What profits a man to have his revenge, and become the thing he avenged himself upon?
Which illustrates that there is no bad situation that can't be made just a little worse if you're willing to work at it.
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee..."
Human nature, no change, never has, never will.
It's a rare, rare gift to make the blood and guts of human experience both universal and so painfully unique in one telling. In the reading, perhaps others will see that they too can let go of the past. You do us all a service and I thank you for it, Gerard.
Very beautiful, very moving, and so very very true. Deserves far more readers than just this blog.
One may well ask: who is that envious liar and internal propagandist--for he is a universal archetype with a personal inflection--and what does he really want with us?
Gerard, you have stared into the face of Satan himself: the adversary spirit who knows no word but No. And you have come out the better man.
We all carry a bit of the adversary spirit in us. It's what permits the sort of evil flower you've described to take root in our souls. At some level we can't help but believe that good for "the other" means harm for us. When "the other" is the focus of some aliquot of personal pain, it can give rise to appalling fantasies, and (thankfully) less often, appalling deeds. I know; I've been there too.
I feel privileged to know you.
Gagdad, you put your finger on a very fine and sharp point. Those who have trouble believing in the Lord of All Things perhaps should consider the constant work of the enemy of all good inside themselves. In the eternal scheme of things, how can there be such evil without the good to oppose? And if our selfish and shortsighted drives are the work of the one, what is the work of the other?
Faith and grace are cast into startling relief by the light of opposing forces. No dogma, buildings, hierachy or artifacts are needed to see God and know His will. Just turn everything upside down that you desire in your most closely held self, and there He is.
Thank you, Mom. This essay brought into sharp focus some recent scuffles I have had with my own internal saboteur. You'd almost swear they were your own thoughts.
What a remarkable and terrible road to grace. That's the worst thing about grace - it's freely given, but sometimes even a free thing costs you something, even if it is simply the self-defense mechanism you have held in place for such a long time. A thing may well be, as Yeats said, a terrible beauty.
What a story. Thank you, G; it must have been difficult to write. Yer still brill, lad! And you live in a houseboat? Too cool.
Thank you kindly for continuing to share your story of what I pray is of ongoing and real redemption.
On most things with you I agree. However, with one I now beg to differ: Is there really no reason to have occasional and cordial contact with your erstwhile wife? Even in spite of your painful recent history? And even if she says she doesn't want it at first?
As an (increasingly conservative) woman who went through a messy divorce from (an increasingly liberal) man who is close friends with our (increasingly messiahnic complexed former VP), I can assure you that I never wanted to have any contact with him again. I wanted to divorce him, move on, move out and forget the whole thing.
And then Grace, yes again, stepped in to teach me through new friends and colleagues, that complete cut-off from him was not worth it for one simple reason:
The children. Our children. Our now grown children.
It took me quite a while to consider this wisdom and a good deal of outisde resources. I have always been a rebellious sort.
I learned that cutoff creates too much stress in the children and often forces them to choose between uncommunicative parents.
Today, I have a cordial if only occasional relationship with the man who was also the great and inseperable love of my younger life and for many years thereafter. I have truly moved on and so has he (he is busy saving the planet for all of us!). And I would never go back.
This has taken a huge amount of work but I see the results in our offsprings' eyes. It has set them free to be with both of us in new and interesting ways. And I am glad that someone got to me to stop the silence between us for them.
P.S. Now I am trying to convert them back to being conservatives!
Thank you for a most moving and powerful essay--all the more so because it come from the spirit, with a depth of truth about that darkness we all know to be quite real, though we struggle constantly to deny it.
I have posted a few more thoughts, and a link for my readers, here. Thank you again for sharing your soul--we are all the better for it.
There is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance; a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour, allowing him to plead his own cause in his own court, within his own heart,—and always to plead it successfully. From Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope
Thanks for this powerful reflection, and for all you do on this must-visit website. You said:
"..I won't pretend that the deep and black well in my heart has somehow been back-filled by God, made whole in some miraculous moment. I don't think God does plumbing like that. He probably sub-contracts it out to free-will and leaves the heavy lifting up to you.."
I would only comment that:
(i) if God causes us to make ourselves, and
(ii) if he is the root & hidden fountain of our existence, will, reason, our very physical existence-- and is therefore ALWAYS creating us--
then it's hard to draw lines about who did what, and even (sometimes) what is happening in the mysterious inward lands of our soul. God is not another created being: his relation to us is maker to (being) made & remade.
Therefore, as St. Paul teaches: ".. continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.." (Philippians 2:12b-13)
To use a modern cliche, "It's a both/and thing".
Kindest regards from a fellow sinner,
Remarkable. I can relate. Especially right now. ELC.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
As our wise friend Dr. Lew opines: It's just not easy to be human. with the purchase of a ten dollar transistor radio one gets a comprehensive instruction booklet, including a troublushooting guide. With a human life,however, we are left to find our own way, and a life is more complex by some margin. You got a raw deal, from where I sit, and I am glad you have begun to expunge bitterness; I am sure it is not easy.
This is an interesting piece, well-written. It's fascinating to me because I *know* that it is the story of what lies ahead for my own husband, whom I am leaving...he will blame me, and the kids, for many years to come, I am sure.
You're very honest, Vanderleun.
Thank you, Gerald. Thank you for writing this.
Btw - can you imagine Felicity, or indeed any other of her gender, ever experiencing the same introspection and consequent Damascene mea culpa?
