Of Karmic Debt & Mercy

There is a character in Game of Thrones, a previous bodyguard to a sadistic King, who later finds comfort with a village of peaceful people. Known as The Hound, his life is saved by their leader Brother Ray. As the two are talking one day, Ray says something about justice, to which The Hound quips that if there were any justice in the world, why hasn’t he been punished for his sins? Ray replies “you already have,” and walks away.

NightSomething inside me kindled. I thought about the weight I have been carrying for some time, the weight of transgressions I cannot forgive myself for yet can not name in a satisfying way; the sense of involuntary penance; of being undeserving of any real happiness. I don’t believe in a God who rewards and punishes, atonement or confessions behind dark felt curtains. So why the resonance? Am I carrying some sort of karmic debt I’ve long ago paid and can’t shake off? Is karmic debt even a thing? And if it is, are all the years of hard work ever going to settle it?

The truth is, this question has nagged me for quite some time, floating around my consciousness. It’s not that a compass fails me; it is that many days are consumed with finding help, finding work and staying afloat. A string of black nights, my heart pounding wildly against its cage, brings with it a sense of turbulence, angst and a chaos so profound the words to convey it elude me. Breathing is difficult. Layers upon layers of emotion, bursting to escape, as fiery nerves grip my flesh and spasms tear through my heart’s wall. It is not the prospect of death that frightens me, it is the frenetic anarchy within, and the raw vulnerability my illnesses bring, I have Lyme Disease. And CRPS. And Autonomic Neuropathy.

In bad spells it seems that many lives echo through me, or hints of them. I lie there, ice cooling the inferno on my head, trying to calm through the muscle tremors. If tension could go mad it has – and it is living in my body, where a female version of blue ball hell visits regularly. Imagine a car’s engine in high gear when you first power on in the dead of winter. Before you drive off you pump the gas to power it down. But my “motor” is stuck in that high gear. Any movement – be it physical activity, thinking, the stirring of emotion of physiological processes – stimulates my system beyond what most people can imagine. I am constantly dealing with overwhelm, and an internal sense of pandemonium.

As I write about it now it is so much easier to reflect. It is ironic that a lack of stillness can be so immobilizing, a form of paralysis that is constantly fluctuating. I think about how this is an ongoing theme in my life, even amidst the progress I have made. And when I think about this stuckness I pang for a kind of divine intervention or spiritual healing, frustrated with my attempts to find peace of mind.

I have never really adjusted to living in this world, always plagued by the pervading sense of being misplaced in the wrong century, from another country or existence altogether. I am floundering. Are these stabs of pain, like the sting of a bee, visitations from the “as above”? Is my personal calling buried in this torment? Every hour of every day I dig, I question, I yearn. When I do venture in to the world I peer out at the person before me – a cashier, a friend, a passerby – and focus on acting normal as the dizziness comes in waves and the pain of walking threatens to burn me whole. It’s good for me to feel normal once in a while, even if I know I am faking it.

I will never forget the time I went to a Traditional African Healer in training. I was troubled and unwell. I had studied this form of medicine and so knew they employed animal sacrifice (chickens) as part of the healing ceremony, though not without permission from the spirit of the animal. I had, and have, a lot of mixed feelings about this but gave my consent, ultimately, because I trusted her intentions and because in this tradition, as it is with many Indigenous traditions, the will of the animal is respected. She told me that my healing process would be reflected in how the chicken died, which she later described as a long, intense struggle followed by sudden death; typically death of a persona, identity or way of life.

It is stories like this that made up my life – random, uncommon and sporadic, they were typically one step removed; a looking glass into a ghostlike experience, fueled by a wired nervous system, electric and deeply sensitive. I want to write a book, to leave something useful behind; my perspective an offering. I continue to look for funding support in the hopes that writing it will make a dent in that ominous karmic debt. Without savings or a safety net, I know I am doing remarkably well considering the stress I am under. But I don’t want it all to be for nothing. Though dying would put me out of my misery and relieve a few beloved souls of the burden I have been, for now at least it would feel premature. Or is that a need for penance talking? I do not know how mercy will find me, but I ache for it every hour of every day and if not that, moments of intimacy with nature; life pulsing through me without penalty, as it does when I am in the company of an animal.

“How easy it is for life to go one way instead of another,” a character in a novel I am reading says, and I think about how much of my existence has been, in some way or another, about trying to tip the scale. At least since I have been ill. Personal growth, something more….I’ve always been unsettled and obsessed; straining to connect to a world that felt alien. And now that foreign body has come home, calling on me to take heed.

Never have I known a bird’s song to be so sweet.


Jessica Mendes
August 1, 2016