There are few things in life more satisfying than witnessing instant karma. That exquisite moment when someone acting like a jackass immediately gets their comeuppance. It’s a rare thing to behold, but it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

Unfortunately, the universe didn’t smite Royce right away for hurling me into a fire hydrant while I was in that shopping cart. However, I wouldn’t have to wait long to see him and our friend Rob receive the kind of karmic justice they so rightly deserved.

It happened on a camping trip we were on with a few other friends from university. During the course of the weekend, we found ourselves hiking through a muddy gully near our campsite. At one point, Royce broke away from the group and hopped a small stream. Once safely on the other side, he thought it’d be hilarious to pull his pants down and moon the rest of us. 

Not surprisingly, we didn’t find this nearly as funny as he did. As Royce laughed and shook his blindingly white arse in our direction, Rob scooped up a handful of clay and hurled it at Royce.

Rob should have been a sniper, because the muddy missile flew straight and true, splattering with tremendous force between the cheeks of Royce’s naked backside.

Seeing Royce with his rear end plastered with clay sent the rest of us into hysterics. However, as we celebrated Rob’s excellent marksmanship, we failed to notice Royce scooping out a generous handful of clay from his bum. 

And before we knew what was happening, the butt clay sailed through the air and landed directly in Rob’s gaping mouth.

Rob did his best to spit out the mud that had just been between his friend’s butt cheeks. The rest of us simply collapsed into renewed fits of laughter.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing instant karma in action a couple of other times as well. The first happened when I was a kid, while scrambling along the Death Cliffs with Nicholas and our cousin Jonathan. 

When we hit a particularly steep section, I suddenly lost my footing and tumbled down the face of the cliff, scraping myself up into a bloody mess in the process.

When I finally reached the bottom, I looked up to see Jonathan high above me, howling with laughter at my misfortune. However, because he was giggling so hard, he also lost his footing. The huge smile on his face was replaced with a look of agony as he came crashing down the cliff after me. 

My other favourite moment of instant karma happened on the same trip I took with Nicholas when we hiked through the stinging nettles. After hiking all day, we set up camp and started collecting firewood, which led us up the side of a ravine. 

On our way back down to camp, Nicholas discovered a dead tree still rooted in the ground. Thinking this tree might make great firewood — or because he was a bored teenager with aggression issues — Nicholas proceeded to shake the tree like a wild man, in an attempt to knock it over.

The tree was sturdier than it looked, however, and remained upright. Disappointed, Nicholas gave the tree one final push before continuing to make his way down the ravine. What he didn’t realize was that his last shove had caused a sizeable branch from the upper section of the dead tree to snap off — a sizeable branch that was now flying down the ravine.

Math and physics were not on Nicholas’ side that day, and somehow the trajectory of the flying branch lined up perfectly with my brother’s descent through the ravine. The log struck Nicholas square in the back, sending him to the ground in a heap. Perhaps next time he’d think twice about messing with Mother Nature.

Although comeuppance is rarely as immediate as Rob’s mouthful of butt clay, Jonathan’s fall off the cliff and Nicholas’s tree branch to the spine, what goes around does tend to come around. And I don’t mean that in any sort of mystic, Law of Attraction kind of way. I just mean that negative actions usually lead to negative consequences. 

Unfairly lashing out at your boss may make them less inclined to write you a letter of recommendation down the road. Constantly parking like a jackass will eventually get you a ticket or a dented door. Eating burgers and fries three times a week will one day result in a trip to the ER with clogged arteries.

But I think the reverse is true too. Kindness is usually met with kindness, positive actions with positive results. An employee with a good attitude who works well with others is more likely to get the promotion than the surly complainer in the office. Meanwhile, the neighbour you loaned your ladder to may be more willing to help out when you need a cat-sitter. 

And study after study shows that patients who demonstrate gratitude and other positive behaviours are rewarded with better health outcomes — something I worked hard to practise during my own cancer treatment.

Decisions to help others shouldn’t depend on getting something back in return. But it’s good to remind ourselves that for every action there is a reaction (whether good or bad). To appreciate the relationship between cause and effect. And to remember that the things that happen to us might not be as random as they first appear.

Time to settle up

There is a verse in Canadian poet Robert Service’s The Reckoning that says:

“Time has got a little bill — get wise while yet you may,
For the debit side’s increasing in a most alarming way;
The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done,
They’re all put down; it’s up to you to pay for every one.”

In the spirit of Rob and Royce’s muddy exchange, I’ve composed a slightly modified version: 

“Time has got a little bill — get wise while yet you may,
For the Mooner, he’s a hurling, a big ol’ lump of clay;
The things you had no right to do, they’re added up in sum,
And now you’re choking on your sins, on mud scooped from a bum.”

Next: Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability