The three ‘g’s — grudges, grouches and grumbles — are best avoided if we want a long and happy life. Constantly harping on old hurts or finding the proverbial fly in the ointment is a sure way of distancing other people and making oneself miserable at the same time. St Benedict’s frequent exhortation to avoid grumbling was not a matter of quietistic ‘put up and shut up’ (which could lead to the perpetration of the most hideous wrongs) but recognition of a psychological and spiritual truth. Memory and will are closely linked. A sense of grievance often has the unhappy effect of binding us in the past, in a situation we cannot change (because it is past) but which determines our present and future. It is a kind of moral blight, stunting growth.
Yesterday many people in Britain remembered the events of World War I in moving ceremonies redolent of Holy Week Tenebrae services. There was regret, penitence even; gratitude and pride; predominantly, perhaps, a poignant sense of waste — so many lives lost, and ultimately, for what? I very much doubt whether anyone used the language I occasionally heard from the lips of my grandparents’ generation about ‘the filthy Bosch’ or ‘the Hun’. Yesterday’s insults, like yesterday’s enmities, lay silent in death.
This morning, however, we must face the reality of today’s hatreds and fears. What will become of the Christians forced to flee from the Middle East, most recently from Mosul? Will the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel lead to anything like peace? Nearer home, how will the preparations for the Scottish referendum proceed? It is easy to say, let go of your grudges, forget the ancestral myths, don’t be chained by your history, real or imagined. Easy to say, but not easy to do. I take heart, however, from this fact: we may not forget the past, but we can allow it to be redeemed. What works at the individual level can work — if we are willing — at the level of peoples and nation states. If yesterday’s commemorations taught us anything, they taught us the price to be paid for human folly and malice. A grudge may seem a very little thing, but it can set the whole world on fire.