--by Mike Murray
The Irish are a melancholy lot. No one who lives with us can doubt that.
For all the famous -- and infamous -- cultural stereotypes involving our merriment (we hoist our glasses high and celebrate heartily when someone passes away, for crying out loud) we are nevertheless a people of deep cultural sorrow.
Sure, we express joy in many of our famed Celtic adages. One of my favorite goes something like this: "Sing as if no one can hear you. Dance as if no one can see you. Live as if each day were your last." A lovely, happy sentiment, that.
But deep inside, we are nothing if not melancholy. It's bigger than we are. That reality, perhaps partly, explains my affinity for Winter. While others cringe at the drop in temperature and the arrival of deep snow each year, I rejoice.
By contrast, it is the onset of Spring that saddens me. I dread the departure of Nature's most powerful -- and to me, most beautiful -- season. Then, too, there is the troubling fact that Spring dampness ushers in all manner of allergens: the mold, the mildew, the pollen. The resulting watery eyes, the sneezing, the stuffy nose and such are all things I can do without.
And following Spring is the worst (for me) season of all: Summer. I burn in the shade. Sun protection factor 300 can't keep me from turning beet red on a bright day. I find any temperature in excess of 75 degrees Fahrenheit to be oppressively hot. Even the presence of a clear sky, so coveted by most people, is problematic for me. My eyes are pale and light-sensitive. As a consequence, I squint nearly non-stop from May to October.
Small wonder then that I rejoice each Fall as the billowy clouds roll in, the mercury falls, and the humidity drops. Cool, crisp air is Heaven to me. I welcome darker skies. The beauty of changing leaf colors entice me each Autumn. They are magnificent in their own right. Even better, they herald the approach of what is for me the best time of year.
Perhaps you can imagine how out of step I've been with those around me over the years. As they have cheered at the sight of the Sun's daily scribing of higher and bigger arcs across the sky , I have moped. I am only one generation removed from the Old Sod; I'm too little acclimated to the latitude I occupy, to the composition of the air I breathe, to enjoy this prized season.
And then there's that ever-present Irish melancholy. There's just something in us that forces us to search for the cloud in every silver lining. We understand Charlie Brown perfectly. We just know that Lucy will always jerk that football away before we get a chance to boot it -- and that we'll end up on our backsides. And our self-fulfilling prophecies usually come to pass; we are seldom disappointed (in a manner of speaking).
There are moments when even the glummest among us are confronted by hopefulness so compelling that we are forced out of our gloom. Moments when we are inspired by the soaring spirits of others. Moments when we are reminded that -- for all the awfulness in the world -- there is much to celebrate.
Enya expressed it well in the song she recorded, "How Can I Keep From Singing?"
Enya is the phonetic spelling of the Irish name Eithne, a name that comes from ancient legend. The musical group Enya is comprised of Eithne Ni Bhraonain -- roughly Americanized as Enya Brennan (music composer, vocalist, and performer of all instruments), and her collaborators: Roma Ryan (lyrics composer) and Roma's husband, Nicky Ryan (producer).
Though "...Singing" is not Enya's (it is an old Quaker hymn), it perfectly suits her. The lyrics are powerful. The song is, as are virtually all of Enya's own compositions, at once haunting and beautiful ("China Roses" and "Caribbean Blue" are almost painfully so). Enya's melodies and Roma Ryan's lyrics wonderfully capture the bittersweet Irish mood.
But while faithfully presenting the melancholic spirit so intrinsic to Celtic culture, Enya's works also uplift. It is there in the melodies, in the words, in the arrangements, in Eithne's angelic voice. Their songs move. They inspire. They offer hope.
And they remind me in their way that this season means so much to so many. Spring is surely a season of renewal. I see it in the faces of the people who take to the streets for evening walks after months of hunkering inside during the harsh Winter months.
I see it in Andrea and her dog Shnoodle (an APL rescue). They stopped during their stroll the other day to introduce themselves and to visit as I was out in the front yard pulling some early season weeds. Despite significant difficulty in each of their pasts (I won't betray a confidence by revealing them), they were in high spirit. They were taking in what was -- for them -- glorious weather. And they were taking time to spread a little joy along the way to people like me.
Andrea and I had a pleasant chat, and Shnoodle and I had a grand time playfully roughhousing. It was just a few moments out of an otherwise uneventful day. But it gave me pause. It was inspiring to see the woman and her canine companion so thoroughly enjoying themselves ...and learning that the season that has typically meant so little to me brings them so much pleasure.
And then there is the father / daughter team I come across this time each year. Spring brings them out for runs together in the park, runs that bring warmth to all whose eyes gaze upon the sight.
The daughter is, you see, "challenged" (though I use that term oh-so loosely here). I won't describe her handicap -- partly in deference to her privacy, partly because it's hard to really consider her disabled. She does, after all, amble successfully along mile after mile, all the while easily passing more able-bodied folk.
The girl and her dad make no special show of their progressions through the park. They just seem so absorbed in their father-daughter time together, so happy in their mutual expressions of physical exertion.
Seeing them out running regularly last year prompted me to get back out there myself. It made me realize that my own, sometimes-complaining knees are only a small obstacle to overcome. The physical discomfort they give me is as nothing compared to what that girl in the park endures.
And that's the point: she doesn't give evidence that she is enduring anything at all. The obvious pleasure she derives by being outside with her dad, sharing an experience made possible by cooperating seasonal weather, overwhelms any accompanying discomfort (physical or emotional) she feels.
She's definitely a "glass half full" kind of gal.
People like her and Andrea routinely succeed in shaming me out of momentary gloom. They've had much to overcome, and they've done so -- they do so, daily -- without complaint. They see joy in life, and they pass it along.
They cannot keep from singing. Neither can they keep from putting a song in my heart.
Copyright © 2005 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.