by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: July 1997
Summary: Sam and Al go to the symphony in this short ficlet.
"Oh, come on Al. It won't be that bad." I stood toe to toe with my lover trying desperately to get him into his suit and out the door.
Al snorted loudly and flopped back on the bed, "Aw, kid. We went to every other symphony performance this season. Can't we skip just this one?" He got a mischievous glint in his eye, "I'll give you a Calavicci special massage."
I reached out and hauled him up from the bed, straightening his tie in the process. "Al, this is a performance of the Leonard Bernstein Mass! This is a once-in-a-lifetime event!"
Al pulled one of his cigars from his coat pocket and chomped down on the end, before questioning, "And how many times have you seen this performed in your lifetime, Sam?"
*Damn. Score one for the Admiral. * I looked sheepish as I answered, "Three times. I drove all the way from Boston to Washington D.C. and spent every penny I had to see the debut performance while I was in college." I made my best puppy-dog eyes at Al as I reminisced. That did the trick.
Al sighed as he relented. "Fine. Let's go, but you owe ME a massage when we get home."
The parking tonight was horrendous. We slid into our seats only moments before the performance began. Just as the lights dimmed, I heard a groan from Al. "Aw, Sammy. There's not even an intermission in this thing!"
I reached over and squeezed his hand tightly as the music started. I realized my heart was pounding listening to the music. It had a profound effect on me the first time I heard it 30 years ago. It helped renew my soul after Tom died. In fact, I drove all night home after the concert and immediately went to the music building to practice. My former piano teacher had found me there later that morning. She was shocked and thrilled all at once because it was the first time I had touched a piano since Tom died.
I looked over the program notes in my hand even though I knew the story by heart. This group had simply chosen to reprint Bernstein's program notes for the work:
"The ritual is conducted by a young man of mysterious simplicity (called the Celebrant) who throughout the drama is invested by his acolytes with increasingly ornate robes and symbols which connote both an increase in the superficial formalism of his obligation and of the burden that he bears. There is a parallel increase in the resistance of his Congregants - in the sharpness and bitterness of their reactions - and in the deterioration of his own faith. At the climax of Communion, all ceremony breaks down and the Mass is shattered. It then remains for each individual on stage to find a new seed of faith within himself through painful meditation, enabling each individual to pass on the embrace of peace (Pax) to his neighbor. The chain of embrace grows and threads through the entire stage, ultimately with the audience and hopefully into the world outside." (L. Bernstein)
As the Mass progressed I watched the transformation in my lover; his initial indifference was replaced with interest as he watched his own relationship with the Catholic Church reflected by the actions on stage. When the Mass reached it's climax where the Celebrant breaks the cup of communion wine, I felt a violent shudder move through Al's body. Finally, the Celebrant began to sing:
Oh, I suddenly feel every step I've ever taken,
And my legs are lead
And I suddenly see every hand I've ever shaken,
And my arms are dead
I feel every psalm that I've ever sung
Turn to wormwood on my tongue.
And I wonder,
Oh, I wonder,
Was I ever really young?
As I reached to hold Al's hand, I saw the twin tracks of tears coming down his cheeks. While I was still leaping, he had explained to me his break with the church. Knowing that made it so much more meaningful when he prayed for me on the leap when I was shot by a young parishioner. I must admit that I knew that the Mass would affect him in some way. That was why I had insisted on coming. Over my years of leaping, I knew that it had been hard on Al to accept that God, Time, Fate or Whatever had effectively taken over our lives. Hell, it was hard enough for me to accept, but if I had Al's background with the church, I don't think I could have done it. I knew that now that I was home, it still bothered him. I knew that he was still having trouble reconciling the church's past failures with whatever kept me safe and eventually brought me home. When I bought the tickets to this concert, I hoped that the Mass would somehow help Al the way it had helped me 30 years ago. I hoped that the ending would give Al the same sense of renewal that allowed me to release the past and return to something I loved all those years ago.
Now, in the quiet following the climactic breaking of the communion cup, one lone boy began to sing a simple song of faith. As he sang, the feeling of faith spread throughout the cast on stage, including the disillusioned Celebrant who finished the work as simply as it began:
Almighty Father, incline thine ear:
Bless us and all those who have gathered here -
Thine angel send us -
Who shall defend us all;
And fill with grace
All who dwell in this place. Amen.
The Mass is ended; go in Peace.
The auditorium remained hushed for moments after the last sounds died away. It then erupted in applause of deafening volume. The hand that I still held squeezed mine in return. I turned to look at Al. He was smiling as warmly as he had when I arrived back in the waiting room a year ago. Without warning, he pulled me tight against him and kissed me deeply.
When he finally released me, I sputtered, "Al, we're in the front of the orchestra section here!"
He just smiled at me warmly, "It doesn't matter Sammy. I don't care if the whole world knows how much I love you. Thank you for reminding me what's really important in this world." Al pulled me into another kiss, and this time I didn't resist. And I would swear, although I know it couldn't have possibly been true, that during that moment all the applause grew louder and seemed directed towards us.