Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 9, 2012

Lion and the Lamb: Music in the middle of rubble

By William W. McDermet III
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — We live in a difficult, destructive, discouraging time. We have enough "natural" problems with forest fires and tornadoes without having to endure the horrible senseless numbers of deaths by bullets and bombs.

Amidst our agony are there any examples of hope?  I have one for your reflection.

It is hard to imagine a bleaker place than Bosnia in 1992. Ethnic tensions, centuries old, had flared again.  Protestant Serbs, Orthodox Croats, and Sunni Muslims battled for political control. Detention camps specializing in torture arose everywhere as each group tried to contain the others. Neighborhoods that had been integrated for years became ground zero for ethnic cleansing. A history of bitterness long thought gone raged again. It was a bloody, seemingly hopeless, time.  

Vedran Smailovic was a Bosinian born in 1956 in Sarajevo. He became a professional cellist who played in the Sarajevo Opera Theater. Describing 1992 and that period of war, Smailovic said Sarajevo was "the capital of hell." The Opera Theater was in ruins. The economy was in shambles. The prospect of ever reuniting the country dwindled day by day.

Then, at four in the afternoon on May 22, 1992, a long line of starving people were shelled as they waited in front of the only bakery left in Sarajevo. Twenty-two people died.

The next day, as more hungry people lined up again to beg for bread, Vedran Smailovic, dressed in the black suit and tie in which he had played every night until the Opera Theater was incinerated, arrived carrying his cello and a chair.

Smailovic sat down in the middle of the rubble and, surrounded by the debris of war, the stench of death and the despair of those still living, he began to play Albinoni's "Adagio." And, no matter rhe continuing danger, he came back to the same place for 21 days after that to do the same thing, to honor each life that had been lost in the bakery line.

Today there is, in the spot where Smailiovic sat, a monunument of a man in a chair playing a cello.  The monument is to his refusal to surrender to evil.  It is to the hope that  beauty and joy can rise up and be reborn in the midst of a living hell.  It is about being open to the God of surprising newness.  It is about living the resurrection in our time.

• • •

This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.