Dancing Upon Moonbeams
I used to be able to fly
I danced upon moonbeams
Leapt through the sky
Butterflies, twists, promenades
My legs gracefully glided
Carrying me toward the stars
To the sound of the bodhran
Tin whistle and fiddle
My spirit was free
Time has slowed me down
And my legs ache every night
I see wrinkles etch into my skin
Like frost on window glass
My knees crack and my hips hurt
I can’t fly like I used to
Only in my dreams
I used to be able to dance, light as a feather upon a spring breeze
I can’t fly like I used to
Only in my dreams
And for now that’s good enough for me
The Great Seanchaí
The Irish word seanchaí means “storyteller”or “barer of old lore.” In modern terms, seanchaí might refer to a “bullshitter.”
Both are true for my father, a man known for his gift of the gab. He’ll talk to anyone, and no subject is off limits. It helps he’s friendly looking, resembling some sort of mythical creature.
His stories sound quite mythical, too. Like the true story of how he fell off a scaffold thirteen floors down an elevator shaft—on his face—and got up and walked away. Or how he shot himself in the foot with a nail gun and drove himself to the hospital. He’s fallen off of roofs, too.
More than just a man with a history of construction trauma, he is a storyteller weaving together his own past with his rich Irish heritage. He grew up in a house with no running water; he bathed in a living room tub, made hot with boiled water from the fire. He used to roam the woods of Ireland barefoot—his childhood wild and free. He rode his bicycle up the town cathedral’s bell tower; jumped out from behind apples trees to scare oncoming nuns during afternoon prayer.
A troublemaker. A hell raiser. A weaver of tall tales and star of true stories. But deep down, a sensitive soul interested in everyone’s stories, especially the underdog’s. He passionately roots for “the little guy” and believes in fighting against those who use their power for evil.
You will always find him with a pint in hand, eyes sparkling, ready to engage in a political argument or retell a magical memory. Ready to knock his shoulder into yours after taking the piss out of ye. You’ll never quite know if he’s telling the truth or spinning a fable. But you’ll always know his stories will be entertaining and his intentions pure.
For he is made of myth and magic.
He is a survivor of unbelievable incidents.
He is a modern day warrior.
He is my father.
He is the great seanchaí.
Growing into a Baby
“Daddy, are you dying?” my 2.5 year old daughter asked my husband after he let out a painful grunt. He was not aware she knew the word “dying.”
“No, I’m just getting old. My back hurts,” he explained.
“Ohh. You’re growing into baby,” she said, pleased with her conclusion.
When my husband told me what she’d said, we laughed. But then I wondered: how did she connect pain and dying? And what did she know that we didn’t about “growing into a baby”?
After my husband, daughter, her twin brother and I spent the past week in Florida visiting my husband’s grandfather in a memory care home, I realized my daughter was on to something. Pushing 91, her great-grandfather needs round-the-clock supervision and assistance with getting in and out beds, chairs, cars, going to the bathroom. His memory care home offers arts and crafts, and he and the twins sat side-by-side. He practiced holding the brush with his stroke-affected right hand; my twins practiced staying in the lines. He took a nap when they took nap, and they all went to bed at 8pm. Just like my children, Great Grandpa doesn’t have an appetite for dinner, but always for ice cream.
Growing old IS like becoming a baby again. So where did my daughter’s wisdom come from?
What if before we are conceived, our souls are waiting around in Heaven, hanging out with the souls who have already passed on? What if my children knew my great-grandparents because their souls had connected in the afterlife—which is also the “beforelife”? What if that’s how she knew? Maybe old souls coach the new souls as they enter tiny unborn bodies, encourage them as they are pushed out of the womb and into this bright, beautiful world. And maybe unborn souls welcome souls who recently passed into their arms, comforted like babies.
I like to imagine my grandmother in Heaven holding my future grandchild, ready to encourage her when it’s her time to be born. I like to believe my wise daughter is right—we all grow back into babies.
“This too shall pass.” The hard times, the simple times. Colds, flus, and even seemingly permanent health conditions. Most things are temporary, I remind myself. The only permanent condition is death. And even then, I believe there is glorious life after this.
So when my body feels like it’s failing me once again, I remind myself that this pain will pass. And so will these beautiful little moments with tiny children who still desperately want to be held by me. Their handprints on the window glass won’t always be there, and somehow that makes even this clean-freak sad. I know I’ll miss seeing their toys strewn about the floor. They’ll be keeping me up all night not because of their own bad dreams but because of mine—wondering where they are and what they’re doing and if they’re safe.
All this will pass. It’s only temporary.
Remind yourself that when you are afraid your pain will haunt you forever; remind yourself that when the sun shines brightly on a February day and your child begs you to join them in play. “This too shall pass.”
You can’t call yourself strong if you haven’t been to hell and back,
If you haven’t carried a heavy load and watched your soul turn black,
If you’ve never trudged through mud while boulders weigh you down,
Watched the world you built burn to the ground.
But you learn to dig your claws into crumbling rock,
Your limbs become nimble, your eyes sharp like a hawk.
Resiliency stretches you from your feet to your hips,
See the looming mountain ahead and tho’ fear has its grip
You learn how to shake from its shadow and soldier on,
Emerging from darkness to follow the dawn,
Barely able to make it, your last ounce of energy,
Driven by hope, crawling on your hands and knees.
You’ve done it before and you’ll do it once more.
