One upon a time there was a young musician – let’s call him Alex. As a teenager he became aware of another young musician – let’s call him Michael. Like Michael, Alex was a pianist and conductor, albeit a bit younger – unlike him, he was totally unknown and at an early stage of his career.
Michael became a role-model for Alex, who started going to as many of his concerts as possible and started his LP collection with many of Michael’s recordings.
Alex even played truant from school one day; brazenly walking through the Royal Albert Hall’s Artist’s Entrance, he made his way behind the stage, where Michael was rehearsing a world-famous orchestra in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. He sat behind the timpanist to watch the rehearsal (Alex was also an orchestral percussionist), and observed Michael at work.
Some months later, Michael was giving a series of televised concerto concerts, and Alex attended one of the rehearsals.
After the rehearsal, when everybody else had gone, leaving Michael practising on his own, Alex went up to him, waited for him to finish and then politely but nervously asked Michael if he could help him with a section of a concerto he was learning. Michael responded angrily, “Go away! Can’t you see I’m practising?”
Alex left the building, devastated, and in deep shock that the one he had admired and emulated had treated him this way.
Many years later, Alex decided on how he would get his revenge. Being a law-abiding citizen, working in church music, and realising there was nothing realistic he could do to get at the now highly-regarded and successful musician, he got his own back in the privacy of his home, where his hi-fi and record collection had pride of place.
One quiet evening, Alex put on a record of piano and violin music, played by Michael and a friend and colleague, and listened intently to the sonata’s first movement.
Then, mid-way through the second movement, as the two master musicians were weaving magic with Brahms’ music, it happened, mid-phrase, mid-note: he deliberately lifted the stylus arm from the rotating turntable and disc. In a moment the music was gone… for ever. “Revenge is mine – at last”.
What a shallow victory. No-one knew of it, certainly not Michael. (Besides, this kind of thing happens millions of times every day when people turn off their radios and MP3 players mid-phrase.) But the difference is that Alex had caused a deliberate rupture; the music was cut off with savage intent (even if he had too much respect for his Linn LP12 turntable to wreak damage to that!). The music died in front of him, destroyed by his own hands.
Perhaps Michael had just been stressed that day. Perhaps he was fed up with seeing Alex in the background at his concerts. Perhaps, and more likely, even though he was everything to Alex, Alex was nothing to him, and he knew nothing and cared nothing about him. Why should he?
Perhaps Alex was just an impetuous youth: immature, if enthusiastic. Perhaps, like all young people it was important that he had a role model, one he could emulate – but not idolise. Perhaps he had been “a bit of a pain”.
These days, Michael is as highly-regarded as ever. His work for peace and reconciliation between opposing nations sharing common geo-political space is an example to us all.
Alex is still unknown! But he’s discovered that whilst revenge (apparently best served cold) is satisfying in that moment, ultimately, it’s pointless, fruitless, and a waste of energy that is better used in working for positive change. And that realisation, presumably, he shares with Michael.
Brother Roger of Taizé spoke of the need for young people to be “violent for peace”: to use one’s anger at society’s injustices neither against another individual, nor against oneself, but instead to work tirelessly for justice, for change, for peace.
As I write this, and you read it, more lives are being savagely destroyed: in war, in gangland violence, in the drugs trade, in sex exploitation. The wish for vengeance is understandable; it’s natural – but utterly pointless.
“In the midst of conflict and division
it is you who who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.
“Your Spirit changes our hearts:
Enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.
“Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife,
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.
For this we should never cease to thank and praise you.”
Roman Missal, Preface, 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation
(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)
Comments welcome, as always!