Adventures in karma: the importance of good deeds

Though I only knew Izana for 18 hours, the loss I feel from her death is still a raw ache in my heart, like a bruise that lingers far longer than expected, going through all the shades of hurt imaginable.

Named after a brave and wonderful character from an anime series, Izana appeared in my life during a spate of opportunities for doing good deeds. I learned three key things about trying to do more good deeds and helping out in the world over a period of a couple of weeks, and I want to share them with you in this post.

1. They push us out of our comfort zone

They often involve speaking to people you don’t know, which helps to build confidence. I was really apprehensive about speaking to a man who was obviously struggling with his pushchair – what if he took offence? What if he thought I was strange for asking? The thing I learned is that when it comes to helping others, often they are too scared of being out of their comfort zone to ask for help, just as you may be scared to offer. The worst thing that can happen, in many situations, is that the person will shout at you, and then at least you tried. In my case though, the man looked relieved, his little girl wasn’t bumped up each individual stair, and they caught their bus in time. I was really happy that I had helped – leaving your comfort zone is a worrisome affair, but it turns out you just end up making the zone larger, rather than leaving it altogether.

2. They heighten our awareness

Many of us are really unobservant – we’re constantly listening to our inner voice of to-do lists and stresses, being distracted by screens both large and small, and rushing to and from work, school, and everywhere else our stretched schedules require us to be. It’s hard to break the cycle, but once you do, it’s amazing how you start noticing lots of other things.

The first random good deed opportunity came about when we were on our way back home from doing another one – we were clearly already in the mindset of pitching in, and I am a little obsessed with animals so I was watching all the sheep in the fields at the side of the road.

As we were driving, I noticed a lamb at the side of the road and knew we had to stop to help it. Good deeds put you in uncomfortable situations sometimes – the grass was soaking and I was only wearing sandals, and the road was really busy so we were worried that either the lamb or one of us would get hurt if we weren’t quick. Thankfully, we managed, and she trotted off back to her mum who had been obliviously eating grass with some other sheep mommas. I had it in my head from that moment, though, that I might need to help out again. I was generally looking out for more lambs on the road, but we noticed that a highland cow had dropped some food in a hard to reach place and so we stopped to help him too.

It really began to snowball, and so I found myself keeping one eye on how I could help out pretty regularly – I emptied the recycling at work more, I took more notice of elderly people in shops in case they needed a hand, and just generally took a moment to stop and wonder what positive impact I could have on the space I was occupying.

3. They help to change the impression other people have of the world

In turn, this improves people’s interpretation of others, enabling positivity to spread. Good deeds help alleviate the feeling in others that the world is such a terrible place – a lot of people feel really scared or really negative literally all the time, and showing people that not everyone is out to get you is a way of helping people to feel a little better about the world and perhaps more likely to help others themselves.

I’m a big believer in sending out good karma into the world. There are quite a few reasons for this all tangled up in each other, ranging from self-deprecation and feeling like I need to make up for things, to a wish that if I ever needed help then perhaps someone would see me as their good deed. Regardless though, it all has the same outcome – I think doing positive things is important, and, one way or another, it makes me feel better along with the person or thing I am helping.

They say you can’t do anything selflessly – the episode of Friends where Phoebe tries sticks in my mind far more than where that saying actually comes from. I wonder though if more people would help each other and try to do nice things for the world if they did approach it from a more selfish point of view? Whether you’re trying to build up good karma or you’re just trying to get people to think well of you, the end result of the helping is surely the same.

You may be wondering what a death has got to do with all of this. It’s a pretty grim thing to be hanging over a piece about good deeds, huh? Surely, if they were so great, then I wouldn’t be so sad, and there would be no death.

I first saw Izana on my lunch break, when I was sheltering from the torrential rain that Edinburgh is wont to do in Summer (sigh). The rain was really pretty, bouncing up off the pavement as it hurtled down, and I wondered if this was something I should be filming for Instagram – working with social media gets you paranoid like that. A man walked past me, clearly far braver and possibly running even more late than me, and yet he came to a halt a short while ahead and went to pick something up with a tissue from his pocket. He placed the object down at the side of a building, next to a drain pipe, and then put the tissue in a bin and walked off.

I’m nosy, so of course as soon as he was gone, I said rain be damned and went to see what he had moved.

Nestled behind the drain pipe, peering up at me, was Izana. Of course, she didn’t have a name at that point – she was just ‘tiny, bedraggled mouse’ that I had no idea what to do about. She was stunned, just sat staring into middle distance, looking poorly and possibly injured.

Reader, I left her. After half an hour of phoning my mum, phoning my husband, Googling, gently nudging her to check if she had reflexes, panicking about fleas and everything else you can cram into half an hour from this situation, I had to go back to work. As I sat at my desk, I couldn’t believe that after all the helpful things I had done, I hadn’t done anything for this poor little soul. I felt like everything had been gearing up for me to be observant enough that she wouldn’t pass me by, and I didn’t assist her when she needed it.

After work, I ran back to the drain pipe. Peering up at me once more was this little mouse. Less stunned than before, and hobbling about a little, I knew I couldn’t leave her again. She was meant for me to help, and I felt profoundly the hypocrisy it would have been to say in general that I believe in good karma and doing positive things without doing so.

We got her onto a dustpan and then onto a towel in our recycling box. We took her home and gave her water, which she slurped up in the most adorable way, and a little bit of food. I put a hot water bottle next to the box and she sat next to it as I considered that if she made it through the night, we would maybe have to keep her, as she would never survive the wild.

It turned out that wasn’t going to be an issue. She didn’t make it. She died peacefully, cosy and in a soft, safe place, and though she may not have understood what was going on, I am sure she was far more relaxed than if she had been out in the rain and cold, with foxes and cats waiting to turn her into a midnight snack.

This all seems like a lot to go through for a mouse, I’m sure. The thing is, even though I’m sad, not doing anything hurt more than doing something and still not being able to save her. It was a mouse this time, sure, but opening yourself to the act of helping isn’t bound to constraints – once you’re willing to put yourself out there and offer your services, whether it’s an injured mouse, a stranger or the planet, you find ways to make your existence a little bit more positive where you can.

Go out and do nice things, lovely people <3

Sophie xo

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