An Adagio Rising from the Rubble of War
Are you weary and battered today? Are you discouraged by the violence all around?
I know it's painful to see what men do to men, so I want to tell you a story about one of my heroes. I hope it will lift your hearts and give you some direction during these troubled times.
His name is Vedran Smajlović.
Smajlović is a cellist from Bosnia and Herzegovina who played in the Sarajevo String Quartet, the Sarajevo Opera, the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra , The Symphony Orchestra RTV Sarajevo, and the National Theatre of Sarajevo.
But on May 28, 1992, he didn’t play in any of those places.
On May 28, Smalljovic carried a little stool and his cello to a crater in Sarajevo where 22 people had died the day before, and he began to play Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor.
Smajlović played into the heart of the Bosnian war, a brutal conflict between racial factions that took place between 1992-1995. Before this war would end, 100,000 people would die and 2.2 million people would be displaced. Between 12,000-20,000 women were raped. It was the most traumatic conflict Europe would face since WWII.
On the day before May 28, 1992, a long line of civilians was waiting for food in front of one of the few bakeries that was still working in Sarajevo. In the midst of these innocent people, a mortar shell fell. The scene was gruesome.
Smajlović lived nearby, and he rushed to the scene to do what he could to help those in need. But he was moved to do more -- to speak to the souls filling with violence in his town.
So the next day, he stepped into the street and played the Adagio. It was a dangerous thing to do, but he played anyway, and as beauty began to seep into the rubble, a crowd gathered to listen. Men and women found him when he was finished, wanting to thank him because the beauty he was risking himself to give reminded them to step away from animal hatred and savagery. It gave them sobriety and hope.
For the next 22 days, one day for each person killed in Sarajevo, Smajlović returned to that spot. He played despite sniper fire and mortars falling.
Then he traveled to other sites where the people of Sarajevo had been killed by war. He played into the blood stains of the streets. He played at graveyards. He played though he could have been killed playing.
Once a reporter asked him if it wasn’t crazy to try to play cello unprotected in the open air during a violent war. He responded, “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello, why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”
I think this is a good story to remember in volatile times.
Certainly, we may have hard truths that we need to speak in wisdom and love to our opponents. There may also be a time and a place to take up arms.
Sometimes wars must be fought.
But there are also times when chaos reigns, when men are killing men without rhyme or reason -- and in that sort of chaos, how mighty is that man who carries a cello out into a street full of snipers for the sake of humanity. For in seasons of discord and hate, a single musician offering an Adagio might heal what armies upon armies of soldiers cannot.