There is no shortest path from pain. There is no story to be told outside flashes of fractured remnants. Every time I tell myself a story, it is a differend seeking justice, but justice is impossible when our only proof is memory.
If only there were something less subjective we could use when pleading our case in front of the tribunal, but even the tribunal exists in our own minds. We seek justice for our own sakes; we’d kill for closure the second we had the chance. Maybe not kill, but someone must be punished, and it’s never ourselves.
This impulse terrifies me when I feel it creeping into consciousness, that I would hurt somebody for my own closure. That my tribunal would never find me guilty of the most serious crimes, at least as a first impulse. It takes years of reflection to admit our own guilt when we cause our own pain. I’ve projected it onto every possible partner. Perhaps projection is its own type of differend.
On the one hand, I blame myself for everything that doesn’t matter. On the other, I’m an “old soul” who was raised believing in his own peculiar maturity, so that when I am immature and it causes me harm, I’m the last one I’d ever blame. Because I’m “too self-aware” to ever be ignorant to the ways I abuse myself.
The memory is easily warped; the story transforms every time I change the villain. There is no shortest path from pain because a path implies a narrative, which if based in memory could never be cogitable. What logic could we follow? But it’s all we have, and this keeps me up at night.
This was going to be a poem reflecting on the non-linearity of accounts of trauma, but then I realized most of the serious pain I’ve experienced in my life was exacerbated by my inability to see the ways in which I was culpable for whatever happened.
Is there such thing as self-traumatization? There is such thing as framing a minor infraction as trauma because of our own inflated response, creating a tribunal for what could have amounted to an inconvenience at worst, and maybe the creation of a tribunal itself puts whatever happened into the genre of trauma.
But not all trauma requires a tribunal, and this is the mistake we often make: that somebody must always be blamed. Discerning when a tribunal is and isn’t necessary is hard work in and of itself. It requires moving past the rush of imposing justice where justice shouldn’t be part of the conversation.
Justice means that whoever is at fault will be punished, or at least I can vouch that many Americans view it this way. But when we ourselves are at fault for our pain, or the trauma is due to circumstances out of anyone’s control, a tribunal won’t do anything except confuse the situation for something it isn’t.
We jump too quickly to form a tribunal. We jump too quickly to place blame. It’s easier than self-reflection and easier than admitting some things are out of anyone’s control, which has its own terrifying implications.
Justice isn’t impossible, but I wonder what role forgiveness plays in this and whether it has any secular value. Coming from a Christian background, forgiveness feels like the solution. It could dissolve the tribunal as justice is no longer what’s at stake because forgiveness absolves sins to the extent we can do so.
But as somebody who is questioning their Christian identity, I wonder if that impulse is imbuing me with unwarranted guilt when I feel like I can’t forgive. Sometimes because there’s nobody to forgive, sometimes because I don’t want to forgive them. Is this selfish? Is this sinful? What kind of metric is sin when it is no longer part of the vocabulary? Could it ever not be for somebody like me who has played that language game for so long?
I’m asking more questions than I’m answering, but that’s something I resolve to do this year: philosophize more frequently and be vulnerable in sharing what I’m thinking about. Right now, I’m thinking about trauma, culpability, justice, and forgiveness. They all relate, but I’m still figuring out the specifics of how they do. I invite you to think with me.