I Feel Ya

James O'Brien

The Leann Chin in Uptown Minneapolis is 20,000 miles away from the river Indus, the birthplace of Hinduism, but it is where I had my most recent, and most instant-gratification experience with karma.

It was a beautiful Monday, one of those dazzling Midwestern summer-autumn afternoons where the sun and leaves try to out-brilliant each other. On my way into the fast-food joint, I held the door for three teenagers. They were 20 paces behind me, so I had to wait a few very uncool seconds for them to catch up, but I didn't mind because the day demanded lingering and loitering.

Actually, the weather and my good mood had nothing to do with it; I always hold doors for people. I suppose it's the small "c" catholic in me, which means "universal, relating to all," and the fact that somewhere along the line some of that golden-rule-do-unto-others-you-reap-what-you-sow stuff took root. I'm not always diligent about it, and I sure as hell am no saint, but at the very least I figure I can let someone change lanes in front of me without speeding up (if I'm lucky I'll get the wave), or hold a door for a stranger. I guess I just think it's a shitty world out there, filled with scabbed-over hearts and minds, and anytime I can throw someone a line that even briefly suggests to the both of us that there's something, anything, better, I'm gonna go for it.

Plus, I think opening a door is like opening your heart, and when you do so, you're acting on the same precept that led LSD researcher and psychologist Stan Grof to conclude, "The psyche and consciousness of each of us is, in the last analysis, commensurate with 'All-That-Is' because there are no absolute boundaries between the body/ego and the totality of existence." In other (Scarface's) words, "I feel ya."

I didn't think about it at the time, but as I stood there waiting for the teens to rush in, I guess I hoped for a little hip-hop nod or shrug to prove the Scarface-Grof theory correct, and to momentarily fill that depletion in me, the one that's still dippy enough to think that opening a door/heart will tether me to the rest of the planet and make all the aforementioned shit bearable. Turns out the teens weren't even going into Leann Chin--they passed me by without so much as a glance or a "No, thanks." It didn't bug me; in fact I didn't even think much about it until now, but on a darker day, I might have felt like a chump in Pollyannaville.

I suppose I also didn't feel that way because at this late date I know full well that if you lead with your heart, the way I often do, especially in this telecommunications (literal translation: "distant connections")-slash-journalism business, you're going to get popped. The head guys are always gonna win because winning is what they care about, so they're always going to burst through the door and not hold it for you or anyone else, and they'll get to where they're going faster and louder, and there's part of them in you, too, though much more of the time, so much more of the time, you couldn't care less about winning or being "right" and so you're left holding your door/heart/dick, and stammering about stuff like soul and legacies and world music days and this part of William Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech, which my friend Chris Hewitt sent me last year, a couple days after the death of that great door-holder, Paul Wellstone, and which rings as true today as when it was given in 1950:

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands."

Many years ago I sat in a booth at a bar across from a beautiful young woman with long dark hair and big brown eyes and a smile that made me want to follow her everywhere forever. So of course when she said, in one of our first of many conversations, "I believe in karma," I lied and said, "Me, too," then a couple hours later went home and looked it up in the dictionary. What I discovered, as I did the other day, is that I hadn't lied at all.

After the teens blew by, I shuffled into line, ordered my usual and got my food, and approached the register. The woman behind the counter rang me up. It was eight bucks and change, and I reached into my back pocket for my wallet. Another guy behind the counter, the manager I think, leaned over the woman, who was about to take my money. He shooed her away, punched a key on the register, tore off the receipt and crumpled it. "Put your money away," he said. "I'm buying your lunch today. I saw you hold the door for those kids. That was really nice. Have a good day."

I didn't know what to do. I said thanks and sat down and ate my free lunch and thought about karma, the ATM-sort I'd just encountered that I don't really believe in, because I don't think you're supposed to hold the door for someone to get something so concrete in return; you hold the door because the door is there and the kids are there and you are there and the only other option is to let the door shut behind you and go it alone. What's more, on my worst days, I don't believe in karma in any form, because experience has also taught me that all sorts of creeps do awful things, spread terrible energy and nit-pick at others' spirits, and never really get what's coming to them--poor pitiful Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding.

Then again, I'm positive that stuff like what happened to me at Leann Chin happens every day. I just had to write it down to tell you about it, but I also did it to remind myself to continue to, as Pete Townshend sang, "open the door to your heart." Sure, you might get it slammed back in your face, you might feel like a sucker, it might even get messy, but you never know who might rush in, or who's watching and waiting to feed you in a way you've never been fed before. Do ya feel me?

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