Random Thoughts on Ireland

Being immersed in another country’s culture, even briefly, is a palate-cleanser for the soul.

The Irish pronounce the “th” sound like a hard “t” making for an interesting pronunciation of “King George the Third.”

Driving a 50-passenger bus along one-lane roads overlooking a precipitous drop-off into the sea is not for the faint of heart.

Even in Ireland, Domino’s delivers when there is no food available anywhere near the hotel, and the choir is starving after a concert.

Standing inside a simple stone hut built for worship thirteen hundred years ago is as awe-inspiring as being inside the most ornate cathedral, perhaps even more so. Singing The Lord Bless You and Keep You inside that hut is sublime.

Multi-generational traveling is a good thing. We all learn from each other.

There are So.Many.Rocks including rock-fences that literally climb up the side of mountains. (How did they do that?)

The air feels cleaner, the food tastes better, and even tourist places offer fresh salads and wonderful soups. And the bread…there is nothing like hearty, dense-textured Irish bread slathered with real butter.

Ireland is ahead of us on addressing climate change. Power-generating windmills are everywhere.

Do not miss the Jameson’s tour in Dublin. Take home the “Crested” version because it’s not available here.

Businesses providing “dinner and a show” (consisting of cheesy Irish songs blasted at an ear-shattering level) to a room filled with too many tourists packed in too small a space should be banned during Covid and perhaps, permanently.

The Irish people are warm and gracious and know how to brew a good cup of tea.

The scenery, especially along the west coast is stunning, and unlike anything we have in this country.

Palm trees grow in Ireland, and it rarely snows, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream.

Religion has been both a blessing and curse, but I suppose that’s true everywhere.

The Irish have the best expressions—“brilliant,” “well-done,” and “giving out a stink.” (yelling at someone or complaining about something.)

There are delightful waitresses who look and sound exactly like Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey—“Would yourself like some more tea?”

Do not eat the round black objects offered on breakfast buffets. Do not eat anything containing the words blood and pudding.

Covid is not over. Repeat, Covid is not over.

For fellow Stranger Things fans, today’s airports probably contain a portal to the Upside Down. On second thought, they may actually be in the Upside Down.

Choral music is an international language of love and beauty, and we need it now, more than ever.

Travel makes us better humans.  

 

Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is a little different for us this year. We’re on day four of our Covid isolation. No dragging the chairs out of the basement for the long-awaited first trip to the outdoor pool. No picnic for friends and family. My husband will not leave early tomorrow morning for a parade and solemn cemetery performance with his drum corps. Instead, there were frantic phone calls and emails yesterday to plan parade logistics, since several leaders of the corps are also Covid positive.

It’s not so bad, really. Thanks to the miracle of vaccines, our symptoms are mild, almost non-existent. The downside is that it’s so easy to shrug off a sneeze or two or a slightly hoarse voice. We were business as usual until those two lines showed up on the test I took almost as an after-thought on Thursday morning. And then there’s the guilt—contacting the hairstylist and the choir director and the other people we may have unknowingly infected. My friends in the medical profession tell me Covid’s like wildfire right now, partly because people just don’t realize they have it, assuming it’s allergies or a minor cold.

But we’re comfortable at home where there are always chores to do, and Giant Direct brought me exactly what I ordered at the exact time promised. We sit on our porch and enjoy the birds in the backyard and the antics of our dogs in hot pursuit of squirrels and chipmunks and marvel at the gigantic snapping turtle that has taken up residence on a bed of grass clippings behind our shed. We have been forced to slow down and stop the madness, at least briefly, and yes, even for us retired folks, there is still plenty of madness.

I think about the Memorial Days I experienced growing up. Small town parades were a Big Deal. The grown-ups wore little red poppies sold by the veterans’ organizations, and we stood along the sidewalks to honor those who had fought in two World Wars, Korea, and Viet Nam. We could finally wear our flip-flops again, and the snowball man and Mr. Softee returned, clanging their bells in the summer evening twilight. Decoration Day meant the re-opening of my grandparents’ “verandah”–the covered porch where we spent many an evening eating produce from my grandfather’s garden and watching the lightning bugs dance or reading books on rainy afternoons.

But this year Memorial Day takes on an even deeper meaning after the horror and tragedy of this past week. This morning we streamed the service from the National Cathedral which became our virtual church home during the pandemic. The Dean of the Cathedral, Randy Hollerith, preached, and as always, connected scripture to the reality in which we live. As he listed the statistics from recent mass shootings, a child began to cry somewhere out in the congregation. This was serious wailing, not just a disgruntled sniffle or two. His or her sobs reverberated throughout the massive vault of the cathedral, as piercing as the solemn notes of taps sounding over a silent cemetery on Memorial Day. And all I could think of were the tears and screams of those nineteen children and their devastated families. That child cried for all of us.

Indelible Images

The images are too pervasive, and I can’t get away from them, much as I’d like to.

