Content Warning: I discuss dealing with abusers, violence, and tragedy. This one sucks. Trust me, it’s not a fun time.
I’m not against revenge.
It’s not something I believe in as a general principle; I think that the kind of people who want to take revenge on someone who cut in line in front of them at a coffee line are petty and small and their opinions don’t matter. I think that a lot of people who think of themselves as ‘like supervillains’ or identifying with ‘the bad guy’ in media are often people who have experienced such little of actual villainry that their conception of wanting revenge on the world comes across as childish and tantrummy.
But I do think that there are some people whose deaths deserve no mourning and whose end does not diminsh us all.
It’s not a very nice position to have or to hold in public, the notion that while I may not be in favour of the death penalty (because I do not trust a government to have that choice and it’s already grossly corrupt when it comes to punishment) that in the natural flow of what justice exists in people and in stories, there are absolutely people for whom forgiveness can only come with a form of containment. There was a time when people were arguing that punching nazis was bad, because punching anyone is bad, and my considered opinion on that was that no, punching nazis is good, actually.
Still, I have sat and watched as the car carrying the funeral procession of one of my abusers rolls on by.
He didn’t even know what he did to me, not really. He thought what he was doing was fine. I have no doubt in my mind that he didn’t even feel guilty for what he did in the end, because his world was one defined by him having insight and capacity for spiritual insight that meant he was more able to see what the best course for all of us was. He empowered other abusers, who in turn wielded their power in petty ways, and they empowered others, and so on down, a cycle of harm and violence and trauma.
I remember when I saw the cars rolling past, on my lunch break, how coincidental it was that I got to see it. He’d left that church and run off, leaving behind millions in debt and several dead people. We’d left that church and found our place back where my dad found his roots, near my grandmothers. I was going to a school up the road from the graveyard, I was told, where he was buried.
I remember going, after school, down the road and investigating the graveyard. I knew I wanted to feel something. I know I felt guilty about not feeling bad about his death. I knew I felt horrible that I felt guilty. I know that I felt miserable that I didn’t feel happy enough. There was a dreadful mix of emotions, not the least of which was the thought that he’d gotten away with it. He’d done all that damage, lived the life he wanted, maybe been a bit distressed or scared on some days, but nobody ever beat him. Nobody ever held him down or knelt on his back or told him he was being unrighteous for not accepting his punishment. He didn’t bleed for his sins.
There are times I ruminate on revenge. The thing with revenge in this situation is on whom?
It was a church. It was an interconnected web of individuals. There were a handful of bullies, some ten children my own age, younger and older, who were gleeful agents of violence against me, but they were largely children and they went unpunished, their misdeeds forgiven while I was put under special scrutiny for my involvement in the violence. While they were bad people, many of them were just older boys bored of a day.
I think about this because one of the boys who beat me a few times, because he was bored and I was small, is a grown man. He’s an adult. He is, in a way the most innocent of the people in his orbit, with only his younger sister being someone who I never remembered harming me in a meaningful way.
A few years ago, he suffered one of the most devastating personal tragedies I can imagine happening to a family. It is the kind of harm with no instigator, no sinner, no abuser, just a dreadful accident, the likes of which causes psychic harm that ripples through everyone who knows about it.
My first reaction when I heard that news was terrible, dreadful sympathy. I did not forgive him his sins against me. I did not think they did not matter, or think that because they happened when I was under ten that they were somehow lesser. But still I felt a yawning, dreadful sadness, a sadness that he suffered this. I thought about his father, who hurt my whole family dreadfully and stole money from us, I thought about his brother, who was personally responsible for dreadful harm to our entire congregation, and I thought about how no matter how much they deserved to hurt, this hurt was wrong. It was the wrong pain.
And I thought about this, because it made me realise just how fucking useless the ‘vengeance of the LORD’ would ever be. Because those men who are now suffering a pain, a pain the likes that people do not recover from in their lives, are people who are never going to connect the pain they are suffering now to their actions in the past. They have no reason to connect these things, and there is no way the harm inflicted on me and my family can be seen as relating to their current trauma and tragedy. Karma is a terrible, horrible, senseless thing to believe in, where it can only be seen as random tragedy flung at people who have no reason to contextualise their suffering in terms of their sin.