. The truth is ‘I don’t know.’ What I do know is that I have meet some truly wonderful and amazing men and women on the other side of the prison bars. Like the marines in the chosen, the job is to help and help as best you can. You don’t have to be perfect you just have to stay on course. No, we are not battling sub zero temperatures but each of us has both physical and mental conditions that may make our individual challenges on par with what those marines had in caring for their fellow marines. We are human beings and it is our job to extend a hand to others as best we can.
However, there is a point of balance that has to be attained in the process of helping. Make no mistake at times we will have to surge but it is a surge and not a commitment that overshadows everything for life. Even the marines once they had finished their march and returned to the states had to live their lives out as common men subject to all the perils of a common life. That is if the shadow of the Chosin did not follow them as the shadow of World War I found expression in the Hollow Men.
Lets be clear that our karma has given us strengths and talents that may serve us well and should not be cast aside. The trick is to find the middle path that gives the mechanisms and processes mother nature has built into us that also give meaning to life.
Yesterday, I had this challenge: to make a road trip on my motorcycle to Lenior, Tennessee. On the surface it was only 527 miles door to door. However, for the last 4 or so weeks, I have had physical therapy on my right knee five days a week. A factor I did not know about was that I have compressed disks (L3,4, and 5) in my back. Needless to say pain was my co-pilot IB Propane my navigator. All of which can and all to often do present challenges to any ride. My goal was to be there no later than 1800 hours. The reason was very simple: I had someone to meet.
Got there at 1730 but at what price. Somehow, I think I could have gotten there the next day but then maybe the trip would not have turned out the way it did. I guess I will never know and maybe it is just as well. However, to be aware of karma is to be able to use it and ignorance is to be a prisoner of it.
A fair question is if knowing what I know now prior to the trip would I have done it the same way and yep, the answer is yes and yes without a doubt. Having said that, I will take two days going back as it is Friday of Labor Day week-end.