If you follow the aftermath of heinous violations of humanity, whether they be lone monsters or collective genocides, there is the aftermath. That aftertaste contains the full emotional flavor of those violated. There is the unfairness, the hatred of the perpetrators, the deep loss of something that never can be recovered. The violations are small, big, bigger and enormous. They affect our family, our personal life, our psychic well-being, the future of an entire ethnic group.
Justice and fairness may not appear in close proximity to the violation. It may never appear in our lifetime. And some people are driven to despair because the day of truth never dawns. Wrong was committed with no reckoning. It eats at folks, especially those who expect a fair world. That’s why people seek retribution – either legally or on their own. It’s not only to vent rage toward the one who took so much. It is a feeble attempt to right the scales.
Some people comfort us by appealing to Karma, consequences, the embedded cause-and-effect of actions. Cast your bread on the waters and it shall come back to you. And often it does. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, as the Psalmist reminds us, the wicked lie at ease and the righteous suffer. It’s true, it happens.
I, on the other hand, have come to a different conclusion about this. I believe that vindication comes, truth makes an appearance, because truth is irrepressible. It’s just that it is often not convenient, not showing up on cue. If you wait long enough the truth comes out, even when it is repressed and resisted. Even surrounded by lies it tends to bubble up.
I remember after the execution of Timothy McVeigh they interviewed some of the families of the victims. The angriest had a party, got their pound of flesh. But most didn’t have the closure they thought they would. In fact, they said things like, “There’s not the relief I thought I would feel. It’s just empty.”
And that’s the way it is so often. We are glad justice is served when it is. But somehow the eventual punishment of the perpetrator doesn’t taste as sweet as it looked on the menu. And it’s not just revenge that lacks the sugar. That includes other various shades of vindication. And here is why I believe it is that way.
The violation of any, the evil intentions of any, are the premier evidence that betray the seamier side of our human nature. We are capable of such harm, demonstrated regularly by the things we think and do. And when the evil-doer falls, even justly, even with the smack of just desserts, it is a reminder, once again, of how deplorable it gets. My loss is not softened a shred. But I am reminded how miserable we can make one another. That leaves me with the endgame of sadness, the remnant, the leftover grieving that concludes with the rectification of the innocent and revealing of the malevolent. Even though the song is over, the last note is inevitably a blue one.
It has worked that way in my life. What may have begun as anger at injustice was changed, sometimes against my will and ego, into some strange compassion for the one who committed harm. And I don’t honestly know if it is forgiveness as much as giving up on the idea that I don’t commit equal harm just differently. When I get there, to the moment of seeing the plank in my own eye, I strive much less to take one out of the the eye of even the one who harmed me. Vindication or not, that is true freedom.