Sing Your Own Song

IMG_0354During our recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I went into an Irish pub in hopes of hearing some authentic Irish music.  And while the pub did have a young man singing that night, he didn’t play the traditional Irish music we had hoped to hear.  Instead, he played a wide variety of familiar songs, and at one point he even launched into a medley of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits.  At first, I was annoyed that he wasn’t singing the songs I wanted to hear, but after a while I just relaxed and enjoyed the music.  He played a mean guitar and had a beautiful voice, and eventually I realized that what he was doing was singing exactly the songs he wanted to sing, and singing them very well.

Maybe it was the two glasses of wine, but I began to think that there might be a lesson for all of us in that pub.  The young man could have played it safe and served up exactly the sort of music that most tourists want to hear when they enter an Irish pub, but he choose not to do that.  Maybe he wasn’t good at performing traditional Irish music, or maybe he simply didn’t care for it very much.  Maybe he knew that the city of Galway is full of pubs that cater to its many tourists, and felt that he would stand out from the crowd more if he performed a different kind of music.  I didn’t ask him, so I’ll never know.  But I got the sense that he was pouring his heart into the music he chose to sing, and because of that his performance was so good that my husband and I stayed and listened to him much longer than we had intended.

Not all of us can sing or play an instrument, but I believe that each and every one of us has something unique to offer.  We each have our own individual perspective on things, our own unique gifts and our own special way of viewing the world around us.  I have gone to several of those popular painting classes where the teacher shows everyone (no painting talent needed, thank goodness) how to paint a particular picture.  And even though we are led through the process step-by-step, I am always amazed at how different our finished pictures look.  Even with the same subject, the same paint colors and the same teacher, we all come up with something just a little bit different, and that is uniquely ours.

There will never be any shortage of people in our lives who want to tell us exactly how to act, what to believe, and how we should use our creative gifts.  And sometimes its very tempting to listen to them in order to feel the acceptance and validation that we all tend to crave.  But when we do that, when we ignore our own truths and mimic someone else’s, or when we paint the picture, write the story, or sing the song that someone else wants us to, we are turning our backs on the essence of what makes each of us a unique and worthwhile individual.

I think it’s important to trust our own perceptions, to believe in our own visions and to stand in our own truths, and to share those with others, even when we’re not so sure how they will be received.  One way or another, we all need to “sing our own song” with courage and conviction.  Even if that means belting out a Johnny Cash medley in a traditional Irish pub.

Disconnected

Call me cheap, but on my recent trip to Ireland, I simply turned my phone off rather than risk paying enormous roaming charges while I was out of the country.  Like many people, I’ve grown very dependent on my cell phone, using it for phone calls, emails, texts and even taking and sharing photos.  I was a little nervous about going without my phone for so long  (what if there was an emergency and my family or the dog-sitter needed to reach me?), but my husband did have a phone that he could use to his check emails, and even make a (very expensive) emergency call if necessary.  So, as soon as we boarded the plane for Dublin, I turned off my phone, stuck it in the bottom of my purse, and vowed to just forget about it until I was back home.

I’d like to say that my phone stayed in the bottom of my purse for the entire time I was in Ireland, and that I always gave my full attention to that beautiful and interesting country.  But that wasn’t what happened.  I found myself reaching for it again and again, purely from habit, whenever I had a spare minute or two.  We’d board a train to travel to a new city, and as soon as we had settled into our seats, I’d reach in my purse and pull out my phone.  Then I’d remember that it was off and couldn’t be turned on, and quickly shove it back in my purse, hoping that nobody had noticed what I’d done.  I’d do the same thing when we were seated at a restaurant or pub, waiting for our food to come, and when we returned to our hotel room for a short break from sightseeing.  It was kind of embarrassing.

Eventually, as the week wore on, the fact that I was without a functioning cell phone finally sunk in.  I found myself not reaching for it anymore, or at least not as often.  And gradually, I not only got used to not having my phone turned off, I actually began to enjoy it.  True, my husband and I did exchange a few emails with our son and daughter on his phone (some connections are just too precious to break entirely) but otherwise, I was well and truly out of touch with my normal life connections. And I liked it.

