For the past few days I haven't been able to get Taylor Swift's "Innocent" out of my head. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, Swift wrote it for Kanye West, who once jumped onto the VMA stage, took the mic out of her hand, and announced that she shouldn't have won her VMA (and that Beyonce should have). The universal response was that Kanye was way out of line (a running theme when it comes to him), so that much was never in doubt. But it had the intended effect: it brought into question whether she deserved it, and it embarrassed her. Conventional thinking in the world of show biz is that that's a catastrophe.
But Swift decided that it didn't necessarily have to be. She responded graciously and then wrote a song about it, in which she declares him still "an innocent." The lyrics to that song are striking ("you left yourself on your warpath," for instance), and the melody is nothing short of dark and gorgeous.
I guess you really did it this time
Left yourself on your warpath
Lost your balance on a tight rope
Lost your mind tryin' to get it back...
Did some things you can't speak of
But at night you live it all again
You wouldn't be shattered on the floor now
If only you had seen what you know now then.
Wasn't it easier in your firefly catchin' days,
When everything out of reach, someone bigger brought down to you?
Wasn't it beautiful runnin' wild 'til you fell asleep,
Before the monsters caught up to you?...
Lost your balance on a tight rope
It's never too late to get it back.
That would be easy to explain, then, why I haven't been able to get it out of my head: it has a familiar back story, a good melody and poignant lyrics. But I think it's more than that. I think it's the message she sends. As I've said before, when someone "wrongs" us we have the option to allow it to affect us or to choose not to grant them the power to derail us. She clearly understands that and, as it pertains to her character, has learned to make lemonade out of lemons. She seems to grasp that, as Laura Munson says in This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, there is suffering in taking sides, because there is suffering in self-righteousness. Her public display of gratitude and humility makes her #36 in this process to learn to exhibit those attributes.
But, amazingly, the draw of "Innocent" goes beyond that. It's not just that she forgives him; it's that she encourages him ("who you are is not where you've been"). And that's because she has hope for him. Not just him in particular, either; she believes in the general power of redemption. As such, there's an eternal hope that she leaves unmentioned: that, despite our pasts, we can always become better people. We can choose forgiveness rather than anger. We can choose optimism rather than cynicism. And we can choose hope rather than fear. That's a powerful message, and it's one that I don't think everyone accepts.
For all it is, it isn't a message of unwarranted optimism (i.e. domestic abusers will not become less violent magically) or codependence, however; rather, as always, it is a message about taking responsibility for our own happiness. Just as we aren't defined by the negative things we've done in the past, we are not victims of emotional wounds at present, either, unless we choose that. In other words, as MLK, Jr., said, while we have to accept temporary disappointment, we don't have to choose permanent disillusionment. In fact, we must accept temporary defeat on occasion, so as not to be in denial or to waste energy trying to change outcomes that we are in no control of. But we must never accept that the defeat and the disappointment will last indefinitely; we must have hope that something better is in store.
And, so, someone else naturally comes to mind when I contemplate this idea of accepting temporary disappointment while fostering a heart of hope: Nelson Mandela (#37). Like MLK, Jr. (#38) -- who continued his campaign for civil rights despite frequent setbacks, heated opposition and death threats, Nelson Mandela did not cultivate a heart of resentment -- despite spending 27 years in prison. He got out and set about leading his country toward meaningful democracy, as well as national and multiracial healing.
May you draw inspiration from these figures who are so different but so alike in their firmly-held believe in the power of hope. I have.