I wish you

Words are inadequate to encompass the wishes of good fortune and blessing for you and yours as we close one chapter, and begin a new one. May it be full of great joy, great friends, successes and simple pleasures.
Happy New Year, Slainté

Two Great Stories …

Two Great Stories – Both true – and worth reading

STORY NUMBER ONE

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was his lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but also, Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance
of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great.

So, he testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he
was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier.

Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold: a squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun- camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So, the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie’s” son.

The sins of the father cannot be exacted upon the son,
but the graces of the father almost always are.

Ohio Irish American News premiered 5 years ago today

5 Years ago today, the 1st issue of the Ohio Irish American News premiered. Do you remember? Could you have imagined your life now, then? Why or what?

For me, I was fresh off a book signing at Milwaukee Irish Fest in the summer of 2006, and on a book tour of the Chicago area with Shay Clarke, promoting my first book, Festival Legends: Songs & Stories. The book had come out of my involvement with Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival for almost 25 years, started by my dad and a group of friends, in 1983. Festival Legends is a biographical look at Irish music legends, their journeys, who they met along the way and why the wrote the songs that they wrote, songs that forever changed the path of Irish music, and the Irish, around the world.

There was so much misinformation out there about those legends, their accomplishments, what happened, when. I had to get the story straight, straight from the legends themselves. The great Derek McCormack’s passing at 51 years of age while performing on a cruise added urgency to the pressure I already felt to produce a high-quality work that would also make a few bucks and relieve the financial strain I was feeling as well. The tour had been very, very successful to date.

My writing career started out of desperation and circumstance. I had Rheumatoid Arthritis, at times severe. I had broken my back, and needed to get back to work after 3 years of downward spiral, struggle and coming to grips with reordered life and goals. The writing came naturally, and paid a few bills while I tried so hard to get back on my feet. When one door closes …

I was about to start a new job, with the Sheriff’s Office, which would allow me to test my back, gain health benefits, and I hoped, develop my writing career part-time, on the side, to a sustainable level, should I ever be felled by the disease again. Shay connected me with Cliff Carlson, Publisher of the Chicagoland area Irish American News. Cliff wanted to start an Ohio Irish American News. As Shay said, “I’ve got yer man”.

I didn’t fight the direction I was being pushed, but it certainly was not a plan of attack. My college plans of Criminal Justice, and a career with the FBI or Secret Service were derailed by Rheumatoid Arthritis, tho when I first got sick, the diagnosis was Degenerative Tissue Disorder, or Lupus, or possibly something else. They told me to change my major, as I was never going to work in Law Enforcement, and might find a wheel chair by the time I graduated from college.

I did change, to Business Management, graduated, still walking, sometimes as much sideways as forward, but aided by powerful medicines. I worked in restaurant and recreation management for a few years but was very fortunate to find a fantastic Rheumatologist and rode an ebb & flow of attacks and remissions for another 10+ years.

Then I broke my back. I was working in banking management, was rising, but suffering. Pain was constant and worsening. Eventually, it won, for a little while. For three + years, I gained an inch, lost a yard. Eventually, the inches turned to yards, 3 forward, 2 back, but I was gaining, and have been catching up ever since. Could I picture now, then? No, not in a million and one years, not ever.

After 3+ years, I took a part time job running an after school program, to see if I could handle a work load, then moved on when I knew I could. The Ohio Irish American News and the Sheriff’s Office developed at the same time. The paper grew and went from success to significance, and five years later, we are ready to grow again. Five years have passed, I truly believe, we, both the OhIAN, and I, are just getting started.

Everything I learned, I learned from my mother:

Everything I learned, I learned from my mother:
(author unknown)

My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.
“If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”

My mother taught me RELIGION.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”

My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL..
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

My mother taught me LOGIC.
“Because I said so, that’s why.”

My mother taught me MORE LOGIC.
“If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you ‘re not going to the store with me.”

My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
“Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

My mother taught me IRONY.
“Keep crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper.”

My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
“Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!”

My mother taught me about STAMINA.
“You’ll sit there until all that spinach is gone.”

My mother taught me about WEATHER.
“This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.”

My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY.
“If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!”

