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November 4, 2013
Life on Planet Kathy
An Encounter with Madame Karma
by Kathryn H. Kidd

My mother-in-law was named Karma, but she died long before I arrived on the scene. For most of my husband's childhood and adolescence, he was raised by a wicked stepmother, and this meant I inherited her when it came time to have a mother-in-law. So even though I never knew good Karma, I'm now experiencing bad karma thanks to my husband's former stepmother.

It isn’t easy to have a mother-in-law, and a step-mother-in-law may even be harder than a natural one. There were a lot of uncomfortable adjustments — for her, I’m sure, as well as for me — but one of the hardest ones was that she was so unreasonable about temperatures.

Oh, did I dread going to the in-laws’ house. Fluffy did, too. It was like visiting Equatorial Africa, but without benefit of the animals or the indigenous peoples. It must have been seventy-five degrees in that house. Even so, my mother-in-law walked around as though she were a penguin on an ice floe, wearing sweaters, wrapping herself in blankets and acting as though she were chilled to the bone.

Once she told us that they turned the thermostat down when we came to visit, because they knew we liked the house colder than they did. Who knows how hot it was when we weren’t visiting? I'm a global warming skeptic, but I suspect if scientists did want to prove it they should have started with my in-laws' house as being the epicenter of the heat wave.

When we left the house with her, of course, all we heard was how cold it was. Fluffy and I, who never wore coats, would roll our eyes and sigh loudly and disrespectfully when she bundled up in several layers of coats and turned the car thermostat up yet again. After all, we reasoned, when people are cold they can always put on another layer of clothing. When people are hot, the only thing they can do is to strip bare nekkid, which isn’t done in polite society.

Oh, did we mock Fluffy’s stepmother for her wimpy behavior! We thought we were gallantly putting up with her whining, but I’m sure there was little gallantry about it. We were probably pretty transparent about our feelings. We wanted the world to know how much we were suffering, and how tolerant we were being — even though we were not being tolerant at all.

This went on for many years. It went on, actually, for as long as my mother-in-law lived. In the past few years, however, Madame Karma has started playing a nasty trick on me. My thyroid gland, which was always in perfect synch with Fluffy’s, started drying up and shriveling up like an autumn leaf. And when that happened, my thermostat changed.

I first noticed this in a happy way. All my life, I have been totally heat-intolerant. It got so bad that when I was in college, I fainted on the streetcar tracks in my home city of New Orleans, when a streetcar was barreling down the tracks toward my supine body. My sisters swore they would never go downtown with me again. I think Sandee may have even kept that promise.

I was no fun when the temperatures blazed — and “blazing,” for me, was any temperature above, say, 65 degrees Fahrenheit. (That’s about 18.33 Celsius for people in the rest of the world.) I do not sweat anywhere below the neck, so my face would get red and salty, and then I would get heat stroke. It was not pleasant to travel with me anywhere in warm climates. I was a mess.

As my thyroid started going out, however, strange things started to happen. Suddenly I started tolerating warm places. I’m not just talking about Florida, either. We could be in Panama or Barbados or Costa Rica or Grand Cayman or Cozumel or the temple —all hotbeds of, well, heat —, and suddenly I realized that the warm temperatures were feeling strangely good.

Nay, the temperature was feeling great. My traveling companions would stagger back into the coolness for some cold water or ice cream, complaining that the heat had completely worn them out. I’d say, “What heat?”

All this has not been without its consequences. Autumn, which has always been my favorite time of year, has turned into a season of misery for me. Fluffy has gone outside for walks lately in temperatures that have been in the high sixties or even the low seventies, only to come back and see me shivering next to a space heater, clad in my heaviest flannel nightgown and wrapped in a blanket.

Needless to say, I am dreading winter in all its incarnations. Our house is awash in windows, and every last window was installed incorrectly. There was no installation or mudding put between the sheetrock and the siding where the windows went in, so the wind blows everywhere. I shiver uncontrollably, and I deserve every bit of misery I am suffering. No, we cannot afford to have the windows reinstalled.

Karma, that old witch, has come back to tell me I was wrong. You see, putting on a sweater does absolutely nothing to help people who are cold. Putting on a sweater may help your shoulders or your upper arms, but it does not help your hands or your ears or your face, or even the half of your body that is not next to the space heater. When you’re as cold as I am now, you are cold to the bone.

And winter won’t even officially be here for another 47 days.

The Bible does not mention the concept of karma. For the most part, Christians and Jews do not embrace karma as an official doctrine. But if you want to read between the lines, it’s there. Oh, it’s there.

Karma may not be mentioned in the Bible, or in the latter-day scriptures either, but it doesn’t need to quack like a duck for us to be able to see those orange, webbed feet. For good or for evil, you and I are going to reap just what we sow.

As long as we are reaping, we might as well enjoy it. I can testify through sad experience that shivering in front of a space heater is not the best way to live your life. The balmy 100+ degree temperatures of the Caribbean are sounding better every day.

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