You are strong enough now to win this war.
My Mother's Hands
My mother’s hands, once soft and delicate, touched her swollen belly while I grew inside.
My mother’s hands, always warm and welcoming, held me against her breast when I was newly born.
My mother’s hands, strong and encouraging, guided me as I walked through life.
My mother’s hands, both tender and firm, carried me when I couldn’t pick my broken heart up off the floor.
I’ve watched her hands change from youthful and soft to aged and worn. But her hands have always been open, ready to take my own in hers. She doesn’t often get manicures, and time has made her knuckles swell, but her hands are more beautiful now than they’ve ever been. Her hands show the story of her life; she has cared for all others before herself.
My mother’s hands are tough. My mother’s hands are loving. My mother’s hands are beautiful.
And as I age, I am beginning to see that my hands are changing too… just like hers.
They have held babies, led children, and are starting to carry others.
I am proud to have my mother’s hands.
The sight of snowflakes falling from the sky like powdered sugar. The smell of a neighbor burning wood in a backyard nearby. The sound of high pitched giggles chasing Daddy down snowy hiking trails. The feeling of that first step inside a heated home welcoming us back to warm and cozy. The taste of rich hot chocolate with a pinch of salt after a morning spent in the brisk air outside. The gratitude for my simple yet awe-inspiring senses. This is wonder. This is joy. This I don’t want to ever take for granted.
What a privilege it is to wake up and be able to move your limbs. To taste the bold, velvety richness of your coffee. To see the sky outside, even if it is gray. To sit and stand and squat, even if it is to pick up toys from the ground. To be alive today, even if you're in pain.
Never give up on lofty goals and lifelong dreams. But question “What’s the goal of this goal?” Will achieving it make me happier? Will it make me more grateful for this moment that I’m alive?
It is only when we lose something that we are grateful for what we had. My commitment to this year and every year after is to be thankful for every moment, and to not chase superficial dreams and trendy goals. To lift my middle finger to the bullshit so I can bring my hands together in prayerful thanks to the meaningful.
Whenever I sit in church and look out at all the people in the pews surrounding me, I can’t help but swell with emotion. My voice catches in my throat as I sing, my eyes water. I think about how vulnerable we all are here, admitting that we’re all broken. I see others wipe tears during worship, or bow their head in prayer, and I remember that every person has a story, a struggle, a challenge, a cross to bear. A room full of people who show up asking for help to be better and help to love others better. When I look around, I remember that this person is battling cancer, or this person’s son is struggling with depression, or that person just lost his spouse. Some of us are battling ourselves, wrestling with our faults, hoping to be loved anyway. As the choir’s voices echo against the towering walls, the sanctuary feels warmer. The building soaks up our worries, our trials, our tribulations, lifting it from our shoulders. Our load is suddenly a little lighter. And soon we are able to piece each other back together again.
You Chose Me
I can’t believe you chose me.
Stars sparkle in the night sky above us, glistening like jewels. A chill rides along the breeze, carrying the sweet scent of hay. Beasts shift around us while murmuring their songs.
Joseph sits beside me, and we both stare down at our sweet child, wrapped in humble cloths, lying in a manger. My new husband is silent as he reaches for my hand.
Is he feeling what I’m feeling? This immense love swelling inside my heart?
Looking at my peaceful baby boy, my first-born son, I am overcome with love. It washes over me and warms me like the glow of stars above.
But with it comes melancholy. You see, all mothers must let their children go one day. Mothers birth, nurse and raise tiny, helpless babies, but one day those dependent babes grow up into independent adolescents… and they leave. No child belongs to his mother forever.
But my child, from the moment of his conception, has not belonged to me. He has always belonged to the world.
How could I let go of someone I love so much?
I wasn’t prepared for this. There were many questions I fretted over before this birth. Am I worthy of this role? What would Joseph think? Would he leave me? And what would it feel like to give birth? Would I ever recover from the pain? What if the baby cried so much and I couldn’t console him?
But I never questioned what it would feel like to give my child to the world.
So why did The Lord choose me? Am I even strong enough to raise the Son of God? I can barely look at his sweet face without weeping. My cherished child, so precious and fragile, so loved.
Maybe… maybe this what God feels when he looks at me.
Can God possibly love me as much as I love my sweet babe? I wonder, staring at his newborn chest rising and falling. Is that why he chose me? Is that why he chose all of us?
The sound of footsteps approaching shakes me from my thoughts. Joseph rises protectively, gesturing for me to remain near Jesus. From the darkness, men emerge, and from their clothing I can see they are shepherds.
Quickly they explain themselves to Joseph, who leads them to where I sit beside the baby.
When the shepherds see the swaddled baby in his lowly manger, they exclaim that this is what the Angel of the Lord had told unto them. They repeat the words Savior, Messiah.
I can hear the sheer awe and wonder in their voices as they behold my child. It is in this moment that I feel a sense of peace.
God chose me like he chose the shepherds. Like he chose Joseph. Like he chose Jesus.
Chosen from Love. Ever abundant, unconditional, eternal love.
I lift my baby from the manger, kissing his buttery-soft cheek, and show him to the men, who bow before him.
I try to memorize this moment, treasuring the feeling of my babe against my skin before the whole world comes to celebrate his birth. I breathe in his scent, listening to the quick beating of his tiny heart.
Thank you, I whisper, for choosing me so you could choose the world.