A man (woman) travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. George Moore
There’s nothing that moves your energy to a higher place faster than music. Abraham-Hicks
It was a four-leaf clover of a trip from beginning to end, this recent vacation to Ireland with my husband, Cam. I drank it in, the lush green landscape of the Emerald Isle’s interior, the dramatic cliffs hanging over the thrashing waters of the Atlantic, the soft mossy woods carpeted in mist, and the salty taste of the sea in the fish we ate for supper. It was wonderful, all of it, the time we spent in Galway and the Aran Island of Inishere and the fishing village of Dingle and the literary bustling Dublin. And throughout the eleven days of Irish bliss, it was the music that most fed my soul; it was the music that sent my spirit flying. On Day One of our adventure, as Cam drove our rental car from the airport in Dublin across the country, I read out loud from the guidebook, shared with him that Galway, the college town on Ireland’s western shore that would be our home for the weekend, was the most Irish of Irish cities, where the people spoke Gaelic and the music from the pubs and the restaurants spilled out into the streets. So, we had been forewarned. And still, the wave of music that washed over us in Galway was a surprise, the way we were swept up in it and carried away and plopped down again, feet dancing, hands clapping, the way it awakened something deep and happy and foreign and familiar. And we rode it, this musical wave forward, to Inishere and Dingle and Dublin.
And it’s easy on a vacation to ride a musical wave of pleasure. It’s easy to see the exotic, the enchanting, the song bursting forth, not only from the buskers on the cobbletone pedestrian streets of Galway, but in the winds blowing in off the Atlantic at the Cliffs of Moher, in the lonely barren landscape of the Burren, in the castles and the walls of stone and the yellow flowering hedges and the fishing villages with their bright-colored boats with names like Lily Sue. When your schedule is wide-open and the days are free of commitments, it’s easy to breathe deeply and soak it all in. And that’s what we did. We hiked on trails through the Burren, and along the Cliffs of Moher, walked through pastures of sheep, and around the exterior shore of Inishire, and, throughout it all, there was the music. A woman, crouched over a harp, played for the sightseers at the Cliffs, and the sound of the harp mingled with the sound of the wind and my heart was opened by this harp music and all that sea and all that sky and all that spaciousness. And in the evenings, we lingered with our meals of freshly-caught fish and springtime vegetables and Irish potatoes, lingered with the music of the meal and the music from the pubs and the music on the streets, lingered in a way that we don’t seem to linger when we are at home.
It was in the early evening on Sunday, the third day of the trip, the last in Galway, after many hours of exploring the Connemara Peninsula, that we found ourselves back in town with a camera that needed new batteries. And so, bundling up in raincoats and bracing ourselves against the cold wet wind blowing in off the bay, we scurried down the streets toward a camera shop that we knew would be closing soon. And outside the shop, even in the cold mist, even on a Sunday in the early evening, there was the music. This time, a group of five young men with fiddles and guitars and accordions were leaping up and down and playing Irish folk music with a vigor that attracted quite a crowd. They were on fire, these young men, and we, with fresh batteries for our camera, we were on fire, too, as we joined the clapping cheering crowd. And our musical hunger for more was awakened by this joyful playing, and, when there was a lull, a pause, we kept on walking along the slick cobblestones, wondering what else might light us up.
And that’s when I saw him. Or did I hear him first, the man standing still near the side of a building, no flashy instruments, no jumping up and down, the man in the jeans and the winter coat and the wool cap, the man with his hands in his pockets? I can’t remember, but I must have looked up at some point, because I noticed that his eyes were closed. And then I just closed mine and I listened and I was transported. “Oh the summertime is coming. And the trees are sweetly blooming and the wild mountain thyme grows around the blooming heather. Will ye go lassie go, and we’ll all go together . . .”
For four and a half years, every third Thursday of the month, Joy Center has hosted an open mic night, Out Loud. I love Out Loud. For over two decades, when Joy Center was just a seed inside of me not yet sprouted, I dreamed of an event like Out Loud, the most open of open mics, a community offering in a safe place where everyone is welcome to share, where the messy and the polished are equal partners, where songs mingle with stories and stories dance with poems, where paintings make their way to center stage and someone might choose to bring in a show-and-tell that surprises and delights and teaches us something new. Out Loud is alive and juicy, and you never know, from month to month, who is going to show up and just what they are going to share. I love it when Josh shows up – he’s been coming to Out Louds for almost two years now. And although he prefaces his sharings with new stories and musings, I’m pretty sure that we can count on him to sing us a song from his perch in front of the audience. And when he does, he closes his eyes, and I find myself breathing deeper, and I find myself more fully present and I find myself sailing away, too, to someplace foreign, yet, familiar. “Oh the summertime is coming. And the trees are sweetly blooming . . .” When Josh sings, I am in Ireland and I am a running in fields of blooming heather and I smell the mountain thyme . . .
And, now, I was in Ireland. I really was. In downtown Galway, on a blustery early evening at the end of April. And, with my closed eyes, I could see it, my own rich life. In that misty moment, I was back at the Joy Center, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, back in my own playground, a playground that is crammed with creative vigor, in a landscape as enchanted as Ireland in its own unique way, and it wasn’t the young man in the parka and jeans standing in front of me that I was seeing. It was Josh singing the same song on a Thursday evening at Joy Center. And when I opened them again, my eyes could see it all, more clearly, a rich stew of present and past, of here and there, of Josh and is heart-rending voice, and this young man with his hands in his pockets singing to us this Irish folk song on a cobblestone street in the most Irish of Irish cities, Galway.