Couldn’t You Just Cry?

Singing songs of the heart and saluting random acts of kindness.

So I was 0 for 2 in my attempts to sing “Danny Boy” to random strangers on St. Patrick’s Day, though they weren’t really random, and they weren’t even strangers, which had to work against me, I’m pretty sure.

The first to turn me down was Susie “No-Kiss” Kelly, the classmate from high school I’m still crushing on. She explained by phone from Chicago that she was with her mother, to which I replied: “Perfect! I’ll sing it to her too!”

Guess not.

My second snub came later, when I texted my funny pal Hester, who’s usually up for anything. She declined “Danny Boy” over the phone because when she was a kid – not that long ago, actually – her student choir had to sing “Danny Boy” at a teacher’s memorial service. Ruined the song for her, she said.

It’s a dynamic song, “Danny Boy,” as wistful and heart-breaking as life itself, with some of the finest lyrics ever.

‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow…
O Danny Boy, O Danny Boy, I love you so.”

Couldn’t you just cry? You certainly could if you heard it played on bagpipes, the worst sound humans ever produced.

“Danny Boy” is often performed on bagpipes by men in kilts, always a comical sight, since they play it deadpan, as if it’s the most seriously serious thing they will ever do.

Yet, look down dude, you’re dressed like a school girl and playing bad plumbing!

Always makes me smile.

Next year, I think I will recruit my buddy Ulf to help me sing “Danny Boy,” and we will approach random strangers, not the women we know, because they are always on guard when they see us coming, two misfits wandering along as if we just made bail.

Ulf is still the funniest guy I’ve ever met. We grew up together, from our mid-30s till just now.

Ulf always claimed to be Swedish, only to find out later from that he is actually one-third Irish, one-third vermouth, and a third whisky neat.

For decades, we goofed around together in our little suburb, which broke down into three distinct factions: the radical gossips, the moderate gossips and a third group that just never gave a crap.

Thank gawd for them, right?

These days, Ulf no longer drinks, and he is still funnier than any drunk person you’ll ever met.

The other day, he was talking about what it’s like to date at our age, and how you have to turn out the lights and back into bed, because otherwise the visual would spoil the moment.

If I ever had to choose someone to be stuck on an island with, it would not be Ulf. It would be Susie “No-Kiss” Kelly and maybe Marisa “Kiss-Me-Twice” Tomei. But Ulf would be a close third.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or all the valleys hushed and white with snow…

As my Irish luck would have it, I wound up singing “Danny Boy” the next morning to Dogpark Gary, who had no clue what was happening as I broke into song while the dogs romped in the wet grass.

Pretty sure it made Gary, 77, uncomfortable. In his day, dudes didn’t just go around randomly singing to each other.

“I hope that was to the dogs,”  Dogpark Gary snarled when I was done with “Danny Boy.”

“That was to you, Dogpark Gary,” I told him, and I laughed a little at his discomfort.

You see maybe now why I have so much trouble socially?

Mark my word, I will overcome my inherent shyness and one day marry No-Kiss Kelly, or maybe “Kiss-Me-Twice” Tomei…Naomi Watts, if it comes to that. On the day of the ceremony, my kids will give me away, something they’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

Now that’s he’s Irish, Ulf will sing “Danny Boy” at the wedding, and there won’t be a dry eye in the church. He’s got that twinkly smile and a sense of mirth —  an edgy Merv Griffin. He’ll probably sing at the reception too, stealing the day, as Ulf always does.

Till then, I plan on dating randomly and well, while working day and night on my novel, now up to 327 words after two years of serious lifting.

My novel is about an aging widower and what he discovers from all the women he dates after his wife dies — that he truly adores women, though not just one, for no single lover can ever possess all the qualities he finds in all these various women combined (nor, we presume, his late wife).

That’s the melancholy decision he draws, till he meets a stranger on a hiking trail one day, a pretty woman — yet no prettier than the rest of his dates, who were all pretty in their own special way, because all women have at least one magical trait (according to him, at least).

Anyway, the widower meets this typically pretty hiker, who’d been through a divorce like all the others, and was struggling to care for her kids — like all the others — in a little house on the edge of a not-so-special city.

Say, for instance, Glendale.

One day, she checks in on an aging woman who was her late stepfather’s mistress, someone who had done great harm to the family and was now in a hospice, with no one left to look in on her.

The typically pretty hiker didn’t feel she owed this ex-mistress anything, and there was nothing to gain, yet the old woman was appreciative and kind in ways that give us all sustenance and hope in difficult times.

The mistress was ancient and beautiful, the hiker explains, like a marble statue with a series of small hairline cracks. Brittle. Probably dehydrated. Hour by hour, she was wasting away.

One day, the typically pretty hiker leans in to say goodbye to the aging woman and happens to brush the hair out of her eyes for her, and the aging woman responds: “Do that again” … meaning, “Please brush my hair out of my eyes one more time, for it feels compassionate in ways I never experience as I lie here dying.”

“So I did,” the hiking stranger said.

And a little bit, I fell for her right then.

Oh, did I mention this hiker was an actual person I once met?

Indeed, she had kids at the same high school. In crossing paths a few times, I discovered she was kind of a special soul who had it out for her philandering ex-husband but would several times a week check in on this mistress in the hospice, the person who had caused the family so much grief, and in her gauzy old age, had no idea who the hiker even was.

A month went by, and the hiker told me these stories, tiny emeralds, all of them.

Then another month went by and I never spotted her again, not that I made a point of it. The hiker had so many troubles in her own life that I really didn’t want to get in too deep.

Still, I think this hiker was an extraordinary woman. I’ll never forget her.

I have to hope God has a system to honor people like her. So that when they do unsolicited kindnesses like this hiker was doing, some little alarm goes off in the cosmos, and the cosmos rewards them in some significant way: with an unexpected inheritance, or a late-in-life love, or great health into her final years.

What I hope is that there is a karmic payoff for people like this hiker, who step in unnoticed and brush the hair from a stranger’s glassy old eyes.

Wouldn’t that be grand?

A giant thank you to everyone who took part in the Gin & Tonic Society’s St. Paddy’s Bash the other night. Such a blast, in the little spot under the oak trees. In particular, thanks to Lynnmaria for the beautiful chocolate treats. Everyone brought something, even if it was a smile and a joke. Props also to our Minister of Transportation, Charlie, who got me back and forth, and our Minister of Ice, Bittner, for providing lots of free ice. TV veteran Jeff Michael (our Minister of Communications) also put in an appearance (the women always like him better). Very lucky to have so many friends and buddies. Best part? Hearing live laughter again. Here’s to all the laughter ahead as we take baby steps back to normalcy. Cheers!

4 thoughts on “Couldn’t You Just Cry?

  1. How am I the first one? Well, ‘Danny Boy ‘always makes me cry. Such a bittersweet memory of the ‘Good Samaritan’ hiker. Love your appreciation of the tiny caring things people are capable of doing for another human. Record a collection of Irish ditties, I’d buy one!

  2. Now you simply must watch “Into the West” ~ about 2 young boys in Ireland and how the younger one sang “Danny Boy” on street corners to get a nickel or two ~ complete with well-placed sobs and sniffles.
    ” Into the West is a 1992 Irish magical realist[1] film about Irish Travellers written by Jim Sheridan and directed by Mike Newell, and stars Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin.”

  3. As always, I am captured by the wide open way you tell secrets to the world. So Irish that is–the heart that is a hidden book, yet written in the air for all to see…if you know where to look.

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