Gustafson: Ode to Karma

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

One of the most rewarding things about lingering on the edge of doubt in the faith of humanity is when we are proven wrong.

When I’m certain that someone is going to let the door slam in my face but they catch it just in time, or when I assume that no one will allow me to merge into dense traffic but someone waves me in with a smile, those small acts offer an off-guard, thrilling twist, leaving me feeling invigorated and eager to continue to pay it forward.

You see, in my Pollyanna-ish universe, everyone gets along and plays well with others. And although the years often tack on a more cynical perspective, it seems at least worth the effort to try to suppress or outsmart that more callous outlook.

Alas, according to a CNN study, only 1 in 5 people who find a wallet in the street will actually turn it in or attempt to track down the owner, even though three-fifths of people claim they would try to return it.

Though it hasn’t happened to me here in Snowmass, as someone who has had my wallet stolen, my purse stolen, my luggage pillaged, two iPhones stolen, along with at least one known serious attempt to hack my bank account information — and having also been mugged once at knifepoint — I sometimes feel a little karmically challenged.

In fact, I’d say I’ve had my fair — or should I say unfair — share of material sucker punches, and my faith in recovering lost items is perhaps lower than average.

And although it’s true that life’s not fair, on the flip side I’ve recovered many found items for others. Having been on the painful side of the pulse-racing realization that comes with losing all of your credit, debit, and let’s not forget store loyalty cards, I know that it is a big deal. I mean, I have come oh so close to my free Paradise cookie and free car wash promised on my Sunburst car care punchcard only to have it yanked away by those who see someone’s misfortune as their opportunity.

The average person will spend more than 110 hours — or four and a half days — replacing their lost personal mementos, drivers license, ski pass, credit and debit cards, etc. Remember those painful three letters: DMV? And these days most wallets contain an average of less than $50 in cash, according to the same CNN study. So really the trauma versus the reward is often deeply out of balance.

As kids, my sister and I once found a $100 bill on the floor of a hotel lobby and promptly turned it in to a hotel staff member. And yet, we felt a little conflicted when our teacher was less impressed by our Good Samaritan behavior than she was shocked by our naivete. When I was 12, I once sat at a movie theater for an extra hour after the show had ended, waiting for the owner of a cash-filled wallet to return. I had been urged to pocket the cash by some of my tweeny acquaintances, but resisted the temptation. And when the owner did finally arrive, her expression of gratitude was far more valuable than the reward that she also offered. The lesson learned seems simple, the impact of kindness has a value that far exceeds the guilty reward of a few easy bucks.

Every so often that somewhat idealistic fantasy onto which I cling is reinforced. And leaving my purse hanging on the back of a chair at Elk Camp Restaurant last Friday during Ullr Nights seemed like a good karmic test.

In a surprising turn of events, the first act of random kindness came when we sat down at Slice after returning to Base Village from Elk Camp. I realized that my purse was gone once we had ordered dinner, but not until after it was too late to catch the gondola back up. Not having any money, I canceled our order and we raced out, trying to think of what to do next; no wallet, no car keys … you know, in panic mode. My daughter got a good laugh when, with my mind racing, I tried to call myself with my own phone. Outside I tried to assess my options and calm down when the waiter from Slice appeared and gave my kids their free cheese pizza. He had followed after us, knowing my predicament. My kids and I were grateful!

Next my friends, who had already been on their return trip to Basalt, circled back to drive us home.

After a sleepless night, monitoring my bank account and fearing the worst — assuming that, by now, someone was on their way to Vegas with my Visa — I rolled out of bed, agonizing over the irreplaceable items I carry around, like my rock from Mahabalipuram Temple and the key chain that my son had made for me. And the cash; yep, I rarely have any on hand, but it so happened that I had just been to the bank the day before and had my month’s cash stash still in my purse.

I wanted to believe in the better nature of humanity but my personal history seemed statistically stacked against any sense of optimism.

I found myself back at the base of the gondola at 7:30 a.m. feeling rather hopeless, and by chance, mentioned my anguish to a nearby sympathetic soul, who happenstantially works at Elk Camp. Like an angel she reassured me, took down my information, and gave me the chef’s personal email. Then, within the hour, she called to let me know that she had found my purse. Exhale. She sent it down on the next car and I met my bag at the bottom in gondola car No. 27. There it was, riding all alone, seemingly smiling with newly acquired personification, and still containing all of its contents — including the cash.

With my purse and my faith in humanity safely back in my possession, I sighed a sweet thank you to the cyclicality of karma, or dumb luck as it may be, along with one extra-long “thank you” to Rebecca! And a hearty dose of gratitude for living in a place like Snowmass where kind and thoughtful strangers might just have your back.

In chronicling the tale of my wallet woes, it seems that all of us have our own lost wallet or lost property stories — and not all of them have a happy ending involving some unknown Good Samaritan finding and returning their belongings. But enough happy endings do seem to prevail to allow me to keep some stock in that sunny-side outlook on life.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at