What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

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

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

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

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience