i love . . . you?

grendel

Grendel at lunch

I’m sitting in one of my favorite classes in college, Ancient Classics. We’re studying Beowulf — the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language — and it’s the part where Grendel, the bone-crunching, blood-sucking demon who’s been terrorizing King Hrothgar’s halls for years, meets for the first (and only) time his match. Beowulf the Magnificent has come from afar to rescue the Danes, only Grendel doesn’t know it. He storms into the hall in the middle of the night, gobbling men whole and drinking their blood as usual, when suddenly he comes upon Beowulf and is shocked to find someone who resists him. The man and monster grapple hand to hand, claw to claw (Beowulf refuses to use any weapons since Grendel uses none), and, with superhuman strength, Beowulf manages to rip off one of the monster’s arms at the socket. The wound is mortal, and Grendel flees to the moors while the Danes rejoice and Beowulf becomes hero of the land — and of all of history.

Sounds like a pretty cool story, right? Good guy wins, bad guy dies. It’s the perfect plot . . . Right? Or . . . Are we missing something?

Upon closer reading, we discover that there’s more to Grendel than we originally thought. First off, he’s a descendant of Cain. That’s a yucky heritage for anyone to have. Second, if we look back, we see that, in the early years while the Danes were building great halls filled with treasure, this “demon” was living alone in darkness. “The Monster Grendel [was] madly envious of the Danemen’s joy and bore it bitterly — that light-hearted laughter loud in the building greeted him daily.” Later, after he is injured, Grendel is “sick unto death,” and “unwinsome and woeful . . . he wist [knew] the end of his earthly existence was nearing, his life-days’ limits.”

Aww, poor Grendel . . . Knowing a little more of the story puts this “monster” in a new light, doesn’t it?

The best bad guys aren’t those that are pure evil. The best bad guys are the ones we feel a little bit sorry for, the ones we can relate to.

face

Boo! … (I’m as scared as you!)

After declaring that I loved everyone a few posts ago, my friend Pat rightfully asked, “You love everyone? How can you love a rapist, a serial killer, a sadist, or any other number of really bad, nasty, or evil people?” A fair question to be sure. The world is full of people who do horrible things. How can I love them?

And the answer is this: I DON’T love them. I HATE what they do. But I DO feel for them — er, at least I try.

See, we’re all born into different circumstances. Yes, much of life is what we make it — and yada, yada, yada — but, truth be told, a lot of it is out of our control, too. Murderers, rapists, sadists, drug dealers, embezzlers — they’ve made some bad decisions, for sure. They’ve chosen wrong over right, and I’m not about to make excuses for them. (There’s a reason we are born with a conscience.) But . . . maybe? . . . Might I have done the same if I’d been in their shoes? . . . Maybe I can at least try to put myself in their shoes?

No, I do not love people who commit heinous crimes. Yes, their acts make me cry. But, even if they don’t deserve it, perhaps I can at least try to show them love? At least a little?

After all, for all I know, my one small act may be the only love they’ve ever known.

*Another perhaps even better story that demonstrates this — and the benefits one small act of love can bring — is that of Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo‘s “Les Misérables.” If you haven’t heard it, definitely look it up.

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Illustrations by Charles Keeping at http://www.uncannyuk.com.

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56 thoughts

    • I haven’t! I’ll definitely check it out… Pure evil is boring. Of *course* we want the bad guy to die. But if we can sympathize with the bad guy — even just a little? It makes for a much more interesting story. ;)

  1. A nice post to read in the morning. And, while it only hits part of your post, the novel “Grendel” looks at Beowulf from the other perspective. It’s an interesting read.

    As far as the deeper message goes, though, I often think of a quote from the Dalai Lama: something like, “There are no evil beings. There are only evil actions.” Often we see what someone did and say that they’re evil, defining their whole existence from a single instance. Sometimes that’s not accurate.

    Other times, someone has does so many evil things or been so warped by circumstance that they’re actions are generally evil. For them, I agree with what you say: we must accept, even love them, but hate what they do. If everyone hated the evil people, then hate and evil would only increase. We want to hate what’s evil in whatever way it comes, not the vehicle of its arrival.

    …Anydangway, a few scattered thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    -Brett

    • “If everyone hated the evil people, then hate and evil would only increase.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that’s a good point. I do agree that some people allow themselves to get so sucked into wrong doing that they have difficulty even differentiating between the two. *Is* there a point of no return? I don’t know, but I’d like to hope not.

      It also seems a lot of evil in the world is often tied to mental illness. Hmm.

