I was in Baton Rouge on September 9, 1990, to watch LSU play Georgia in the home opener of the college football season. I was young and didn’t know much about what was happening, but what I did know was that my stomach was turning cartwheels.
It was the first day of more than a year’s worth of debilitating stomach issues brought on by the murder of my sister at her school in 1988. There was no trial or outrage. The killer did the deed on a Wednesday and was back in school the next Monday. Imagine that happening today. His family was known, mine wasn’t. A lot in this life has to do with the color of your skin but it’s also got a lot to do with the color of the paper in your wallet.
I didn’t know how to process what happened in the past, what was happening at the moment, and what would come. The toil of the tragedy manifested itself in my gut. Nerves put me in the hospital for several weeks to endure all manner of terrible tests to rule out physical maladies. In the end, it took me realizing I would have to overcome my fear on my own. So at 11 years old, that’s what I did.
The murder of my sister broke my father. Twenty plus years later, the last time I spoke to my dad before he drowned, I listened to the same sad refrain I had heard countless times before. He wanted vengeance and even asked me to get it for him despite me having a family and successful career of my own. I was the youngest daily newspaper publisher in Louisiana and was an awarding winning journalist. He didn’t think about all that. The pain was too deep. This, among many other outrages brought on by my sister’s murder, really did a number on me as a little kid.
The request, as well as many other statements I’d heard since that January day in 1988, always centered around revenge. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with humanity’s seemingly endless, violent, destructive pursuit of vengeance.
Shakespeare wrote of it in “Hamlet” and the title character’s destruction of everything and everyone around him as he sought to avenge his father’s murder.
I wrote this poem in 2008 during a particularly difficult time in my life:
“The thirst for revenge, a flame that burns bright,
Consuming one’s soul with unyielding might.
A desire so fierce, it blinds one’s sight,
And leads them down a path of endless night.
The need to settle a score, to right a wrong,
A temptation that’s alluring, yet so wrong.
For revenge is a poison that lingers long,
And its bitter taste can never be gone.
The desire for vengeance, a heavy load to bear,
A burden that only grows with time and despair.
For it consumes your heart, leaving it bare,
And the pain it inflicts is beyond repair.
So let go of the need to settle the score,
And let forgiveness be your guiding force.
For revenge is a path that leads to war,
And the only victor is regret and remorse.”
Easier said than done. I know that because in a world where conflicts and misunderstandings are an inevitable part of human interaction, the desire for revenge is a common and complex emotional response. People seek revenge for a variety of reasons, ranging from feeling wronged or hurt to seeking justice for injustices.
Psychologists suggest that the quest for revenge is often driven by a sense of powerlessness, which can be triggered by a variety of situations, such as betrayal, loss, or humiliation. Seeking revenge can provide a sense of control over a situation that otherwise feels out of one’s control.
I remember my father was angry in the mid 90s when Michael Jordan’s father was murdered. What made my dad angry was that MJ said killing the killer wouldn’t bring his dad back and thus he didn’t see the point in the death penalty. This made my dad irate and I just sat back quietly, knowing then as I do now that it’s sometimes better to just say nothing when there’s no chance of changing someone’s mind.
A mind bent on revenge isn’t rational. It can’t be. Because to seek it, to be obsessed with it, means something valuable and personal was taken from you. Your life and the lives of others was turned upside down.
My sister’s death and the fallout it brought made me into the person I am today. I am deeply reflective and quiet and like to stay to myself. I distrust authority more than your average person, I think, because I saw the worst of it up-close and personal. From a crooked DA and a sleazy principal to a superintendent that had my father arrested in front of his young son, I’ve witnessed the hell people in authority can put others through to make life easier on themselves.
I don’t trust because I’ve been hurt. I don’t trust because powerful men decided green was more important than what was right. I don’t trust because I see the same thing playing out all around me today. But instead of literal death, it’s just figurative ones. Heck, who am I kidding? It’s literal death as well in many cases. Easier to cover up than to fess up. Her death and what followed also set me down the path of investigative reporting and all the crookedness I’d help bring to light along the way.
But I refuse to hold grudges. I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend. He told me he didn’t hold grudges because all it did was make him unhappy. Conversely, he said his significant other held onto a grudge like Emmitt Smith toting a football. One of them was happy. The other was not.
I tell the truth. I didn’t come to fool ya.
Maybe my tune would change if I lost what was most important to me and justice eluded me. Maybe. Maybe not. Because I know there’s One who won’t let me down. And He told me vengeance was His.
And I’ve seen it written that He is a vengeful sort. Woe unto those among us who haven’t gotten right with Him, and woe unto those who haven’t made things right with those they have wronged. At least as right as we can make things in this Devil-directed world.
All that hate doesn’t keep you warm. It just burns you up.
(Josh Beavers is an award winning writer and author. He has earned more than 40 individual writing awards and is syndicated in 12 North Louisiana news journals. The Louisiana Press Association has recognized him five times for excellence in opinion writing, and he has earned numerous Best Investigative Reporting Awards and Freedom of Information Awards for exposure of governmental corruption in Webster Parish.)