Fussy, which I’m reading these days as a break from politics, supposedly, gives us this:
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
— W. Somerset Maugham; epigraph in John O’Hara’s novel Appointment in Samarra
I’m not a big believer in karma, or anything of the supernatural, really. I think focus on risk and reward in the afterlife takes the emphasis off the good that can be done today, and often conveys a selfish motivation, i.e. “I will behave decently for I fear hell or long for heaven or don’t want this to bite me in the ass later.”
But I do confess to a certain superstition, that says, in Iraq we strafed and bombed and rolled our tanks over ground older than anything we can possibly comprehend, without a thought, without listening to those who knew better, who knew history and laws. And we talk about this place as if its history began yesterday, as if all it is is Saddam, and after. We allowed libraries to burn. We shot women, and children. And yes, Saddam did worse. But that doesn’t excuse us. He’ll face consequences. I wonder if, and how, we will.
If I did believe in heaven and in hell, or in karma, I would be afraid right now. Not because of the mistakes we’ve made that we know about, but because of the ones we aren’t even aware of yet.