I was stopped on my walk to the train by a young sister and her son. She said excuse me in such an soft tone that I assumed she was seeking directions. I personally hate to be turned around in NYC so I always try to offer directions when asked. I slowed down and she shared quickly that she could not return to the local domestic violence shelter and was trying to raise bus fare to leave the city and travel to a family member's home in DE. I glanced down at her son, no older than my nephew, and handed him the bowl of turkey chili I was planning to eat for dinner. To her I gave the cash in my pocket. She breathed a sigh of relief and thanked me. I smiled and nodded. It wasn't enough to get her where she was going, but it was what I had.
Soon after my cynical New Yorker side emerged, as it usually does in these situations. How do you know she wasn't lying? It hissed at me. How do you know she REALLY needed that money? What if she uses it to buy drugs or alcohol or *insert speculative fiction here*?? You can't just be giving money to these people on the street!! I took deep breaths and reminded myself: my kindness is my karma, her response to it is hers.
It dawned on me then that this is the truth for so many of our deeply felt hurts, regrets, resentments, angers, pains. That we wished our kindness - expressed in the forms of compassion, empathy, friendship, romance, understanding, love - had been responded to in the way we feel is worthy. In the way that validates us; makes us feel good. We want our kindness to be justified. We want to dictate how the receiver of our kindness will respond, so we can determine that they truly deserved it. We offer love to one who responds with indifference and we decide to stop giving love out to any. We offer friendship to one who meets it with betrayal and we judge ourselves for being gullible. We forget that our friendship is who we are and their betrayal is who they are. We assume responsibility for their responses. Our self-esteem is dependent upon it.
I'm reminded of a chart I saw in a school hallway once. Both the lowest and highest levels described one who did the right thing to be rewarded by it. The difference lied in where one understood the source of the reward to be. The one on the lower level expected to be rewarded by someone for his goodness. The one on the higher level knew that goodness was its own reward. For Maat asks us to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do - and for no other reason. We cannot live by Maat for what others may or may not do, but only by what we actively contribute to the world.
My actions are my karma, and yours are yours. We cannot take responsibility for that which does not belong to us. We can only do the best that we can do and be the best that we can be, and we should strive to do so without fear, hesitation, or resentment. I cannot promise that your kindnesses will always be met with equal kindness or that the receivers will honor what you have extended from your heart. I know I have not always received what I thought I deserved. But I will never regret trying my best to be a kind person. And neither will you.