Josna Rege

292. No Returns

In Books, Childhood, Inter/Transnational, reflections, Stories, Words & phrases on December 13, 2014 at 12:56 pm
The White Rabbit (John Tenniel, 1865)

The White Rabbit (John Tenniel, 1865)

As children—and it’s still something we do from time to time—we always aimed to be the first to say A pinch and a punch for the first of the month! This had to be followed up swiftly with White Rabbits and No Returns! so that the unfortunate recipient of the former, who had also failed to secure an entire month’s worth of good luck, would be prevented from retaliating in kind with A slap and a kick for being so quick! Come to think of it, it was quite a nifty one-two punch: the first part securing one’s personal fortunes by violent means and the second ensuring that no negative consequences redounded upon oneself.

imagesThat childhood magic spell would come in handy right now. Looking at my To Do list, I have quite a number of returns to deal with. There are the literal returns, liabilities all, items I purchased or ordered but didn’t fit or suit me, or broke immediately, and sit around taking up space until I get around to finding the original receipt or warranty, re-packing them to ship back to the company, or sallying forth to do battle at the store where I bought them.

Then there are the more complicated returns, also consequences of my actions and decisions. Some of them are less tangible, but no less necessary to dispatch. There are the Incompletes granted to delinquent students in a moment of weakness, which always result in late work being submitted, sometimes months after the course is over, requiring me to locate the records, inevitably buried under piles of papers, and to take time out from my current teaching tasks to recalculate the final grade and resubmit it to the Registrar’s Office. There are favors to return and long-overdue promises to fulfill. Inevitably, postponements come due again at some later point in time, knocking ever more insistently at one’s door. Oh, for “White Rabbits and No Returns” and a clean slate!

In Vedanta philosophy this world of name and form is ruled by the Law of Cause and Effect. It is a simple law of nature and there is no sidestepping it: one acts, and results ensue. Wisdom may give one deeper insight into what constitutes right action at a given time, but no wisdom in the world can control the results. In other words, there is no such thing as No Returns.

Even this eminently rational philosophy has an escape clause: transcending the dualities of the world allows one to override cause and effect. But that is a trick involving a magic I know not how to invoke. For all my desire to defer, I must deal with returns; I know no other way.

© Norman Taylor

© Norman Taylor

But wait: there are other Returns, ones that we welcome. As each successive birthday circles back around, we wish our friends and family members Many Happy Returns. Even as we know that this world must involve sadness and loss, we never stop wishing that Love will make it all worthwhile. When Nikhil was a teenager and final exams loomed, he and his friends would cram themselves on the couch in the den to watch and re-watch Moulin Rouge!, a classic romantic story of unrequited, followed by fully-requited love, and finally, tragic loss, redeemed only by love. But the line that recurs in it is:

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn/Is just to love and be loved in return.

All the lesser returns are a pain, nuisances we simply have to deal with; but the greatest is this freely-given and received Gift, with no expectations of return.

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  1. All so very heartfelt and true.
    E

    • Thank you, E. Whether it is true in the grand scheme of things I do not know. It seems that we are deeply contradictory beings, both wanting and not wanting returns—when it suits us, I suppose. x J

  2. Yet it is so hard to reject reward, or at least the small nagging feeling that there should be one. I suppose when you finally achieve that, you rise to a higher level of consciousness.

    Actually, now that I think about it, event the hermit who renounces all material accoutrements and spends his days meditating deeply and living on the charity of others wants something in return for his isolation, his renunciation and his prayer – salvation.

    What hope is there for us then?

    • Thanks for your comment. You raise the idea, from Vedanta philosophy and specifically, from the Bhagavad-Gita,of right action without concern for results. I agree, we all want results (at least, when we think they’re good for us. Otherwise we would rather not reap what we sowed). It’s not only human nature, but it seems to be a law of the universe. And yet there is this thing called Love, which at its best just loves, no matter what; and maybe, can sometimes overcome or override the laws of cause and effect?

  3. Those of us who believe in Jesus have the “Love which passes all understanding” – GRACE
    – because He first loved us! There is our Hope!
    Merry Christmas!

    • Dearest Marianne, Yes, that is the highest Love, that overcomes all. In the Narnia books C.S. Lewis called it “the Deepest Magic before the Dawn of Time,” transcending the tit-for-tat laws of cause and effect. Merry Christmas to you, too! Think of me when you are singing carols. xo J

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