almost four years ago i wrote a post titled mercy. it is long and rambling, and one would think i'd gotten all my thoughts on the subject out. but the word and the idea have been coming back around lately. mainly this is joe henry's fault for continuing to use it in his songs -- it comes up in "you can't fail me now," which he gave to loudon wainwright III for strange weirdos but then also recorded for his excellent new album, civilians, which i neglected to mention i wrote about in last week's citybeat. (told you i was behind.) that was the annual REAL BEST issue, the usual offbeat collection of observations and reportage that somehow turns out to be a good read. (my favorite was kirk silsbee's rumination on how many west coast jazz greats went to jefferson high. my own contribution was a column on the rewards of looking up.)
last time mercy came up, i blamed elvis costello. so this time joe can be the catalyst. b/c it also comes up in "god only knows" (not the beach boys tune), the last song on the album, which i think is unutterably bleak, but some might disagree.
during the interview i grilled joe on this point of mercy, and the following ensued:
ME: what’s up with mercy? is it a thing?
JOE HENRY: uh, it is a thing. it’s a dedication; it’s a life discipline.
ME: it’s hard to come by.
JH: yeah. mercy is like forgiveness. it’s something that, if you embrace it, it’s completely liberating. you’re offering it to somebody else, you’ve just given it to yourself, y'know? you’ve just liberated yourself from a world of hurt and baggage.
and i think that exactly what we don’t exercise as a nation right now, to just talk about it in that context [as we had been discussing the state of the nation], is mercy. which incorporates forgiveness and empathy for, not only anybody else, but for everybody else. you can't just have a little bit of it. if you’re going to dedicate yourself to that notion, you have to do it across the board. you can't practice selective mercy.
what really kills me is that, what i was pondering four fucking years ago, we won't be laying aside any time soon.