In the movie The Interpreter, the character Silvia Bromme (Nicole Kidman) speaks of her commitment to non-violence saying “Revenge is a lazy form of grief.” Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who is a federal agent protecting her, is mourning the senseless death of his wife and admits that he would gladly and swiftly take revenge on the one who caused the death of his beloved. He admired other modes of grief from afar.
Is revenge really a lazy form of grief? Is it even a form of grief?
I can remember, still with knots in my stomach, events in which I was wronged and longed to make things right by a sharp word (that came to me a tad too late) or a swift kick (that would have had me thrown out of the game). My desire for revenge has more often come in response to assaults to my person, rather than those I love – although there has been more than enough of the latter too. So, while revenge may be a form of grief, I tend to think of it more as a form of preventative defense: I will respond to your violence with violence in kind, or with the threat of violence that holds you at bay.
My parents, however, taught me that vengeance isn’t mine to exact: it is the Lord’s, or the teacher’s, or the judicial system. Sometimes I listen to their now internalized voices; sometimes not. But even when I do, still doubt nags. Will my honour truly be returned; my right to fair treatment finally fulfilled? Giving up vengeance always seemed, and seems, to be a waiting game.
But maybe we can make of it another kind of waiting game; a flip from waiting for to waiting on. While waiting for vengeance, we can wait on others needing recompense: victims of economic violence, those beaten by racial stereotypes, children deprived of hope, etc. When we wait on while we wait for we discover a most amazing thing: waiting on becomes a waiting with which brings me back to grief.
Grief’s condolence is accompaniment. Those who suffer with others find – not exactly erasure of suffering – but the possibility of experiencing hope in suffering, in grief, in lament. Such hope seems to dissipate the press for vengeance. Maybe vengeance isn’t the Lord’s so much because it is God’s to exact, but rather God’s to absorb. And maybe waiting with victims while waiting on them gives us something different to wait for: justice graced by love and righteousness kissed by peace.