I listened to a performance of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities by Buck Schirner. One passage which struck me was the description of Sydney Carton, who later saves Charles Darnay by taking his place at the guillotine during the French Revolution.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.
The grand gesture of sacrificing his life for Darnay’s, out of love for Darnay’s wife Lucy, is a great example of that literary lie known as redemption.
Many read Crime and Punishment‘s Raskolnikov’s decision to confess to the murder of the moneylender and her sister as his act of redemption, but, to the extent he is redeemed, I believe it only happens years into his imprisonment when he begins to shed some of the negative emotions which led to the murders in the first place.
In real life, the penitent sinner/loser/underachiever’s quest for a single, heroic act to redeem himself is a manifestation of why that person is a sinner or loser or underachiever. It’s a search for a shortcut. The single heroic act frequently results in more harm than good. I often wonder if mass shooters or terrorists who kill driving car bombs or setting off bomb vests believe that they are correcting their lives’ past mistakes through their misguided acts.
Look at military recruitment ads in the United States. Many promise personal redemption. The fact that that personal redemption takes place through using lethal force against other people is not part of the advertisements.
If you regret your path and station in life, search for small ways that you can change. You may not be able to come out from under or get back to zero or come out a winner. But it’s how you can stop harming yourself and others.
The image at the beginning of this blog entry accompanies text by DJ Oatmeal and Lil 2k10.