My mother taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”

My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION.
“Stop acting like your father!”

My mother taught me about ENVY.
“There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do.”

My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
“Just wait until we get home.”

My mother taught me about RECEIVING.
“You are going to get it when you get home!”

My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.
“If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way.”

My mother taught me ESP.
“Put your sweater on; don’t you think I know when you are cold?”

My mother taught me HUMOR.
“When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”

My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT.
“If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.”

My mother taught me GENETICS.
“You’re just like your father.”

My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
“Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?”

My mother taught me WISDOM.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

And my favorite: My mother taught me about JUSTICE.
“One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you.”

And God Said No

And God Said No
(author unknown)

I asked God to take away my pride,
and God said, “No, it was not for Him to take away,
but for me to give up.”

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole
and God said, “No, her spirit is whole,
her body is only temporary.”

I asked God to grant me patience,
and God said, “No, patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted, it’s earned.”

I asked God to give me happiness,
and God said, “No, I give blessings,
happiness is up to you.”

I asked God to spare me pain,
and God said, “No, suffering draws you apart from worldly cares
and brings you closer to Me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow,
and God said, “No, You must grow on your own,
but I will prune you to make you fruitful.”

I asked God if He loved me,
and God said. ”Yes, I gave My only Son to you, who died for you,
and you will be in Heaven some day because you believe.”

I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me,
and God said, ”Ah, finally,
you have gotten the idea.”

** My thoughts:
EACH of those above applies/applied to me.
The daily pain I feel draws me closer to God.
Thru God’s incredible gift of life I have learned patience, understanding, empathy and love for others, humility, how to be happy – in my own world, acceptance of my own health problems and pain and using that to help others, deepened my faith, spirituality, closeness to Him (or Her) and grown my hope for a brighter tomorrow, both here in the short time I am on earth, and in Heaven, when God calls me home.

I woke up this morning and before opening my eyes, before my first activity of the day, praying, saw a sign in my mind’s eye. Here is what it said:

“Hi John,
Thanks for talking with me last night. I love our conversations and hearing all about your day. You make me so happy, just talking with me. It was wonderful to share in those dreams and concerns with you.
I know all your desires; I know all your troubles. I got this. I will not be needing your help to handle them. So just have a good day.
All my Love,
Jesus”

Love, loss & glory

Love, loss & glory, the original poetry of John O’Brien, Jr. Print ($15) & ebooks ($5) avail @ www.songsandstories.net, Greater Cleveland Irish Directory ($20) and Fine Irish Pubs of Greater Cleveland ($10) there too. Thank you!

30 Days of Days ‘Till Christmas, One Post, by request

It is Christmas! ~ For 30 days, I have been writing about things that matter to me as we approach Christmas. I got the idea from Maggie Keenan, who wrote about things she appreciated or was grateful for. One of my sisters birthday is today. She is my Irish twin.

We always celebrate her birthday Christmas Eve and her husband makes this amazing Chicken Cordon Blue. I could eat just that, leave all the other stuff behind, and be one very happy man. We eat, have a great cuppa or three and exchange gifts. Seeing the kids open their gifts, their joy and excitement, is a highlight for me. I am a fan of and very respectful of tradition.

Cherish the Mystery
by John O’Brien, Jr.

Ghosts of Christmas past, go floating through my brain
I remember cold and snow, yet remember not much pain
Joyful childhood, waking up Christmas morn’
Delivering the paper, before the wrapping could be shorn
The house all dark but the tree lights still lit.
Not a sound in the sharp air, as I pull on my mitts
Bag over my shoulder, paper in my hands
Had to be in the door, not today’s “wherever it lands”
Quiet, so quiet, but this one morn I’m not afraid
I think not of dark driveways or who hasn’t paid
The stillness so peaceful, I try not to make a sound
I’m all alone in the world, as six a.m. comes around.

Up the long driveways and then back down them again,
Can’t jump the snow high on the grass, stuck like a pig in a pen
Broom hockey shoes keep me from falling, on my ass, in the snow
No matter how I hurried, I went much too slow
Frozen and often wet, I’d turn the corner for home
My mind is on presents, and Christmas past poems
The last paper’s delivered, each door tightly closed
My Irish cheeks look like Santa, the weather has rosed
I trudge up the hill and see my dad at the door
My mind sees those less blessed, many reasons for the poor
The houses in the neighborhood with no presents or a tree
My world’s not so cold, I’m starting to see.

