An eye for an eye or two

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By Anthony Deyal

John F. Kennedy once said, “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names.” While his ultimate enemies still remain nameless and he has gone to his eternal rest, forgiving and forgetting are more difficult for the rest of us. I find it easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Many times, it’s far easier to forgive an enemy after you’ve got even with him but most of the time, we don’t ever let the other person forget that we forgave him. Sometimes, like Frederick William the First, King of Prussia (1688-1740) forgiveness has to be forced out of us. On his deathbed, William was told by his pastor that if he wished to go to heaven he must forgive all his enemies.

William immediately thought of his hated brother-in-law, George the Second of England. He thought about it and then reluctantly told his wife, “In that case, write to your brother and tell him I forgive him, but be sure not to do it until after my death.” Others are not as reluctant. As a Red Cross nurse during the First World War, the famous British nurse, Edith Cavell, helped Allied soldiers to escape from behind enemy lines. The Germans captured her. After a trial she was convicted and sentenced to death. As she was led before the firing squad, she is reputed to have said, “I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

The problem of how to deal with enemies is one that faces everyone. One view is that you must love your enemy – it will drive him crazy. Francis Bacon in one of his essays made the point that “a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green which otherwise would heal and do well.” The Bible says, “Thou shalt not avenge” but it is difficult not to contemplate, if not actually commit revenge. There is the story of the man who carried a bitter grudge against a former friend. An Angel sent by the Lord told the man that God would give him anything in the world provided that the man’s friend got two. The man thought it over and queried, “If I ask for one house, that person will get two? And if I ask for a million dollars that maggot will get two?”  “Right on both counts,” said the Angel cheerfully. “In that case,” said the man, “I’ll take one glass eye.”

Over the years, I came to the conclusion, like Bacon, that in taking revenge a man might get even with his enemies, but in avoiding revenge, he has proven himself superior. Since returning to Trinidad, I have been forced, many times, to rethink, revalue but in the end cling tenaciously to that belief. Whether it is someone who is angry because I made a joke at his expense in my column and he can’t sue me, or I have other people laughing at him, I stay clear because I have learnt, and I teach my clients, never draw attention to bad news by attempting to rebut it. However, like most people in such a situation, I create and play through scenarios of getting even. I thought of saying things like Phocion the Greek when Demosthenes said to him, “The Athenians will kill you someday when they are in a rage.”  Phocion replied, “And you, when they are in their senses.”

Or like Lord Northcliffe and Bernard Shaw, the playwright and noted vegetarian. Northcliffe said, condescendingly, “The trouble with you, Shaw, is that you look as if there is a famine in the land.” Shaw responded, “The trouble with you, Northcliffe, is that you look as if you were the cause of it.” Former premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas was once told by a heckler, “You little pipsqueak, I could swallow you in one bite.” To which Douglas replied, “And if you did my friend you would have more brains in your belly than you have in your head.” Beethoven once insulted a fellow composer by saying, “I liked your opera. I think I will set it to music.”

I have thought of scenarios that go way beyond verbal retaliation. In the end, however, I come back to an underlying philosophy that says I was not placed here to be judge, jury or executioner. My job, every day of my life, is to try to be the best person I can be. This is difficult, particularly trying not to judge other people. However, it would be even more difficult if I carried the monkey of revenge on my back and spent time in trying to get back at others for sins of omission or commission. At the same time, I know that I cannot change the past. I cannot undo what I did yesterday but must make the best of today and tomorrow.

My religion cannot be a bus that I ride only when it is going my way. It has to be one that I command. It must have a steering wheel and brakes, guiding me along the right road and stopping me at the wrong one. As Gandhi said, and as both he and Mandela demonstrated, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Yet, all my religion and philosophy cannot stop me from contemplating two revenge jokes, one as a warning and the other as satisfaction. While it is generally believed that revenge is a dish best served cold, a woman proved that it might be best hot. She came home and found her husband in bed with another woman. Furious, she dragged him down the stairs to the garage, put his penis in a vise and removed the handle. Then she picked up a hacksaw. The husband terrified, screamed, “Stop! Stop! You’re not going to cut it off are you?” The wife, with a gleam of revenge in her eye, said, “Nope. You are. I’m going to set the garage on fire.”

The other is the story of the truck-driver. He was having a bite to eat in a diner when three leather-clad Hell’s Angels bikers roared into the parking lot and then marched loudly into the room. One grabbed the truck-driver’s coffee, the second took his pie and the third took his cigarettes. The truck driver got up and walked out without a word. One of the bikers walked over to the cook and said, “He’s not much of a man, is he?” The cook answered, “He’s not much of a driver either. I’ve been looking out the window and he just drove his truck over three motor-bikes.”

* Tony Deyal was last seen saying that when he heard that his colleague had got a new job he wanted to say, “I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.  He’s a great man. Let us all stand and give him a round of ammunition.”

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