Mercy, by definition, is undeserved
And is also the only real way to have any kind of power
Long ago, when I was drinking, I disappeared. Given that I was still alive and didn’t have money to leave town I didn’t disappear very successfully, but nevertheless that was the objective. I was overwhelmed with the kind of terror that can only come from really bending your brain in a terrible direction for a long time, and some part of me thought that if that terror wasn’t perceived then it would somehow go away. At the end my one and only mission in life was to mute that inner terror, and I drank constantly and avoided everybody in order to do it.
I figured that if someone else perceived me they would behold the terror I felt, and if they beheld the terror it would somehow make that terror more real and more terrible. They’d curse me and shame me and reject me for being so corrupt as to feel this way, or if they tried to help me the terror would overwhelm them too. The stain was permanent, and all human interaction was thereby rendered impossible.
Drinking was the only thing that worked, and it was the deepest injustice that anyone ever wanted me to stop. I capital-N Needed to drink, because of the terror, and nobody understood that. If they understood how I felt they’d personally buy me all the alcohol I needed and leave me alone as I drank it.
My pain and terror was my license to do anything I wanted to do in the name of relieving it. Lying, cheating, stealing, all took on a great moral urgency for me. I *had* to feel better. If I saw something I wanted I took it - I was in a very precious and unique kind of pain, one that was more intense and important than the pain of anyone else, so of course that meant that whatever you had I needed it more than you if it would make me feel better.
That’s how I was when I was cornered. I would lie and deny as long as I possibly could, trying hard to not be seen in my authentic pain, but then when the lies ran out I would spray my pain all over the place to try and get out of trouble.
For lack of a better term, the only way I got out of that suffering was a choice to show the world mercy.
“Mercy”, here, is contrasted with “Justice”. Justice is where someone deserves punishment and they get it, while Mercy is where someone deserves punishment and nevertheless they are spared.
I had to lay down my righteous crusade against the world, the one which entitled me to make any demand and follow any impulse. The world is imperfect and has injured me deeply and let me down quite a lot, as it does for all of us, since none of us are Gods, but even where it deserved my little punishment I had to choose to let that go. That was where the true power lay, for me - not in saying “you hurt me so I’m going to hurt you ten times worse”, but in saying “all the pain you caused is gone, and you have nothing to threaten me with ever again”.
That is how, to this sober day, I try my best to stay between those twin extremes of handling suffering. On one end is the disappearing act, where I deny my pain and insist that everything is fine, especially to myself. On the other act is the pathetic public performance, where I make a point of hurting as loudly and as often as possible, like a baby in a crib whose only power is to scream at the top of its lungs until Mommy and Daddy submit to its will.
In the middle is the real magic, mercy - the act of transforming people from villains to fellow sufferers, an act given by definition with zero expectation of it being returned.
In the middle, too, is the real magic of right-sizing my own suffering - seeing as neither trivial nor spectacular, but as of the same stuff as the suffering of everyone else. I deserve the same care that everyone else does, no more and no less.