I once knew this woman. I believe her name was Camille.
She was a radiant presence in a room, a boundless fireball of beauty and brilliance, who shined the way the new phone does once you peel the plastic off the screen and start it up for the first time.
Anyway, Camille was a singer-songwriter who would just levitate on stage — all humility and grace — and belt out these sun-soaked melodies with earnest lyrics of longing, lust, and chocolate. We liked her just fine.
She’d heard I’d traveled down the road that inevitably leads the ego in all of us to the stage. And we ping-ponged some forgettable dialogue before she asked me, sort of in context but sort of shoehorned, “How can I get better?”
Now, listen, I’m not about to tell people to follow my path in music. For that career, I’m still trying to fight with family members on reconsidering the “Do Not Resuscitate” checkbox. But, there’s a common current underneath all art, and under the overlap in the Venn diagram where it intersects with the path your life takes.
I want to talk for a minute about Karma, and the backwards way we interpret it. Karma doesn’t mean what we think it does.
It’s often theorized by amateur philosophers, faux-woke bros, and remedial artists that Karma is “whatever you put into the universe comes back to you.” That is Karma only with the lower-case k. It’s too micro. It’s too myopic. It’s wholly inaccurate. It’s the zero-sum mindset.
Life is not zero-sum. Life is an investment, not a transaction. When we think of karma (lower-case), we believe that our inputs will equal our returns. That is the selfish end of the Just World Hypothesis, and I don’t think you have to look too far into the abyss to understand the fallacy in that — this world is not just. It is unjust. It is imbalanced. Ask anyone who’s been dealt a bad hand disproportionate to the cards they’ve dealt others. And so, rather than interpret Karma as a system of debits and credits, we must realize that it is merely the inputs themselves, and the way they wash over the rest of the world.
For when we truly behave in Karmic fashion, we invest not expecting a return, but, rather, we give to foster a ripple effect: to bring about more love in the rest of the world, independently of whether we expect it to return. One good deed begets another. One good word starts a wave. One love-quake sparks a Tsunami. This is true Karma. We may be in the path of the oncoming storm, but we yet still shelter others — winds and rain be damned. By giving, by loving, by acting, we restore balance to an ultimately tragic world where we all die and end up alone, no matter the progress we’ve made.
Now let’s talk about Love. I don’t mean love in the sense of being in a relationship, I mean love in the sense of an unconditional and unrelenting compulsion to give the whole of yourself to others.
There are people on this planet who’ve never had their hearts truly broken. They’ve never held love in the palm of their hands, only to realize it is more liquid than solid, and never watched it helplessly drip out of their grip until it spills and seeps back into the ground from which it came. They’ve merely bonded, they’ve cautiously entered into a transaction: a transaction into which each gave something up, with the expectation of returns — a partnership. Perhaps they formed it over an awkward first few dinners, or a spark-filled sojourn in the Maldives. This is lower-case love. The love that keeps you comfortable. The love that brings you fleeting joy. The love that doesn’t last so much as endure.
I know people who’ve only loved once. I know people who married because they felt they were supposed to. I know people who work to pay the electric bill. I know people who make a living instead of live a life. I know people who are more data points than human. They’ve never had their hearts broken: I envy them. And, more than that, I pity them.
When you break your heart, you cause the forest fire that springs the growth in the underbrush. When you break your heart, you scar the earth upon which you walk, and you allow the ivy to grow around it. When you break your heart, you begin to understand the decidedly un-transactional nature of the world we live in. You realize it doesn’t come back — that it merely comes undone. We drift in and out, but the marks we leave are as real as the air we breathe.
The beauty around you, the impermanence and injustice of it all, closes in. It becomes clear that the twinge of tragic sadness that pockmarks existence is the one thing that makes you want to wake with the crows and listen to every chirp feel every breeze. Everything you love will die. Everything you see will fade from memory. But holding the liquid of love in your hand, letting it flow to the level it needs, watching as it spills from your grasp and seeks its own level — that is all that we have. It is the science and the art, the gift and the curse, the bug and the windshield.
I looked Camille square in the eye, her eyes still as earnest as the day she graduated high school with all the hope and dreams in the world. I watched her intently hang on my next breath. I thought back to the way she levitated as she sang about a man’s smile looking so much better with her lips upon it, and the way that a kiss is not a reciprocation so much as it is an attempt to reach into another’s soul and pull out what’s left of them to give back more of it, and that you’ll never get it as good as you give it, you’ll never give it as good as you feel it, and you’ll never feel it as much as you want it.
I looked at Camille. I smiled. I gently touched her arm.
“Get your fucking heart broken,” I told her.
“Then, do it again.”
She left to grab another gin-and-tonic. And a part of me left with her.