The woman standing in front of the pancake mixes and bottles of syrup in the local grocery store announcing, “Well, now, we can’t even have Aunt Jemima anymore. It has to be ‘Pearl Milling Company’ because someone had to throw a tantrum and pound their fists on the floor because Aunt Jemima hurt their widdy-biddy feelings.” She said it with a sneer in her voice and loudly enough that anyone within close proximity could easily have heard her. At literally the same time in another grocery store a few hundred miles to the north, a young man was murdering people because their skin was black.

News coverage about the mass shooting in Buffalo, was immediately followed by a political ad. It showed the candidate and his family, including grandma, dressed in cheery plaid jackets and all happily carrying firearms as he reassured voters he would fight for their second amendment rights.

The wooden signs on a property I’m forced to see every time I leave my development. “Diversity equals Marxism.” “Families united under God.” “No more CRT.”

The horror of a young woman shot to death while her toddler sat in the car, apparently because her neighbor was angry about a property dispute.

The shootings that occur almost every day in the community where I live.

And now, these beautiful innocent children and their teachers. Again.

I was still teaching when Columbine happened and then Nickel Mines and then the assassination of a principal at a neighboring school district. I watched events unfold at Sandy Hook on my classroom TV. I was still teaching when we first learned the word lockdown and practiced code reds. Students would carefully lay their instruments on their chairs and huddle behind my desk, giggling and restless, while I turned out the lights, pulled the shades, and pushed an official red folder under the door listing the students who were with me. As if that would stop anyone.

Now that the first twenty-four hours of horror are over, I can already sense those who steer the wheels of power turning away from these brutally murdered children. I heard it in the carefully worded statements from the governor of Texas, pinning the blame squarely on the lack of accessibility to mental health services. Point taken, but he neglected to mention that this individual was able to legally buy assault weapons that would destroy a human being from the inside out in a state that says he’s not yet old enough to drink. I heard it in the blathering of one of their senators, insisting that arming our teachers and turning schools into fortresses would solve the problem.

I guess I’m naïve, but I didn’t grow up in a world like this. Never could I imagine that the lust for power would take precedence over human life. But that’s our reality. The monstrous leviathan of political influence is driving this country into oblivion, and it’s utterly terrifying. I know the country has always been governed by what happens in the smoke-filled back rooms, but never to the point of condoning the murder of innocent people, over and over again. What’s changed, I suppose, is we now have the technology to ensure that the right messages, regardless of their truth, reach the right people. Holding onto a senate seat and doing everything possible to destroy the opposing political party, regardless of what’s best for the country is all that matters. Soon the propaganda machines and lobbyists will start spewing, “Yes, but they’re going to take your hunting rifles,” and we’ll just keep on murdering each other, wringing our hands, and offering thoughts and prayers.

View from the Pew

I was really looking forward to Easter this year. After sitting in front of our TV two years ago, watching services streamed from post-apocalyptic empty sanctuaries to nervously stepping back into masked and temperature-checked in-person worship last Easter, I was ready for a pull-out-all -the-stops celebration.

But for the first time in as long as I can remember (last two years not withstanding), I did not sing in an Easter choir. Earlier this week, I noticed some cold symptoms—sore throat, a little congestion. I immediately took a home Covid test which was negative and so for the most part, went about my business including a choir rehearsal and two Holy Week services. But yesterday, whatever virus had taken up residence migrated south into my vocal cords. My voice was reduced to a whisper and singing anything above middle C was impossible. I was relegated to the pews.

But despite my disappointment at not being able to sing in a truly glorious Easter celebration, I will say there is something to be gleaned from sitting back and allowing worship to happen without anxiously paging through my folder for the next anthem or hymn. It was a chance to be still and really listen for the voice of God which came through loud and clear in the rector’s sermon. It was almost like God was saying to me, “Ok, just stop multi-tasking for an hour or two and pay attention.” And it was a chance to people-watch. Currently my husband and I are dividing our time between two different churches, which, odd as it sounds, is working well for us. This morning I was at the church where we are relative newcomers so I could observe in anonymity.

At the first service, an elderly woman sat in the pew adjacent to mine. She was stooped and frail and yet, when the procession came up the aisle, she not only sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today, with gusto, she kept time by swinging her right arm as if she was conducting the brass choir. She was the picture of joy. (Although later she was less than joyful when told she could no longer intinct her wafer in the communion wine. The Episcopal Church is still trying to sort itself out when it comes to receiving communion.)   

I watched people re-connect with family members and friends they don’t often see. I watched the brass choir sing the hymns and service music when they weren’t playing. They weren’t just there as paid musicians but were engaged in the worship experience. At the beginning of the second service, a woman in front of me turned around to watch for the beginning of the procession with as much anticipation as if she were looking for a bride to come up the aisle. I saw the expressions on people’s faces as they took communion—gratitude, humility, smiles, even a few tears. I watched teenagers proudly carry the processional cross, entwined with Easter lilies and later one of those same teens brought the tray for pew communions. Seeing them gave me hope that the church may yet last for another generation or two, despite the media’s dire predictions of the imminent demise of organized religion.

Yes, I missed the singing, but I realized this morning that sometimes I’m missing the point. The opportunity  to be an observer instead of a participant allowed some much-needed space for other things in my mind and my spirit, and I’m grateful for that.

Happy Easter.