I’m not a good person.
I mean, I’m not a bad person, exactly. But let’s face it: there’s some ugliness in here. For instance, I’m not a forgiving person. Once crossed, I never forget, and almost never forgive. I can be vengeful and harsh.
For most of my life, I was able to hide that part of my personality, even from myself. But over the years, it’s taken on weight and presence. It radiates malevolence. And as the old saying goes, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I know that clinging to old anger and resentment hurts me far worse than anyone else. So why do I hold on to them?
This is a question for the Full Moon in Scorpio. I wasn’t born with the Moon in that sign, but rather with the Moon square Pluto, Scorpio’s ruling planet. A “Hades Moon,” it’s sometimes called. Hades (Pluto’s Greek counterpart), God of the Underworld, ruled over the death and was, understandably, one of the less popular gods:
Feared and loathed, Hades embodied the inexorable finality of death: “Why do we loathe Hades more than any god, if not because he is so adamantine and unyielding?” The rhetorical question is Agamemnon’s (Iliad, ix). He was not, however, an evil god, for although he was stern, cruel, and unpitying, he was still just. (1)
Stern, cruel, and unpitying. I can locate these within my Hades heart; they’re not qualities I’m proud of. But as I get older, I understand them better: all my ugliest qualities are those of an overprotective mother. I appreciate the ferocious protectiveness from which the ugliness originates. If someone is truly trying to take advantage of you, take something from you, or threaten your well-being, it’s good to feel someone has your back – even (especially?) if that someone is you.
I fancy myself a steadfast person, and while it’s hard to explain, there’s a kind of loyalty to grudges; they’re a tribute to strongly held convictions. And like Hades, I like to think that at least I’m fair. After all, while I will never forgive an enemy, I’ll always admit when they’re right.
But are these virtues enough? The Scorpio Full Moon forms a trine aspect to Neptune in Pisces, encouraging love, compassion, and forgiveness. Christianity seems to prize the virtue of forgiveness above almost all others, and for good reason. Forgiveness has the power to elevate us. But like most sublime gifts, forgiveness, and those who possess its grace, should be respected for their rarity.
I recall, years ago now, when a team of American Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, confessed mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the United States erupted in jubilance – at least, some of the United States. Condemnation quickly came from many who were uncomfortable rejoicing over the death of any person, even a sworn foe.
I could identify with both camps. I feel no sadness at the death of my country’s enemy. I understood the bloodthirsty cheers at his death. But I also deplored them.
The reason is not that I think I’m better than those who cheered. On the contrary. In my heart of darkness, I know the vengeful bitterness of which I’m capable – and I rely upon society to be better than I am. When I’m poised over a helpless enemy, wielding a spear, I hope to be restrained by the cool judgment of my peers. When my feral side demands annihilation over a relatively trivial slight, I wish for a society of just laws, interpreted by wise elders, to save me from myself.
Ideally, by the time we reach adulthood, there should be no need for these external controls. But sometimes, the years wear a groove of resentment into one’s character, and it’s tempting to count up transgressions like a miser. And then, in loyal witness to our own miser-y, to cry for blood.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Typical of Twain, it’s a sentiment that appears sweet but could also be interpreted ironically. True forgiveness is a gift from the gods, but insincere forgiveness, like a crushed violet, exudes the sweetly cloying stench of passive-aggression and dishonesty. So while I was saddened to see cheering at bin Laden’s death, I respected its authenticity.
I may not have exulted over a madman’s corpse, but I’ve been thrilled – and recently – when a personal enemy was chastened and defanged. As I said, I’m not a good person. So believe me, I’m yoked with all of my fellow citizens by the most fragile bond of civility. In the eyes of the bloodthirsty, I see the reflection of my own struggle. And when I wish for us to find the grace to forgive even our murderous enemies, I’m no sweet violet crushed under heel, spreading the cloying, insincere fragrance of piety. I’m just a fellow savage, reaching for salvation.
© 2011, 2017 April Elliott Kent