Redemption is a difficult idea for many people to grasp and accept. The idea is that no matter what we have done in the past, we can live productively in the future. This may not sit well with someone whose life has been turned upside-down by violent or thoughtless behavior.
In 1969, Senator Edward M. Kennedy drove his car off a bridge, causing the death of a young woman passenger. He did not report the incident for many hours. This behavior was heinous, reprehensible and cowardly. As the surviving heir to America’s pre-eminent political dynasty, Kennedy faced calls for his resignation; in fact he posed that question to his constituents. He remained in office and in the United States Senate for forty more years. Despite facing other personal challenges during those years, including alcohol, he became one of the most respected senators in American history, noted for his hard work, persistence and ability to forge compromise despite what many saw as a controversial ideology.
Redemption depends on forgiveness, by the self more than by others. You may protest: “I can never undo the damage I’ve done. What right have I to forgive myself?” What right have you not to? You have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Whatever you have done wrong does not prevent you from doing right in the future.
Whatever we have done – whether large or small, reprehensible or merely silly – we can still accomplish great things and live a life of generous service to others if we overcome the inclination to be bound by shame and guilt, and treat each day – each moment – as an opportunity to do something worthwhile. The good news about redemption is that it is mainly up to us.
- Peter S. Canellos, Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (Simon & Schuster, 2009).
- Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010). [Foner tells how Lincoln overcame a racist past to become the Great Emancipator.]
- Ginger Gaffney, Half Broke: A Memoir (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020): “What she finds on the ranch is a group of damaged people and a group of damaged horses. The book documents a year and a half of finding deep connection and even communion with both.”
- Neil Gabler, Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975 (Crown, 2020): “Over the course of five decades, Ted Kennedy had sponsored nearly 700 bills that became law, and left his imprint on scores of others.”
- Molly Shannon, Hello, Molly!:A Memoir (Ecco, 2022): “Parts are as plain and strong as Hemingway, with some internal monologues that are downright Joycean. Really. It’s very sad and very, very funny. Redemptive and uplifting and all those corny words.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (Riverhead Books, 2003).
- Dinaw Mengestu, How to Read the Air (Riverhead Books, 2010).
- Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel (Ecco, 2011), about a sex offender released from prison and struggling to integrate into society.
- Jonathan Evison, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (Algonquin Books, 2012), revealing “a yearning, damaged, struggling Ben Benjamin, father now to no one but beloved by all who find themselves in his care.”
- Mesha Maren, Sugar Run: A Novel (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019): “‘Sugar Run’ explores place, connection and redemption in the face of the justice system and the struggle to avoid destructive choices. The book begins with the protagonist Jodi’s release from prison after having served 18 years — more than half her life — for a murder . . . ”
N.K. Jemisin, Broken Earth Trilogy:
- N.K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky: A Novel (Orbit, 2017): “Like all good stories in this genre — like N. K. Jemisin’s extraordinary Broken Earth trilogy of slavery, revolution, destruction and redemption, for instance, which concludes with her new novel, ‘The Stone Sky’ — the story of how epic fantasy and the adjacent realm of science fiction were transformed is a long one.”
- N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate: A Novel (Orbit, 2016): “Jemisin’s depictions of mob behavior are frighteningly realistic. And she offers a perceptive and painful portrayal of two different kinds of abusive relationships between parent and child. She also generates huge amounts of nuanced sympathy for some (but not all) of the characters driven to do truly dreadful things, often accidentally, to save themselves and the ones they love.”
- N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season: A Novel (Orbit, 2015): “ . . . Jemisin’s intricate and extraordinary world-building starts with oppression: Her universes begin by asking who is oppressing whom, what they are gaining, what they fear.”
Film and Stage
- Paris, Texas, about a moody characterwho has made every relationship calamitous but then heroically does what is best for his son and ex-wife; it is a film about “loss and loneliness and eccentricity”
- The Kite Runner: a man returns to his native Afghanistan, which has fallen to the Taliban, to rescue the person he betrayedas a child, then left behind
- Tender Mercies, abouta fallen country singer who foregoes a second chance at his career to stay with his family
- The Fighter: a boxerovercomes a losing streak and a dysfunctional family, while his brother – a former boxer – overcomes his drug habit
- The Shawshank Redemption: a prisoner wrongfully convictedinspires another prisoner to reclaim his life
- Abhijan(The Expedition), in which a taxi driver immerses himself in drugs and crime but then rescues one of his victims
- Drunken Angel, aboutpersonal redemption
- The Fisher King, anothertale of redemption
- Secret Honor: was Nixon’s resignation a patriotic act?That is the film’s premise; we do not need to agree with it to get the point.
- The Verdict: an alcoholic attorney, by chance on the side of justice, wins a big case and salvages his self-esteem
- Pedro Brull, The Redemption Accordin Dali
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Puccini, La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West): a kind-hearted woman, friend to all, redeems a thief (performances conducted by Welser-Möst, Sinopoli and Capuano).
- Franck, Rédemption (1871, rev. 1874)
- Finzi, Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra, Op. 31 (1949)
- Verdi, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata (The Lombards on the First Crusade) (1843), falls a bit short of humanistic ideals but at least Pagano, who has murdered his father while trying to murder his brother, repents in the moments before his death (performances conducted by Callegari, Morandi and Mariotti).
- Thomas, Mignon (1866) is a redemption allegory (performance conducted by Deneve).
- Raga Shyamshree (Shyamshri – Shyam Shri – Shyam Shree) (performances by Amjad Ali Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, and Amjad Ali Khan)
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.