After not getting to sleep until 3 am (thank you, neighbors, who love fireworks and guns), I woke up groggy this New Year morning, but with the word ‘mercy’ echoing through my mind.
Why? Not sure, but it may have to do with a comet, a pig, and a mouse. (More later.) I’m trying to figure it out.
I take things like a suddenly lit-up word in my head seriously. I believe in signs and portents, dreams and visions, prayers and synchronicity. I also read the Tarot, and my card for 2022 is the card of Justice. (A note here on how to find your own yearly Tarot card: just add the day of your birth to the month of your birth to the present year, and keep adding until you get a number between one and 22 and you have a corresponding Major Arcana card, a Sacred Image that may offer you wisdom for the coming year. Click here for more.)
There’s a lovely marriage between Justice and Mercy, isn’t there?
“Sweet mercy,” Shakespeare tells us in Titus Andronicus, “is nobility’s true badge.”
On the other hand, Frederick William Robertson, the 19th-century clergyman said, “There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy: hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny.” This is also true. Mercy and Justice. Justice and Mercy.
Back to the comet, the pig and the mouse.
I’ll start with movies.
My Best Beloved and I watched the satiric film, “Don’t Look Up.” It has very funny moments and is deeply political, a scathing indictment of capitalism, of obscenely rich tech giants, cynically opportunistic politicians, the media, and more, but at its heart it’s a call to take the bags off our heads and look up at the planet-destroying comet of climate change hurtling towards us. And the heart of the film is revealed at the end of the film in two moments. The first is when an American President cares so little about her son she leaves him to destruction, while he repeats, like a heartbroken five-year-old, “She’ll be back, she’ll be back, she’ll be back.” The second is the agonizingly poignant last supper, in which the scientists, who failed to wake us up, share a last meal with their loved ones and try not to completely break down in the moments before extinction. “We really had it all, didn’t we?” I was in tears.
Last night I watched “The Pig” with Nicholas Cage. This is a stunning film (Cage is nothing short of brilliant) about grief and loss and the ends we go to to avoid pain. Film critic Shikhar Agrawal quotes Haruki Murakami when discussing the film: “Every one of us is losing something precious to us. That’s part of what it means to be alive…So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence.” The end image, which I won’t reveal, haunts me and speaks deeply to me of loss and a plea for mercy. I tear up even now, recalling it.
And then there’s the mouse.
I spend some of my time in a log cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania on the banks of the Bushkill Creek. It’s a place that teaches me a number of lessons. We have a lot of wildlife here — bears, bobcats, snakes, possums, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, skunks, eagles, raccoons, trout, eels. And mice. ‘Natch. Now, I happen to like mice. I know all about the diseases they carry and ticks and all that, so please don’t lecture me. But I think they’re rather sweet and small and have hard lives. Still, I’m not a fan of the all-night scratch and skritch-a-thon that’s been going on in the crawl space above our ceiling. We have tried everything we can to find out how they’re getting in, but the cabin is very old and mice are very small and can squish through almost anything.
My Best Beloved put snaptraps up there. I hate the idea, but I’ve learned from experience that just asking them to leave doesn’t work. (I’m not a vegetarian and am not against hunting, but those are conversations for another day.) Still, when one of the traps snapped in the middle of the night I winced and said a small prayer to the God of Small Things to forgive me. Then the drag-and-scrape started. The mouse was not dead. The mouse was injured. The mouse was dragging a trap around up there in a space we couldn’t possibly reach. In fact, the Best Beloved, tried to get up there with several long-handled things to at least put the little one out of its obvious misery. Although he spent hours trying he couldn’t even find it, let alone get it out of there. The terrible sound of a wee creature slowly dying in pain because of something I did continued for hours. And then it stopped.
What a horrible silence. So thick with my regret and shame. All for a mouse you say? Yes, all for a mouse.
I realize, as I’m writing this, that although I am talking about a mouse, a creature considered inconsequential to most at best, pestilential at worst, I am feeling not unlike the characters in the two films I mentioned — filled with regret and guilt and grief for all the small, fragile things of the world (ourselves included), and praying for mercy for all of us, both the ones who are trapped and the ones to set traps.
So perhaps the invitation here at the beginning of this new year, is to fill every corner of every day with as much mercy for all things as I possibly can, while tempering it with justice, and accepting that all things, good and bad, come to all of us, good people and bad people alike, and we could all, as the brilliant songwriter Mary Gauthier says, “use a little mercy now.”
Click below to hear her sing it, and when you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts. May we all be blessed with mercy and justice this year.