A Christian Lesson in Interpersonal Relationships
A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.
(Sir Francis Bacon)
My parents wanted me to go to Catholic High School but I fought the idea, fluoride tooth and nail. I argued that the experience of a permanent Catholic presence did not do a great deal to broaden my cousin Skippy’s horizons. More furtively, I also knew by this time that I liked the company of girls and did not look forward to the idea of being separated from the opposite gender for the next four years.
They finally capitulated, but with the compromise stipulation that I had to go Catechetical Instruction for the duration of my High School years. Classes were held every Wednesday night in the basement of the old church on top of the hill close to the lover’s lane aerators where less than saintly nocturnal activities were taking place.
I have yet to be in a church basement of any denomination that is any different from the one in that little church. They all have dingy low wattage light bulbs, greasy unwashed window sashes, an eerie smell that crosses between old incense mixed with permanent dust and mildew, bulletin boards full of hopelessly outdated notices or pamphlets, and the depressing atmosphere that accompanies folding chairs tucked under bare topped card tables. It all reeks of second-class poverty.
One would think any and every Catholic Church could afford some decent furniture for its extra curricular activities, or if not, it could at least devote one or two of their many “special collections” to the cause of refurbishment.
The Jesuit or Franciscan Brothers taught all the Catechetical instruction, with the classes lasting about one and a half hours. To me this was just an extension of the incomprehensible information I attempted to learn when I failed First Communion classes or was equally just a hodge-podge of brainwashing misinformation and poor allegories that defied common sense and scientific principle.
However at one point the Parrish Rector decided it would be a good idea to have a few lectures given by the laity. He thought that people from ordinary walks of life who were parents of the children in the class could come in from time to time and teach the class some aspect of Christian Doctrine that in some way was tethered to and present in ordinary lives or day-to-day work.
The first dad who came gave a rather beatific accounting of the Christian way to be a good mailman while another father came to relate stories about the Catholic approach to being a good banker. His shtick was to treat employees with dignity and respect, although the subject of softening up mortgage rates for the common folk was never broached.
I thought about asking my father to come, but could not think of one single Christian aspect about drilling teeth, pulling out molars, fitting bridges or tightening braces, and so just let him off that hook.
Then about one month later another dad came to give his lecture, which he said would teach everyone about controlling anger. A slim but relatively short man, he wore a double breasted suit with a slick shiny silk tie, sported a Clark gable mustache, carried a fedora style hat into the church and notably had a couple of cigars sticking up in the front breast pocket of his suit.
He worked as a contract estimator for a local cement mixing company, whose Italian boss, rumored to have had mob ties, seemed to have incurred particular favor from the Parrish priests. This included having the first row of pews reserved for him and his family at the ten o’clock Sunday mass.
The little man proceeded to tell us a fabled story about a cohort he worked with named Angelo “Squeaky” Manero. The nickname Squeaky derived from the fact that Angelo looked and sounded just like a little rat. But even though Squeaky was small he harbored a really bad, largely uncontrollable temper, which made many, many people very, very afraid of him.
The first example he gave was when a bus driver inadvertently left Squeaky off at the wrong stop. So after the next time he got on the bus, Squeaky poured hot grease on the poor man.
The audience was queried:
- Now does that sound right?”
To which the peanut gallery replied:
This was followed by:
- You’re right. Squeaky didn’t have to hurt him. All he had to do was pack some clay into the exhaust pipe of the bus after work so it would blow the engine up when the driver turned it on the next day.
Then he told us how a man once owed Squeaky money. When he finally tracked the man down Squeaky spit in his face, then kicked him in the groin.
- Now is that the right thing to do?
And once again the chorus was in the resounding negative.
- Right. All Squeaky really had to do was go to the man’s house, cut his car tires with a knife, then also cut the wires to the engine’s distributor cap.
It went on and on to the point that it began to take on the character of a children’s revival meeting, as the class became enamored by the stories along with the numerous alternative methods of exacting revenge.
The saga ended with Squeaky becoming almost uncontrollable to the point that the slightest perceived insult so unpredictably setting him off, even his friends said they did not want to work with him anymore.
- Poor Squeaky; there he was just angry all the time, at every one and everything, and now pathetically alone without any pals. Then one day after a confrontation in which he tried to jab another guy in the neck with an ice pick, with no friends around to help him, the other man quickly pulled out a gun and shot Squeaky dead right on the spot.
The raconteur then told us that in all these situations Squeaky could have easily gotten back at any of the other people who crossed him if he had only kept his confrontational anger under control, then carried out indirect but appropriately vengeful acts which were not physically violent but still sent a clear message to the perpetrator.
No one would have known who had done these things, revenge would have been exacted, Squeaky would still be alive today, and he would still have all of his friends.
The moral of the story, this dad told the group, is to make sure that when you get mad, just be sure to control your temper. Don’t be confrontational, don’t physically harm anyone, then wait until some other time when the offenders are completely off guard to find another way to get back at each and every person who has ever crossed you up in life.
After this lecture, the incredulously negative feedback to the Rectory from the parents of the children in the Catechism class ended the experiment in laity lectures; without further comment from the pulpit.
The First and Second Commandments of Organized Crime
Don’t get mad. just get even
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
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