Sunday’s Wisdom #103: On Personal Retribution

“Nothing I have done since turning against the Goa’uld will make up for the atrocities I once committed in their name. Somewhere deep inside you, you knew it was wrong. A voice you did not recognize screamed for you to stop. You saw no way out. It was the way thing were. They could not be changed. You tried to convince yourself, the people you were hurting deserved it. You became numb to their pain and suffering. You learned to shut out the voice speaking against it.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“Indeed, there is.”

“I chose to ignore it.”

“Yet you sit here now.”

“I sit here. And I cannot imagine the day where I will forgive myself.”

“Because it will never come. One day, others may try to convince you that they have forgiven you. That is more about them than you. For them, imparting forgiveness is a blessing.”

“How do you go on?”

“It is simple: you will never forgive yourself. Accept it. You hurt others. Many others. That cannot be undone. You will never find personal retribution. But your life does not have to end. That which is right, just, and true can still prevail. If you do not fight for what you believe in, all may be lost for everyone else. But do not fight for yourself. Fight for others, others that may be saved through your effort. That is the least you can do.”

– Teal’c and Tommen, Stargate: The Ark of Truth

Apologies for the length of this quote, but this may be my single most favorite scene in the entire Stargate franchise, and almost impossible to cut up without losing something significant. Brilliant writing, that.

Teal’c was once the general, or First Prime, of an evil, murderous tyrant, a being that pretended to be a god, and that tyrant was but one among many, many, many. He did reprehensible things at his master’s order. True, he did what he could to stem the suffering, but he still had rivers of blood on his hands. He hurt people.

Then he met some people from Earth, some American soldiers, and saw that they were strong, that they knew the taste of freedom. One of them, Colonel Jack O’Neill, saw him too, and saw in him a desire to break his chains, to protect instead of destroy the innocent. At a critical moment, Jack called out to Teal’c for help, and Teal’c answered. He turned on his former masters and joined the people of Earth in their war against the false gods of the galaxy.

Nearly a decade later, they stand triumphant, having freed an interstellar civilization and built new government in its place. But for all that, Teal’c remains haunted by his bloodstained past.

Now a new set of false gods, who can do a much stronger impersonation, have come from another galaxy altogether, sending their servants to conquer and convert by the sword. They, too, have their armies, and their generals, among them, Tommen. Tommen was a good man, a man who asked questions and did what he could to limit suffering and show mercy, but still a man who did terrible things. When his eyes and that of his soldiers were opened to the truth of their gods being false, Tommen, too, turned and fought against them.

It is only natural for Teal’c to see much of himself in Tommen. Tommen stands at the beginning of a path that Teal’c has walked for a lifetime, and it is a most difficult road, with a heavy burden on his shoulders. So… he imparts the wisdom he has gained from experience, condensed into about two minutes of conversation, and Tommen listens with all his soul. He has a long road ahead of him, and Teal’c helps him find the strength to walk it.

There is only one thing I would add, or change: I do believe one can find personal retribution for past evils. It may not come from us, or from those who forgive us, but it can come. We may never forget what we have done, but in time, peace may yet be given to us.

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