In a scene where ‘The Punisher’ (Season 1) was spray-painting his signature white skull symbol on his black body armour meant to intimidate his enemies, Lieberman tells him… ‘That skull? That’s a “Memento Mori”. It’s Latin for “Remember, you will die.” In Rome, victorious generals would return from war, and so they didn’t get blinded by glory, they’d have a slave who would say, “Remember, you’re only human. You gonna die.” Well, it’s meant as an admonition to value your life, to live it well.’
He was reminding him to reflect on his mortality, that he will not always win every battle in the name of justice. And even if he does win a major battle, he will still eventually die. Memento Mori symbols are not deathwishes, but reminders to live fully instead of foolishly, to not take needless risks. Worthy risk-taking can be important though, part of noble living. The question is what risks are worthy enough – to stake life itself? While the skull intimidates, should not the wearer be suitably intimidated too?
Those who (seek to) punish with vengefulness are also punished by vengeance, having little peace of mind. This is the first kind of collateral damage. The second kind is when there are henchmen who do not seem to know any better, to be fighting on both sides, who get injured or killed, spilling grief over to their family members and friends, who might start new cycles of vengeance. The true challenge, even towards the violent then, is to not simply resort to violence. It is too easy for the angry to be trigger-happy, with too many side-effects.
When it comes to perpetrators of evil, it is not about just forgiving them, letting them go, and turning away, because this can be as good as letting them go to do more harm, turning away from this possibility. Twistedly, with their egos snubbed, some might even be vengeful for having been let go, with no sense of gratitude or remorse at all. In any case, there still has to be forgiveness, but not without compassion, to not let more evils be done, using skilful wisdom to keep them in check, getting them to right their wrongs.
As the Buddha taught in the Dhammapada’s verses 3 and 4, ‘Who bears within them enmity: “He has abused and beaten me, defeated me and plundered me”, hate is not allayed for them’, [thus leading to self-tormenting grudge-bearing and vengeance expressed that torments others]. / ‘Who bears within no enmity: “He has abused and beaten me, defeated me and plundered me”, hate is quite allayed for them’, [thus leading to peace of mind for oneself and others]. Repentant transformation must start with ourselves, before it can spill over to inspire others. When wrath really needs to be manifested to deliver a hard lesson, since hatred is a common enemy, may it truly just be a manifestation, with no real wrath within.