Over the past week, I have been collecting songs about revenge and forgiveness that were suggested by our listeners. Spending hours in the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) music library, I thought not only about the artists and songs that I was looking for, but also about times in my own life were I have felt the sentiment of one of these songs or another. The most meaningful part of going through this music has been the reminder that I am far from alone in fierce rages that I have felt or gentle unclamping as I have let go of past wrongs. I’ve listened to scores of songs and looked across thousands of CDs, all the while thinking about the many ways that we think and talk about revenge or forgiveness. It has been startling to see how these complex sentiments apply themselves to my interactions with friends, family, and, of course, politics.

At the tail end of this project, I can honestly say that my thoughts about both revenge and forgiveness have changed greatly from the time when I set out. Several nights ago, as I received calls and texts from friends and family around the country and the world watching the election results come in and both candidates speak, I thought again about revenge and forgiveness. I cannot describe the spectrum of emotion that I have felt over the course of the past few weeks, and last night it came to a head when a Ghanaian friend called from Abuja, Nigeria where he is training with the BBC. He was weeping. We talked for some time about politics, but also hope and forgiveness, tolerance and revenge. We questioned the fine line separating our emotional responses from events that swirl around us, and the ways in which our gut reaction is often so far from the words that we use or the actions that we make.

As I spoke with my friend, I was glad to have these songs to draw upon as we discussed the many reasons why and how politics become emotional. By the end of the conversation we had agreed that forgiveness was not so different from tolerance, and revenge often like poison ivy — so satisfying to itch, but with each scratch spreading the rash. And politics, like religion, like love, family and so much else, is just a lens through which we see the others, ourselves, the past, our future.

Revenge and forgiveness are words of motion, although the songs that they inspire are emotional snapshots that do not move or change. Like the images in these songs, speaking with someone half way around the world about events that were unfolding in real time was something that I will not easily forget. This political season is not something that I cannot forget. This time in my life, when I am a newcomer in the city of my childhood is something that I do not want to forget. And the ties that we all have to people and events far, far away from ourselves is something that I must not forget ever.

I know that politics can be bitter, and that many people are elated and many disappointed. I also know that my emotional reaction is neither revenge nor forgiveness. It is not tolerance or hope or bitterness. It is still too raw for any of these polished words. It is something that will take time to shape. And eventually it will become polished. And then it will be tarnished. And I will move forward. And everyone will have moved forward. Emotion, events, persons, places, politics do not stand still, and although we may record songs that capture moments, and those songs remind us of this or that time, it is important to remember that everything is now different.

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Loved the analogy of revenge being like poison ivy. I listened to the show and found much of what Michael M. said very interesting. Especially, the part about how parents practice forgiveness daily. Maybe that explains why so many childless friends of mine say they have difficulty with tolerating other peoples behaviour as they grow old.

My reaction and those people around me reactions in the city where I live, is similar to your Ghanaian friend. We are so happy you voted in an intelligent, well-informed, articulate person to lead during this bleak time. I think many Americans would find it strange how universal the feelings of appreciation and praise are that are being sent to them from people outside of their country.

Ies- I have received many expressions of joy from my friends in UK over th results of the election here in the U.S. They are elated. Sadly I have only experienced feelings of gloom and doom from my American acquaintances. I am a white Episcopalian but tomorrow I think I would prefer to go to a black Baptist Church where I can share my enthusiasim and excitment. My daughter who is fiftyfour and a person with Downs syndrome and who lives with me was so happy on the eve of the election. We laughed and cried together.

Speaking of forgiveness - I had a warm experience the day of the election. After voting I was in a supermarket- I was wearing my little tag which noted I had voted and I saw a lovely elderly black lady who was also wearing " I have voted" label -our eyes met and we chatted happily. I remarked that I had been saddened by a friend's remark" I am not ready for a black President and that I was cross with her"- this dear soul remarked" Do not be angry with her- be patient and forgive her" I felt so blessed that I had been allowed to see forgiveness in action. After all the trials and tribulatins which this lady had been through she was still gracious and forgiving..If this lady can be so forgiving then surely I can be more understanding of my friend.

The interviewer gave safety (from others) and value (we may need that person’s help) as reasons we forgive. My view is that third reason is health. The desire for revenge causes me to feel tension and anger, and, while I am not a medical doctor, I believe those negative feelings can make me unwell. I think of it as a malignancy growing within me. To avoid that result, I forgive.

To Amara,
Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. I love the awareness and language of your final paragraph. Such a good reminder that life is always change and that our responses must come out of this new moment.
Mary H