In Book I Chapter 2 of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Gandalf has just told Frodo that the Dark Power is seeking the One Ring and knows of the Shire, and possibly of Frodo himself:
'But this is terrible!' cried Frodo. 'Far worse than the worst that I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'
'I am sorry,' said Frodo. 'But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.'
'You have not seen him,' Gandalf broke in.
'No, and I don't want to,' said Frodo. 'I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.'
'Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends....'
Gandalf's speaks to us: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?" No, we cannot. And every day, in far smaller things, we face the same question. People wrong us. They are guilty. They deserve punishment. We pass judgement and mete out justice. We do it to colleagues, friends, children, lovers ... via harsh words, raised eyebrows, turnings away, and silently held grudges. We do it to more distant people, who "deserve" their poverty, ignorance, and ill health; they (or their ancestors) should have worked harder; they should have been born into better circumstances.
When may we strive to forgive rather than punish, to choose mercy rather than fairness? The past is a frozen lake; every action we take is irrevocable. Retaliation echoes back and forth until it destroys a relationship; forgiveness echoes to build a relationship stronger. And one who can give the gift of forgiveness, meekly and selflessly, as a bonus grows thereby.
It's hard to forgive. Sometimes it doesn't work. But perhaps we can at least hesitate, and remember to try. And to have Pity. And Mercy.
Monday, September 20, 1999 at 18:43:04 (EDT) = Datetag19990920