IMG_0292I rediscovered how to just sit still and either think my own thoughts, or pay real attention to what was around me.  I spent the train rides staring out the window at passing countryside, admiring the stone fences, the quaint farmhouses and the little towns we passed through.  When we were stopping back at our hotel to change and rest, I’d actually close my eyes and rest for a few minutes, which did wonders for restoring my energy level.  And while waiting for our food at pubs and restaurants, I listened to the music, if there was any.  If there wasn’t, I spent the time actually talking to my husband, who was sitting so conveniently right across the table. I found myself both living in the moment and truly connecting with my environment, to an extent that I haven’t enjoyed in a long, long time.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have my phone turned back on. My time in Ireland didn’t entirely wean me off my cell phone habit, but it did make me see that I was letting my phone intrude into my personal life far too much.  So I’ve made the promise to myself to leave my phone in my purse, where it belongs, while I’m in the company of people I care about.  And I’ve vowed not to reach for it first thing in the morning, or when I’m just a little bored, or even when I feel conspicuous sitting among a group of people who are all staring at their phones.  Because truly, sometimes it’s better to be disconnected.

Irish Travels

It always takes me a little while to “shift gears” when I return home even from a short trip, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling a bit muddled since returning yesterday from my trip to Ireland.  I suspect I’ll be feeling the effects of jet lag for at least a couple more days, but I don’t mind.  The trip was more than worth it.

This was the first international trip my husband and I have been on that wasn’t organized by someone else, and we were a bit nervous about how everything would go.  (Even for domestic flights, we print multiple copies of our boarding passes and tend to show them to every airline staffer we see “just to make sure everything is okay.”  One of these days, someone is probably going to lose patience with us and reassign us to permanent seats in the lavatories.)  For our Ireland trip, we not only had a long international flight, but we were also traveling around the country by train and had made our own hotel reservations on-line.  That’s a huge step for a couple of “nervous travelers” (paranoid travelers) such as my husband and me.

IMG_0302Amazingly, everything went off without a hitch.  We visited Kilkenny, Dublin (where we stayed with a good friend who is temporarily living there) and Galway.  We used the Irish Rail system to get to each town, and since we stayed in the city centers of Kilkenny and Galway, we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see.  While in Galway, we booked a day trip to the Connemara area on one of those huge tour busses.  How the driver managed to maneuver it down the narrow country lanes, I’ll never know, but he did it expertly, stopping every now and then to let a sheep or two get safely across the road.

Almost everyone we ran in to was both pleasant and helpful, directing us when we made a wrong turn or answering our questions cheerfully.  The food in both the pubs and restaurants was delicious, although I was a little taken back when I first saw the baked beans on the breakfast buffet.  And after a long day of enjoying the sights, it was fun to sit  in a real Irish pub, sipping wine (I know, but I just don’t like beer, ale or lagers) and listening to music. The authentic Irish music was very good, but my favorite performer was the young man with a terrific voice who sang a huge variety of songs. Trust me, you haven’t really heard Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” until you’ve heard it sung in an Irish accent, with many of the locals singing along.

IMG_0223This trip was a first in many ways.  It was my first (but hopefully, not my last) trip to Ireland.  It was the first time I have depended on a train to travel from one city to another. It was the first time I saw sheep sporting big dabs of neon paint, used to distinguish which sheep belong to which farm.  It was the first time I rode a horse English style, which is something I have always wanted to do.  I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but the guide was helpful and the horse was patient, so it all worked out.  We even trotted through a rather busy roundabout on our way to the park, which was a definite first for me.

It may sound odd, but both my husband and I are feeling a bit proud of ourselves right now, having stepped out of our comfort zone and still managing to achieve a certain level of success.  And who knows?  Maybe the next time we fly somewhere, we’ll be daring and head to the airport with only one copy of our boarding passes.