      I *haven’t* read the book, “Grendel,” but I’ve heard of it. I’ll have to pick it up — thank you! And I love that quote from the Dalai Lama. Another great one I recently heard is:

      The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:

      “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present — the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”

      Cheers! Jess

  2. As my home fills with the smell of burned cedar to clear the evil from the night – I am thankful for the love that you give to all of us. In today’s sensationalized media the truth is often obscured for headlines, justice is often not served for promotion, and peace and love cast aside for drama.

    • “…to clear the evil from the night – ” What evil, Hoss? The night, the stars, the moon – are my heart —

      I’m ever so thankful for you, too.

      • Mm. I’ll have to remember that. Though I really think I must be braver than the medicine man. I go swimming after dark, too! And not once have I been pulled under by the evil spirits of Chinese lore.

  3. You make a good point, we don’t know where some people come from. But it all does come down to the decisions we make. My wife’s motto is, “It’s not what happens to us in life that dictates who we are, but its how we decide to react to it.” I think we all have made our share of mistakes or bad decisions. I know I have.

    • I fully agree with that. I too believe it comes down to our decisions. I just feel like our decisions cannot help but be influenced by the circumstances to which we have been exposed. Like I mentioned in my response to manangbok (below), because of the way in which I was brought up, committing murder is pretty hard for me to comprehend. But if I’d grown up in inner city Chicago with a gang leader for a dad, maybe my perspective would be a little different…?

      I don’t know. That’s why I try very hard not to judge. Clearly there are some despicable individuals out there who have purposely chosen to do wrong and, in so doing, forgotten their humanity… To them, all I have to say is, “I feel sorry for you.”

      And, yes! I too have made my share of mistakes. Many of them!

  4. I love Beowulf and Les Miserables! I love Valjean and the Bishop. Lol. And yes, amen to unconditional love. I guess we try because we know that we’ve been given the same unconditional love.

    • True. A good point. But not everyone knows they’ve been given unconditional love… That’s why it’s so important for all of us to be love ambassadors!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Means so much :) Jess

  5. Love your post!

    Don’t you just feel that one of the most difficult parts in being an honest writer is putting yourself into a completely messed-up creature’s shoes?

    Rapists, murderers, sadists, corrupt politicians — hey even Hitler and Christian Grey have their back story!

    Sometimes I cry when I am forced to empathize. But I try. That is all I can do :) :(

    • Thanks for the awesome comment! Glad you liked the post… To be honest, I haven’t written a lot of fiction in which I’ve had to put myself in, say, a murderer’s shoes. From my upbringing, I’m pretty sure murder would be a very difficult thing for me to do… But that’s why I say everyone has a different background. If my dad was a thug and I grew up in inner city Chicago, I might feel a little bit differently…

      Trying to sympathize *is* all we can do — but even if that seems small, it’s actually a lot. That you are willing to try will not go unnoticed by the people you are sympathizing with.

      Thanks again! :) :) :)

    • I didn’t say I loved ’em. All I said was maybe, if I knew more of that person’s story, I’d better understand what caused him to do such a horrible deed. Rape and child molestation are some of the hardest things for me to understand. I get sick just thinking about them. But, somewhere, somehow, at some point, underneath all of that wickedness was once a man. I *have* to remember that — for my own sanity.

      • All I can think is, he was a little boy once who cried, laughed, smiled, and played. To imagine a grown up man doing something terrible to an innocent, helpless 8-year-old is just so…. I don’t even want to think about that. What did that 8-year-old do to have something like that happen to her? *It happened in our city. She was found in the woods.*

      • It’s so sad. And what’s worse is that things like that happen every day all over the world. Can you imagine being sold into sexual slavery by your own father? All of it makes me sick, and I have no idea how people become so twisted. All too often, though, we see things repeating themselves — generation after generation after generation. It doesn’t take a scientist to see…

        I really don’t get it, either. And it sure as hell is hard to feel sorry for someone who isn’t sorry for committing despicable acts… It’s at that point that I must take a deep breathe and step away… There’s a reason I don’t watch the news.

  6. This was my favorite of all your prose and journalism, Jessica! I remember watching the show “Inside the Actors Studio” with Meryl Streep as the interviewee. When asked the Proust question, “If heaven exists, what would you like God to say when He meets you at the Pearly Gates?” Her response was, “Everybody In!” Pretty insightful. I think all of the best actors — and I think we could all agree that she is in that category — are able to get into the skin of another person, to imagine where and what that person came from. You hit it on the head with this one. Empathy is grey and often painful.

    • I’m so glad you liked this one, Terri! I hope to keep writing more and more “favorites” as I go along… I like Meryl Streep’s response, though I sometimes struggle to align my love for mankind with verses like Matthew 7:13-14 — “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it…”

      I just don’t know. All I know is that I *have* to love. Wherever possible. As much as possible. There is nothing else and no other way I know how to survive in this dark, cold world.