Into the house I go, my bag hung on the stairs
One sister wakes up the others, who come down as a pair
Warm clothes, thick socks, and hot chocolate whipped to a foam
Rush through breakfast quickly, eyes to wonder and to roam.
My stocking off the fireplace, filled with fun little gifts
Then under the trees too sharp needles, the attention snaps and shifts
Clothes and cool games, wall holders for my collection
We each had our spot, our haul’s own little section
And when it’s all over, put the wrapping in the bag
Mom always says: “for thank you’s keep the tag”

Tho’ my sister is all tired, as my mother did warn her
I lean back against the wall, in my section in the corner
I think of the morning, from high chaos to early still
Of the food and the company, that this day will fill
The smell of the turkey, reaches me as I stretch out
Such wonderful memories are without a doubt
The reason I still cherish Christmas, and the still of the morn
Jesus works in mysterious ways, since the very night he was born.

***
The pic is of the January cover of the Ohio Irish American News, and features Marys Lane playing at the gazebo on Medina Square. The photo is by Tom McInerney. I thought it very fitting to mark our 5th Anniversary issue with this photo. We have received so many gifts in the five years of the Ohio Irish American News, a picture of music, lights, happiness, sharing – all the arts rolled into one, was a perfect statement. We are blessed, we are grateful – Christmas has been our daily blessing for five years now.

• ˚ •˛•˚ * 。 • ˚ ˚ ˛ ˚ ˛ •
• ˚Merry★* 。 • ˚ ˚ ˛ ˚ ˛ •
•。★Christmas!★ 。* • ˚。
° 。 ° ˛˚˛ * _Π_____*。*˚
˚ ˛ •˛•˚ */______/~\。˚ ˚ ˛
˚ ˛ •˛• ˚ | 田田 |門| ˚

It is 1 Day Until Christmas ~ There can be only One. One day, one Best friend, one quarterback, one God, in life, and of life. I wrote yesterday about Situational Awareness – living in the moment, not just in our own small worlds, but the greater world too. Being able to not only smell the roses, but be able to also see how it affects you, and others as well.

It is easier than ever to spread ourselves thin – the more technologically advanced we are, the busier we are – and the more easily distracted, unfocused, missing the forest for the trees we are, because we have been conditioned to multi-task: tell everyone, tell everyone in 140 characters, and move on … to the next experience, satisfy the next urge, NOW.

I come from a deep and ingrained tradition of telling stories. Today, the oral tradition is more readily available than ever. Only now, it is electric! Name the poem, story or song, and you can often find it on the internet. This is an amazing this for our culture, for every culture, and brings us full circle, because we can see more than just our viewpoint, our own little world.

There are three sides to every story – your side, my side, and the truth. I have been writing a lot over the last six months about the similarities of different people. I do a presentation called “At Each End of the Rifle”. The presentation is poems, verse and lyrics that illustrates how, from throughout mankind’s history, people with remarkably similar hurts, angers, struggles, joys and goals, have insisted on killing each other. With the advent of the internet and sharing, we can now hear more than one side of the story; we can see a struggle from a perspective not often available to us, and we can make our own decision, based upon a person, and their character, not their religion, or the place they were born, whether born in Boston, Belfast or Bethlehem.

“One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” – Golda Meir

Shake the Bones
By John O’Brien, Jr.

Christmas smells and sounds drift through the house.
The sun is shining brightly. There is no snow
but the cold and wind shake the bones, the panes
shudder and stress; sticks against the racing clouds.
On the beautiful blue canvas of the half clear sky.
cinnamon and pine and the green, red and gold
brightly tantalize the nose and the eyes.
Ave Maria, O Holy Night. Tynan in my ears,
praise and wonder in my mind.
Regret not the confusion, the chaos and the urgency
Of preparation. Of Thanksgiving. Of Christmas.
What gathers people, crafts hugs, kisses, handshakes, peace.
That which draws people together across miles, continents and anger,
is worth celebrating itself, let alone for the miracle that gave birth
to more than a child.
Contact, in cards and letters and pictures sent, seeing old friends
reunions, the healing power of hugs,
the healing power of God.
And they say we don’t see God at work in our world today.

