I was but a junior in high school when I first encountered you in the pages of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic, Les Misérables. Since then I have revisited you in those pages no less than six times and paid visits to you countless times on the big screen as well as the small screen (sadly, I have always managed to miss you on the stage, however). So, when I discovered that you had returned to town, I couldn’t wait to reaquaint myself with you. And, once again, I found myself leaving your company feeling conflicted, confused… and angry.
I have never found it difficult to understand why you walk such a straight line and why you refuse to lean, even ever-so-slightly in the direction of wrong. A child born to a prostitute in prison, you were condemned to a life of misery from the very beginning. What you have overcome in your life is amazing and for that you must be commended. When the world was ready to throw you away, you struggled and climbed out of that gutter and emerged as a proud man, able to stand tall and to command respect everywhere you went. The law became a path to righteousness for you. It was your list of dos and don’ts, that if followed with the unwavering determination of a Pharisee, would lead you to your salvation.
I know you might find this hard to believe, but the world I live in is not so different from the world you lived in. In my world, there are innocent children born in prisons and treated with contempt throughout their lives. There are men who stand in long lines, waiting for handouts which amount to little more than scraps. There are women who stand at the grocery store, with a line of judgmental souls behind them, condemning them for their purchases because they are paying with food stamps. And there are men who have no other way to secure bread for their family than to steal it.
I know many people who are very much like you, Javert. I think that is the reason why my heart goes out to you every time I encounter you. I know people who struggle from day-to-day and know enough to be outraged, but go to the polls and vote for the very people who would as soon spit on them as to help them. I know people who struggle to survive, who scratch and claw their way to a new day, and who would readily condemn all the others who are still in the place they worked so hard to escape. I know countless Javerts, and I love them all. They are close friends and they are relatives… and they are worthy of my love and compassion.
So… you may be wondering why I leave your company filled with anger when you remind me of so many people whom I hold dear. I can tell you , my friend, that the anger stems from the fact that you were wrong.
You, a man who failed to show mercy even in the most pitiable circumstances, was the repeated recipient of mercy time and time again. When you sought only to condemn Jean Valjean, he showed you compassion. And no matter how many times you witnessed the love that flowed from that man’s heart, you never seemed to see the good that it had done in this world, or how the world was a better place for it. All Jean Valjean ever was to you was a criminal.
And when the day finally came that your ice-cold, stony soul was pierced by mercy, you still couldn’t accept it. You were like the Grinch, standing at the top of Mount Crumpit, seeing the world in all its beauty for the first time and your heart grew three sizes. But that is where any similarity to the Grinch ends. Instead of becoming a part of that beautiful world you were seeing, you lamented it.
You said that this world must be the world of Valjean or the world of Javert… that it could not be both. And that is where you were wrong.
Valjean seemed to understand that this world needed you in it. Without law and order our society would descend into chaos. Without rules and laws to govern us, the worst of our society would prey with malice upon the rest. You are a source of stability which we all need.
But if we follow our laws without the sort of mercy Valjean offered, we run the risk of allowing our laws to become oppressive. Suddenly they would no longer protect our society, but crush a large portion of it. Anyone that does not appear as the law envisions would be suffocated under the weight of endless judgement.
The world must be one of both Javert and Valjean. We need you both. We want you both. But you could not accept that what wasn’t modeled after you was just as acceptable and just as necessary to a healthy world of justice. Because you could not have the world to yourself, you rejected it all together, unwilling to share it, or to share in it. You assumed that if there was room for mercy and love, there was no room for law and order. And if there was room for law and order, there was no room for mercy and love.
My dear Javert, you were wrong.
You threw your life away for nothing. That is why I am angry.
Your Good Friend,