There are lots of parts to me (and my family), but I’ve always been proud of the Irish bits and pieces. Why? Because I associate these parts with laughter, love, loyalty and perseverance. Is this exclusive to Irish folk? Nah, of course not. But every March when everyone becomes a wee bit Irish for a day, I smile and think it’s funny people think of drinking and parades. Because to me it’s always been about family and faith… that wee part of me.
Alright, enough of the pointless blither blather. I’m dusting off a Letter From Mickey that contains the sort of wisdom my grandpa was fond of sending me in HIS letters:
First, I love you and I hope you are well!
A little birdie told me your hockey team didn’t make it to the finals. I am sorry to hear this and I know it is not from any lack on your part. You are quite talented, I am sure. Defeats are a part of life’s lessons for us I am afraid. Sadly they only get harsher as life moves on. But it is how you handle these disappointments that makes the mettle of a man. But I have no worries there, even as a young child you always brushed off disappointments with only a minimal fuss. A trait you get from your mother, no doubt, as it couldn’t have been easy raising you alone but she never complained. Even in the end shortly before she left, for as many arguments as we had she still was as loving and patient as ever. Every day I was able to spend with you, she always had a smile on her face and no matter the struggles she had, she could always find a way to spin a positive out of it. I remember one time when you were only about 2 years old, she had been ill all week with the Flu and had lost her waitressing job from the missed work. I brought her roses and the rent for the remainder of the year expecting to have to comfort her. But you know what she did? She smiled wide, handed you to me, and said, ‘I’m only sad I can’t smell these roses.’ I fed you dinner (spaghetti-os were your favorite) and I even got to give you your bath, something your mother usually did herself as I apparently made too much of a mess playing battleship with you. It was my habit each night I got to spend with you to rock you to sleep telling you stories your great grandfather, Seamus O’Malley, had passed on to me. Now, there is a man whose veins run with pure steel–he never met a disappointment he couldn’t turn into a blessing! He is a full 45 years older than I, yet he can still run circles around me in a spirited argument and still carves every day. If I possess even half of his vigor at his age I will truly be blessed. Anyway, this story was one of your favorites, or I should say, sent you to sleep the fastest, which in retrospect might be saying the opposite. You’ll have to tell me which case it is upon hearing it at an older age:
Finnegan had been a hard working man, if the work you were speaking about was finding ways to do the least amount of work to gain the most. One of his favorite things to do was trick people in to buying his tales of magical healing wells. Now back then people had heard of Brigid’s Well but few knew where to find it. Finnegan would spin a yarn about how he had thrice been cured by it himself and he knew the secret path to get there. They would pay him in food and shelter and other such comforts to show them where the well existed. But wily Finnegan would lead them around in circles until they were good and dizzy then leave them off at the nearest spring he could find. By the time they discovered the water was just ordinary water, he would be long gone. One night he was sleeping in a barn and a Wee One appeared before him.
“Finnegan,” she said. “It just so happens there is such a well in Kildare as to make a sick man healed. Would you like to know how to find it?”
“Oh, yes, very much,” Finnegan replied, thanking his good fortune, but suspicious of it just the same. “What is it you would want in exchange?”
“You must agree never to trick others again. And, I must warn you, you can only drink the water if you truly seek healing.”
“Of course,” Finnegan agreed, while crossing his finger behind him.
The Wee One told him the well’s location and Finnegan began searching for it, out of curiosity and avarice. But every time he would get near where the well was supposed to be, he would find he was right back where he had started. But he would always begin again thinking this would be the time he would find it. He began to waste away from obsession and lack of food. One day as he was resting on a low wall along came a fair maiden. She gave him some warm bread and he told her of his quest. He figured he had been tricked by the Wee One just as he had tricked others because even now, when he was truly sick, he still could not find the water.
“You poor dear,” the girl said. “I’m afraid Morrigan left out the most important part. You must truly want to get well to find the water in the first place.”
“What foolishness is this?” Finnegan asked. “Of course I want to get well!” And he did, for she was quite beautiful and he could see himself raising goats and children with her as a good and honest man.
“Then drink,” Brigid said and waved her hand. Behind her apace was a small circle of stones with a bucket suspended atop. He drank the cool, mossy water and suddenly felt no desire to wander anymore.
He settled down and made a good life with her. But one day his past came to haunt him as these things tend to do. One of the people he had tricked in the past came seeking justice. When Finnegan offered to let him drink from their well, the man thought he was being tricked yet again and absconded with Finnegan’s bride. Enraged, Finnegan armed himself and his children and swore vengeance upon the man and all who would aid him, vowing he would not stop until he was reunited with his fair love. But he did not know Brigid had sacrificed herself rather than be used by his enemies. So, endlessly he searched, killing all those who dared try and stop him. After each battle, those who would come to claim the bodies of their kin would swear Brigid’s ghost would wander about the dead, crying for their souls, and singing: ‘Until we meet again, my love, until we meet again’.
Then one day, wearied unto his soul from his searching, Finnegan laid down his weapons and gathered his children and grandchildren near and said, ‘enough’ and breathed his last breath, thus finally being reunited with his eternal bride. But his children did not weep, for there is nothing so perfect as a thing with no ending and no beginning, such as a family of souls intertwined.
My dear boy, I think of this story often when I think of you and your mother, not just because it reminds me of when we were together, but because it gives me comfort knowing that eventually, we will be a family again.
Your loving father,