Vengeance Isn’t Mine

Vengeance Isn’t Mine March 6, 2013

Bring me a fountain pen dipped in blood! And the skin from his back for parchment on which to pen this post!

At least that’s how I felt two months ago when S.L. saw fit to call my wife one morning and lay into her for how she had handled a matter pertaining to the upcoming school auction.

The details are insignificant, only that S.L. had not been properly informed of a decision that involved a friend he had suggested for the auctioneer. But rather than express his displeasure as any rational adult and fellow school parent would, he felt justified in aggressively demanding an apology from my wife, only to bully onward after she said she was sorry and tried to explain what had happened.

Did it not occur to him that I might be home to witness the call? To see her brought to tears in the aftermath? Did it not occur to him that I might be the kind of husband who would land him in the hospital by day’s end?

My wife, who is no wilting flower (as our own disputes often attest), now had another hotheaded male on her hands when she hung up the phone.

I was out of my mind. Do I call the jerk back, I wondered, and tear into him twice as hard as he had into her, demanding an apology whose only alternative was a beat-down? Better yet, head to his apartment and say the same to his face?

Or maybe call his wife to ask if she was privy to the incident on their end. If so, how could she let her husband talk in that tone to another woman and friend?

Like I said: out of my mind.

Of course the better part of me knew the right thing to do was nothing at all—at least nothing volatile. But that didn’t stop the bitter part of me from carrying out some very volatile fantasies of retribution.

The reel of violent images behind my eyes was all the more disturbing for the fact that I’m a screenwriter. This incident was not a month after the grade school massacre in Newtown, an event that left me feeling more tainted than usual for making my living in the trigger-happy industry of Hollywood.

But as I slipped into a sickening vortex of my own making, I experienced viscerally what at times I only recognize intellectually: custodialism of the culture is all fine and good, and essential in my opinion, but the real problem lies in the monolithic human heart beside which all the theater screens in the world shrink in comparison.

What would I do when I ran into S.L. in the neighborhood? And when would it happen?

Would it be days, weeks, even months before the rubber met the road—perhaps his face with it—would the Christian meet the barbarian in my divided self?

It happened the next day, as it turned out, and in a manner that practically felt choreographed to subvert my anticipatory temper:

Running late with my daughters to school, I was caught up in conversation with a friend as we walked down the sidewalk to the entrance. Only at the last the moment did I notice S.L. checking his cellphone as he passed me walking the other direction.

I kissed my daughters goodbye, then stood there looking down the street as a very short film titled “Smackberry” played across my mind. In it I see S.L. in advance, walking toward me, knowing that he made a call only because he saw me coming. As we pass each other I smack the Blackberry from his hand and ram him up against the bus outside the school. “Next time, pick on your own gender, you….” I release a string of expletives.

I walked halfway back down the street, then thought better of it. But this didn’t stop me from hosting a veritable festival of such films the rest of that day and into the night.

Then I called my older brother and he did the most amazing thing: he prayed for me. Right there on the phone, in such a sympathetic yet transcendent manner that I found myself crying for reasons I didn’t fully understand.

Such was the burden of the sins of the father that—short of crushing me—when it lifted I broke.

Stories of Dad sticking up for his family are legend: countless school fights on behalf of his mentally handicapped brother… the time he cold-cocked a drunken fan at a Rangers game who turned his profanity on them when asked to watch his language in front of my brother… the time he knocked out Mr. Schaeffer in his front yard for harassing me and my siblings when we were playing after school.

Perhaps not model behavior, but good luck turning the other cheek if you grew up in an abusive, alcoholic Irish-Catholic household where the preferred rod of punishment was a coat hanger. I can only imagine what the rod used on his father was back in County Cork.

So to hear my older brother—who, unlike me, had once been a true pugilist perhaps due in part to his earlier slot in the birth order—speak to the spirit of not only letting go, but even praying for S.L. and his own blocked contrition, hit me with a softness no less impactful than any of the imaginary blows I had inflicted on S.L.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Is there any more radical verse in the Scriptures than this? Surely a close second would be Jesus’s silence before Pontius Pilate.

How did he do it? How did he keep quiet?

The auction is next week. I would do well to make a Lenten bid for the One who was oppressed and afflicted, who like a sheep before its shearers, opened not his mouth.

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