I ended up in a lot of conversations about forgiveness and whether hatred necessarily warps the character of the person doing the hating after I posted about my reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death and the celebrations that followed. I’d like to do a few posts trying to address why I think its necessary try to offer forgiveness and charity to the people we hate, both for their sake and ours, but, today, I just want to link back to two interesting examples of this problem in children’s literature. (If you haven’t read either Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or A Wrinkle in Time, read on at your peril).
The last book in the Harry Potter series makes it clear that Voldemort cannot commit evil without harming himself. The fact that he is irreparably wounded by his own willful cruelty does not diminish the suffering of his other victims. Harry comes to feel pity rather than anger for his nemesis, but he still has to destroy Voldemort, since the dark wizard refuses to accept the pain necessary to heal. I’m excerpting the scene from Harry’s almost-death, when he finds Voldemort’s stunted, broken soul.
Then a noise reached him through the unformed nothingness that surrounded him: the small soft thumpings of something that flapped, flailed, and struggled. It was a pitiful noise, yet also slightly indecent. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he was eavesdropping on something furtive, shameful….
He recoiled. He had spotted the thing that was making the noises. It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath.
He was afraid of it. Small and fragile and wounded though it was, he did not want to approach it. Nevertheless he drew slowly nearer, ready to jump back at any moment. Soon he stood near enough to touch it, yet he could not bring himself to do it. He felt like a coward. He ought to comfort it, but it repulsed him…
“What is that, Professor?”
“Something that is beyond either of our help,” said Dumbledore.
At the climax of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg is trying to save her little brother Charles Wallace from IT, the malevolent, totalizing force that has possessed him:
If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.
But she could love Charles Wallace.
The fact that Meg is not capable of loving IT does not change the fact that IT ought to be loved. Plenty of people might be beyond our ability to heal, and, if they pose too great a threat to others, we might have to destroy them, but we should do it without joy, remembering this is not the outcome we truly wish to seek.