In tenth grade, I took Shakespeare Class for a semester. We commenced reading “Romeo and Juliet”, which was okay. Not particularly my favorite. Going into the class, I knew that iambic pentameter prose could be my demise. Yet, I endured. We read “Twelfth Night” which was a lot better than the famous star-crossed love story. Then we read “The Merchant of Venice”. That began my lifelong love for Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare wrote “The Merchant of Venice” as comedy. Yet, as we took turns reading out loud in class, new relevance arose, at least for me. With Mr. Proctor as our guide, we looked at the themes of prejudice and racism in “The Merchant of Venice”. In this case study, anti-Semitism. The famous villain of the play is Jewish merchant Shylock, who demanded his famous “pound of flesh”.
Looking closely at “The Merchant of Venice”, it occurred as more tragedy than comedy. There didn’t seem much about the play that was outright funny. Just saying. Perhaps, Shylock was not indeed the villain, rather the victim of hatred and discrimination for being a Jew. At one point in class, even Mr. Proctor reminded us, “It’s supposed to be a comedy.” Well, life can be both funny and tragically sad, concurrently.
In “The Merchant of Venice” Shakespeare wrote:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
Those words echoed with me for many years. Only later would I get its deeper relevance.
Growing up the way I did at home, fearing my dad as a kid, and being even unkinder to myself, I suffered. I was smart enough to at least fake my way through. I kept my ‘ball of anger’ deep within me in check, as best I could. That wasn’t nearly enough. I wasn’t enough, at least through my own lens.
Fortunately, I met Sensei and he taught me Aikido. Sensei also became a father to me, for which I’m so grateful. Aikido was hard physical training. Sensei wasn’t one for teaching straight-up philosophy. His saying was “Just train.” He believed and followed the teaching of O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba. Really, Sensei wanted me to train my body and mind, so that the philosophy, the Way would reveal itself to me. And it did.
O-Sensei famously said, “True victory is victory over oneself.” I finally got that for years, since I was 8 years old, I was my greatest enemy. I could do no right by me. I would never be enough. Working with my therapist Lance I discovered that disparaging voice in my head was really my Dad’s. I could create a new voice for me. “I’m okay.”
I got the meaning of O-Sensei’s words: Have mercy for myself. I forgive myself for my frailty, for just being human. I embrace the beauty of my imperfection – Wabi-sabi. Like my spiritual Twin Dolph Lundgren, I got: I have to love me. Be merciful to others, and especially to me. The “quality of mercy” is “twice blessed” by both giving and receiving mercy.
The Art of Mercy is always relevant. It’s what makes love possible in the world. Mercy is timelessly meaningful. Relevance is in its timelessness. Relevance speaks resonant values like when O-Sensei said, “The way of the warrior is to give life to all things…” or when Shakespeare said, “The quality of mercy is not strained…”
We create relevance in our Art, in our lives. We’re the ones, who make our lives meaningful. Just saying.