We had the privilege of hosting and hearing my favorite band on the planet, The Elders, last Thursday. They played a show at Vega, just a block away from the restaurant, and man, was it ever a blast. Surrounded by family and friends, we danced and sang like crazy people should. If I seem overly enthusiastic and hyperbolic, here’s why.
Four years ago I was providing care for my wife who had undergone surgery to remove a tumor attached to her right ovary. It was malignant and yes it would require extensive treatment. It was hard to wrap my head around what was happening to Karen, while at the same time trying to deal with my own grief. What used to sound like a cliché, became a mantra; take one day at a time. It was a difficult balance to be a caregiver on one hand, and try to bear my own grief on the other. Try being strong and weak at the same time, that’s what it feels like.
Fast forward to October, Weston Irish Fest, our finish line for the summer season. It’s a chance for us to get a weekend away from the restaurant, have a few pints and enjoy some fantastic music. The Elders are always the headline act that closes out the festival on Sunday night. But this year’s circumstances gave the music new meaning.
I’ve always maintained the belief that there is something special and may even venture to say anointed about the Irish. Their whole history can be summed up in one word; suffering. When the word famine is used to describe a key event in your story, that should give some idea of the kind of hardship they suffered.
So when Ian breaks into the a cappela at the beginning of Men of Erin, I felt as if he knew what I was going through and was singing especially to me.
Fare thee well me boy as you wonder this night
Be not feared in the darkness my heart is your light
As you go brave Men of Erin
Faith and love by your side
I will dream of your peace in the night
It struck me at that point that I was not unique in my sorrow. Many have had it much, much worse that I, but that did not diminish the magnitude of what I was feeling. Would this be the last year to hear this music with Karen? Would this be the last Irish Fest? Was I facing the end of a dream of growing old with the woman I love?
Gratefully, the answer to those questions would be no, at least not now. There would be many more celebrations and memories to make.
The next year found Karen and me back in Weston for another Irish Fest. The Elders had just released a new disc with a new song aimed straight for us. Late in the set, when Ian launches into these following lyrics of Appalachian Paddy, I heard them in the imperative voice:
Put your arms around each other
And sing to the angels on high
Shake your fist at the devil and begrudgers
Give a kiss to the one by your side
We had to follow these as if they were Divine Orders. The One By My Side was still with me, and to not express the gratitude would be gross negligence.
So last Thursday we danced ourselves silly, probably had a little too much to drink, but we shook our fist at the devil and begrudgers and had a special night of celebration, as if no one else was in the room.
Thanks, Elders, Hope to see you again soon.