I have a few minutes before I go downstairs and watching episodes 7 & 8 of "OZ" season three, so I thought I'd post some thoughts about the Oireachtas.
First off, it was really great to return to playing music. For those of you who don't know, before I entered the novitiate I used to play for Irish dancing competitions (feis, pronounced fesh, not fetish). Many of my dearest and closest friends are affiliated with Irish dancing and I count it as one of the greatest singular graces in my life to have been able to serve my culture and heritage by providing music for its dancers.
This being said, I had a very difficult time transitioning back into the fray. I found the number of people and the absolute "excess" of the whole affair to be overwhelming. I'd like to say that I am concerned on a day-to-day basis with the needs of starving babies and the poorest of the poor, but that'd be a bit disingenuous. I am, however, much more acutely aware of the needs of the world than I was, say, two years ago. So it was rather jarring to return to the relatively affluent world of Irish dancing - well-dressed adjudicators and teachers and musicians, expensive costumes, excessive make-up, etc. - when my attention has been directed toward those who have very little. This is not a slam or an indictment, only the confession that I had a hard time relating to the concerns of many of the people with whom I used to feel that I had so much in common with. I think I was very frustrated with myself for much of the weekend, particularly as I used to love so dearly to play for these events and relished in the social scene that accompanied it.
What I am learning is that part of my Jesuit formation - the part that has thrust me into a number of different experiences like teaching math or working in a hospital or teaching kindergarten - has changed in a radical way my perception of reality. I see things differently than I did two years ago...even from one year or six months ago! I guess this means that Jesuit formation is working, that it is stretching me in many ways. This weekend, I feel like I was stretched...I feel like I was torn. The experience of being "torn" was one that indicated that, although I will forever be an Irish musician, my role in the world of Irish dancing is neither all-important nor self-defining. I realized that I am not the person that I want most to be when I'm staying in huge hotel rooms (or small rooms, for that matter) and going to dinner dances and talking about reels and wigs and expensive costumes. Sure, it's a part of me, but it's not me in my entirety...it's not how I define myself any longer.
As I sat on the airplane Monday morning, I had a thought that I'd now retire from playing feiseanna (that's the plural for fesh). But I don't think it's in me to give it up -- I love too much to play for Irish dancers. But whereas before my identity was as a "Feis Musician" I feel now more comforable in relocating my designation to a "Jesuit-feis musician." My vocation as a musician has graced me with being enter the lives of countless children and adults through their ears and, through my music, I have been able to enter their hearts. What was special, though, about a number of my conversations this weekend is that while music was the point of departure for my exchanges with people, the conversation flowed naturally into deeper topics, topics that touched at the core of our shared experiences and led me and my conversation partner to a deeply shared sense of one another. Sometimes these were random exchanges held in the lobby of the hotel, in-between rounds of dancers, or in the evening after the awards had been distributed. As random as they were, it was these conversations that gave me the strength to endure 134 slip jigs or 65 set dances because they reminded me that, beneath much of the superficial nonsense of Irish dancing, there are very many good people who are truly in love with and committed to their culture and its preservation.
Enough of my rambling! It's time now to watch OZ -- the prison show that aired on HBO a few years ago. Since Drew, Eric, and Ben are working at the county jail, they thought it would give them an insight into the prison experience. It's become an addiction for several of us and I'm two episodes behind, so I have to make them up before the DVD is returned tomorrow!