Grudges are amongst the anti-virtues we like to pretend aren’t written in the flimsiness of graphite pencil, in the grays of morality, but rather in the permanence of blood. They’re ineffaceable, ineffable wrongdoings. Stains. That which deserve the ultimate unforgiveness, and often vengeance.
Whenever I’m drawn to watching the TV show Revenge, about halfway through the forty minutes I have to ask myself, Why am I still watching this? I’m not interested in Emily Thorne’s next victim, next twisted scheme, next epic collateral, and predictable regression in the road to retribution. It’s cyclical, it’s evil; it’s unrealistic and often uninteresting.
Perhaps it’s the restitution I’m drawn by. I’m infinitely more anxious for the episode to finish than for next week’s edition, addition to the vendetta, making it a grudge even harder for me to bear. Perhaps it’s for a desire to see the debts paid; the justice unjustly administered by the oppressive judge to which I’m the jury. That’s the point isn’t it—why it’s on a continuous reel; skipping like an old, overused vinyl. Because maybe, as long as they exist, grudges cannot be fulfilled or resolved. They simply survive in a self-sustaining resentment, detached from their source. Nurtured through a complicated parasitism, a symbiosis, nascent of a mutation of repressed inaction. Grudges lie and fester in wait, existing in a stance between action and inaction. Leeching their energies from your source.
But what then, about divine retribution, about the lesson of poor Job? What happened to the circle of life, karma, the wheel of fortune—the universe’s cosmic interference in restitution? It’s way of righting mortal, moral wrong, politely and cleanly avenging the oppressors and rescuing the victims. In the absence of cosmic interference, perhaps grudges are then born out of a deep-seated unfaith in society and justice—that it will not be served without personal intervention. Perhaps a western, egocentric blight, a product of our self-centered viewpoint. That this really matters. That this grudge serves you—affects him. Does bearing an overwrought grudge not make the oppressed then the oppressor?
Ephesians 4:31-32 - Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice
Leviticus 19:18 - Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I [am] the LORD.
If grudges are then the anti-faith, and forgiveness is both religious and secular, altruistic and optimistic while grudges are fatalistic, why can’t we let them go? Is forgiveness the antithesis of a grudge?
Perhaps that’s why we’re drawn like fragile moths to the tantalizing and elusive flame of a grudge finally acted out. Theses are the certain bodies of sentiment that drive great literature. Grudges of love, of power, of fame, which fuel seminal novels like the Count of Monte Cristo, Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations. If the grudge energizes our most lauded and loved western literature, and lesser adapted renditions like Revenge, House of Cards what’s more natural; beneficial? The grudge or the absence of the grudge?
For there may still exist an argument for the adaptive benefits of the grudge. The prevention of further transgression. Perhaps it would compromise your moral principles if you forgave. Perhaps you are still suffering consequences of the damned act. But is the interpersonal benefit of restitution to be esteemed above the psychic consequences? For those who hold a grudge may initially be victim, but doesn’t the suspended axe then make them the perpetrator.
The deepest grudges in my family always seem to be dredged up around the holidays. My dad is a huge proponent of the grudge, although he’ll claim otherwise—he doesn’t actually enjoy bearing them; they are simply necessary, inevitable. It’s more like crossing people off a list, he claims. It doesn’t mean I dislike them. Rather, he disowns and ignores them. It’s a mental list of sorts, in which I envision names with razor thin lines cutting neatly through them. No blood. He’s a busy man. Over Thanksgiving or Christmas everyone sits together, there’s alcohol, but also divorce, abandonment and sentiments, grudges bigger than me. Yet, the obligatory place cards demand I sit in-between and listen. Nothing improves, year after year despite my mom’s valiant efforts to keep entertaining—them, the idea, the notion, the holiday, the family. Passive aggression the weapon of choice.
You burnt the sweet potatoes.
He sold her out, he was never there. Isn’t that enough champagne?
He smokes too much.
How are we ever supposed to get together for Christmas if you’re always traveling?
She always favored you.
I can see every small indiscretion tallied and added to the mental list. I don’t blame him, it’s simply too hard when it’s like this. It’s not vengeful. It’s rather a way not to be mean or aggressive, to simply extricate himself from things of past. Already molded, hard, no longer malleable. Damaged. Year after year, at the head of the table I watch him pull up an extra chair and put his feet up. An act of relaxation, disengagement. This year, we tried to stop trying, over Christmas, only spending it with immediate family. And it was okay, because I know the grudges, the family will stay. And regardless of his penchant for manners, my dad will continue to put his feet up at the end of the table, an affectionate resignation that allows the continuation of these Thanksgiving dinners.
If I drop his class, will he hate me? If she does that, can I “ding” her? Black ball, black list. Moralities more black than white. Grudges like stones to throw or swallow, causing pits in the stomach, forming walls on the inside. They harden you. They take stoking and maintenance, a persistence of ill will—insults and injuries unforgotten, but erasure never not an option.