And I speak as one happily but realistically married for over 50 years. Marriage is not so much a miracle hope over experience, but habit laced with love, which later becomes addiction laced with fear of withdrawl, dashed with the intracacies of increasing issue and joint possessions; all held together by the glue of love if you are exceptionally lucky, which my wife and I are, in that regard. Hate and guilt are counter-productive self-destructive emotions in most circumstances; acceptance of fate and all its painful obstacles and schisms, is the path to retention of sanity, once rational efforts have been exhausted. Too much attention to the rear view mirror can lead to collisions ahead.
The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.
Because I did not reach those images you describe until much later in life, I elected to do the short version of change.
I did not hear as you did instruction so clearly laid out in the immediacy of your needs, but I followed, for the first time, signals that were always given, and always ignored, in the density of my prejudices.
I actually prayed, for the first time. The angels answered, but not in words, because I cannot hear them. They put on a show, for most of a week, and I was nearly free of myself.
I asked for one more thing, and, acknowledging my own density, asked for instructions to come written on the side of a city bus drivin into my living room. They about obliged. Now I am more careful in what I ask for.
I still love this woman I can never have back, and that too is what I want. But it is for the good now.
What are you doing, Vanderleun, sightseeing through my heart and soul? We drink of the same waters, and God takes us on the same tortured path, to our salvation I pray. God bless and comfort us both.
Two Lane Flash.
May I amend your prayer?
God bless and comfort all of us.
Good Lord... I feel inadequate after reading this beautiful work. What a writer!
Keep piling on the stones indeed. You are not alone Gerard. Each comment here is a heavy stone from a friend placed on the lid of that dark well.
Thank you for this.
I thought I had nothing to add. Perhaps I was wrong. Here's another stone, friend.
You've got guts, putting this out in the ether. And courage in facing the truth just revealed to you by circumstances. In my personal experience, it's possible to starve the Creature from the Black Memories Lagoon by refusing to caress it. And possible to diminish it to an itty bitty silly thing by praying for the object of your disaffection.
Just realized that the Henley song you reference has literally been one of my spiritual guideposts. "I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my flesh gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it's about forgiveness, forgiveness...even if, EVEN IF, you don't love me anymore.
You're beginning to make ppl that like sour grapes as a career choice, have a bad opinion of themselves.
Your words have no shelf life. No expiration date. They age and mellow and ripen and produce better things than you can imagine.
“Nothing good ever transpires in an argument carried past 2AM, and it grows almost lethal as it winds on until 4.”
I wish I couldn’t relate.
A most powerful piece. Thanks for sharing.
It's been almost fifteen years now, much longer if one counts the years of living as strangers in the same house. Still, I look forward to each Winter storm. She is such a bad driver.
Felicity, of course he's going to be bitter. You're going to take at least half of his "stuff", alienate his children, and force him to live in a fashion to which he is not accustomed for at least a decade. The wonder is not that OJ killed his wife.
Gerard, Very gracious and eloquent essay. It makes me appreciate what I have. Thirty years of love with my best girlfriend ever. And it wasn't always this way. I was a shell of a doped out loser and she was a New Age wisp working on being a bag lady when we met God and each other and found out fairy tales do happen. Like Bob Dylan wrote:
"Love is all there is
It makes the world go round
Love and only love
It can't be denied
No matter what you think about it
You just won't be able
To live without it
Take a tip from one who tried..."
The sad thing about pouting is that it only hurts the ones you care about.
I had a friend once, of whom I was angry with for (as I see it now) petty things. Treated him very poorly. One day his dad died suddenly. Several weeks after that, I saw him in his car at a stop light. He looked horribly distressed. The thought came to me that I should go to him and speak words of encouragement and to set aside my anger. I chose not to.
He killed himself a month to the day after his father died.
I sometimes wonder if my good words and reconciliation with him would have made a difference.
Sadly, I will never know.
He was a good man, a good friend and is missed very much.
Its a good thing that she still lives, Gerard.
Thanks for letting us revisit this post, Gerard.
An absolutely brilliant piece, one that evoked many of my own life experiences, as I am sure it did for others.
My only comment would be that I do not believe love and hate lie within the heart like something waiting to be tapped. The heart is all about potential, the capacity to give back what you put into it.
You did not dig down into a well of hate, you cultivated your hate; tilling the soil of you heart, sowing it with the seeds you had carefully selected. All those nights you were watering, weeding, fertilizing, triming, and tending your garden of hate.
In your garden you grew a hedge, one that shielded you from what you did not want to see, nor admit, much less accept. Then one day 'by chance' (But how much chance really?) you happened to glipse through and see what was on the other side.
I remember my own similar moment, and thinking back on that time can now see indications that it was not by chance. That moment came because I was ready to see beyond the hedge, accept my own failings, and then do what should be done.
Hatred is a defense mechanism. One that blocks off our weaknesses from perceived dangers. Unfortunately, in doing so, it is also a mechanism that prevents us from sharing the fullness of our love, and that is why it is evil.
There's a reason why the only directive in the Lord's Prayer is that we must forgive others their trespasses against us. Actually, there are a lot of reasons; sleeping well is one of them.
Gerard - I'm glad to hear that you conquered that demon. Sometimes we seek revenge on others, sometimes on ourselves, but nothing good ever comes of it either way. And we lose sleep too. So, lose/lose.
"The best revenge is a life well lived" has turned out to be pretty good advice in my experience. Who knew?