  7. The last line really made the post… “After all, for all I know, my one small act may be the only love they’ve ever known.” If we all could think this way, the world could not help but be a better place. Great post and writing.

    • Thanks so much, Randall. The last line was on purpose. ;) I too think the world would be a better if we could all remember that… I hope your trip is going well! Wish I could get up there. Would be lovely to meet you. Looking forward to your next post, too!

      • A classic line, and I may borrow it someday :-) There are not too many places like Seattle, the Sound and the Olympic National Forest. If you have the time before the end of September, let me know – a little heaven on Earth. Cheers.

  8. Love this post. As you may know, my perspective on good vs. evil, control vs. non-control is in my previous reply in your previous post: the concept of Strength-in-numbers throughout all micro and macro systems, physical and spiritual. Singularity or small numbers in several ways become the whims of events and randomness.

    Hope you have a super weekend Jessica! :)

    • I’ll have to look that song up… It’s so true. If we’d all stop and take a step back from things for a moment, and consider what others might be going through at the same time we’re going through our own struggles, the world would be a better place.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. ;)

  9. You are quite brave, dear lady. It’s terribly unfashionable to even hint at compassion for people who commit heinous acts. Truthfully though, those types are the most all to be pitied. Personally, I have a very difficult time with those who harm children. I guess it helps to remember that we are all still very much children.

    • Yes… I see that that’s true. We haven’t much advanced since the days crowds adored public hangings and lynchings, are we. It’s a sad fact, in my mind. I’ve never understood finding pleasure in watching *anyone* suffer and die, even if they *do* “deserve” it.

      But, yes. Hurting children is beyond me. The world is sick. There is no doubt about it.

  10. Jessica, you can love HUMANITY…you don’t have to LOVE or LIKE each INDIVIDUAL. And you certainly do NOT have to agree/like/love each individual’s ACTIONS. Obviously you’re not saying you love heinous actions. If I may be so bold, you’re saying you’re loving the Human IDEAL. All excellent points brought out, above, but I understand the sentiment. Another point of interest: you can’t really hate something you have absolutely NO feeling for or about. If you feel absolutely NOTHING about something, you couldn’t hate it. How could you? You’d be indifferent. So, you really do love when you hate. You love the [missing] HUMANITY *behind* the committer of an atrocity, because the atrocity so taints the loving Humanity of what that individual COULD BE. Don’t read too much into this…I’m not in any way talking about the loving/liking of heinous atrocities. The atrocities turn my stomach, as well. I’m talking about the IDEAL of a loving, caring, human individual who COULD HAVE GONE a different path. And how can individuals tied to victims of crimes find it in themselves to FORGIVE those who committed atrocities upon their loved ones? Perhaps, this has something to do with the above? I can’t know each person’s thoughts, but they surely must see or feel something more than the outward atrocities committed.

    Quite the thought-provoking post, Jessica.

    • Thank you… “You love the [missing] HUMANITY *behind* the committer of an atrocity, because the atrocity so taints the loving Humanity of what that individual COULD BE.” I really like that thought. I think that that’s what I meant — to the “t.”

      I’m glad you found this thought-provoking. It certainly isn’t an easy subject. :/ Jessica

      • You’re welcome and thanks, though I can’t take credit for coming up with the original thought (I read it in a metaphysical book)…but, I find it explains my similar feelings. Brave post.

    • I have not, but you’re not the first to mention it. I think it’s time I did! Thanks Joe! And, on a side note, I’m so sorry I’ve never written for GP. I am a bad friend. :( Wish I could join you in Columbia, but don’t think that that’s going to happen, either. I really appreciate your friendship, though. Don’t give up on me!

      • Read Grendel–it is good! Anyways, you’re busy I’m sure and my sister is coming to Colombia with me, so it will be like a family reunion down there! I would like to come out to Northern California in the next year, if you are around. I’d a appreciate a mini tour maybe!

      • That’s awesome that your sis is going to join you! I’m sure you guys will have a great time. :) And that’s so great that you’re going to come to Cali. I know you said you’ve never been. Any idea when you might come? I’d be happy to show you around!

      • Jess-CY, when I can. Apparently my job prospects are dim after insulting Goldman Sachs on Linked In. The truth is Jess-CY that there are NO prospects, so go down with the ship. Are you going to retire with a nice pension with an American Corporation? No. It is over Jess-CY…And I know it. See you in the spring.In person.. :-)

      • “It is over…” Your affair with working for American corporations? I’m off to Asia at the start of the next school year, I hope… And, yes. It would be lovely to meet you. And please, call me Jess!

  11. The American system isn’t ethical anymore…so, yes..I’m referring to my desire to get into corporate America. People have told me to “be careful” for my own good. The truth I’ve never had more intelligent people look at my linkedin profile after making a two second insult.

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