It is 1 Day Until Christmas.

It is 2 Days Until Christmas ~
Come my friends, it is not too late to seek a better world. – Tennyson
Living in the moment isn’t hard to do ~ it is so easy that we often forget to do it. Being aware of our surroundings, our blessings, right now, as well as the ripples outward, is called situational awareness.

I work a government job, with the Sheriff’s Office. Every day I trade one day of my life for something. It drives me to make that something traded worthwhile. I can’t recover the day, the opportunities may be repeated, but not in the same way. There is not a lot of money in it, but the opportunity to significantly help people, to make this world a better place for our having been here, exists every day.

This year more than ever, we are aware of situations of struggle, of heartache, of loss and so many in need of a helping hand. This year, we have seen those blessed with enough have taken to paying off other’s layaways – how incredibly thoughtful, subtle and loving, without any banging on chests or self-congratulations. Those without money try to find ways to make the world better by giving in other ways. We can’t let the lack of money dictate a lack of action.

The smallest gift – of word, assistance, thoughtfulness, can have the biggest impact ~ random acts of kindness can be a part of everyone’s day, not just at Christmas time. The theory is sound, the practice of this situational awareness, how we impact others, is so easy, we often forget to live it. But it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. It is 2 days until Christmas … If not now, when? If we won’t begin putting other’s first, of thinking beyond ourselves now, at Christmas, whether we have money or not, when will we? It is 2 days until Christmas, “Come my friends, it is not too late to seek a better world”?

It is 3 Days Until Christmas ~ I met up with 3 friends that I haven’t seen in a long while tonight – an old frat brother, an old house mate, and an old friend, all who knew each other, long before they knew me. Time, circumstance and a little divine direction brought us together more than 20 years ago. We Had a fantastic dinner at Great Lakes Brewery and for three hours told auld stories. My jaws hurt from laughing. God is very, very, very good to me.

One of the things that we talked about was the 30th Annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival and the music coming this year. Last year, during the very tough sheeting rain in the midst of the festival, two of these guys came anyway, brought me a beer, and simply, just hung out. It was a classy thing for them to do, after the exhaustion of all that effort drowned in all that rain. I wont forget their being there; their significant presence was a gift.

Being Irish and being Catholic, three has a significant presence on my life. The shamrock has three leaves. It is very prevalent in Ireland, but rare here, and considered lucky because of its rarity – kind of like my friends. The shamrock is not to be confused with the clover, which has four leaves (I’m looking over, a four leaf clover, that I’ve over looked before…”) and is everywhere here, like a weed – oh wait ….

At many festival’s, you will see a t-shirt that says, “If you are lucky enough to be Irish, you are lucky enough”. Being Irish is a shamrock of faith, family and friends – each with their own identity and characteristics, but each an inseparable part of being Irish in America, and each, alone and together, a very, very, very lucky legacy of life, love and liberty. My country, my heritage is engraved on my back, and in my heart.

Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the three entities of God ~ The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit, when converting pagan Ireland to Catholicism. Each leaf, and each aspect of God, is recognizable on it’s own, but inseparable from the whole, very much like Christ, celebration, and Christmas. It is three days until Christmas, the mass of Christ, the celebration of Christ. It is three days until Christmas …

It is 4 Days Until Christmas ~ Tommy Makem wrote more than 400 songs, the anthem, Four Green Fields, of course, as well as Gentle Annie, Winds of Morning, The Winds Are Singing Freedom and so many other iconic songs, songs that are sung where ever the Irish gather around the world. They are the stories of our people.
Our stories define us; our culture is a story-driven one, an oral tradition passed on generation to generation. We pass the stories on so our roots, our history, our very identity stays vibrant and alive – it is our connection to our past, AND our present.
My story is not the only one I am trying to tell. Tommy wrote Four Green Fields one day while driving down to Newry, in the Co. Down. He saw a woman coming down from the fields with the cows, to cross the road. They were both stopped at a British checkpoint. Tommy watched her as he, and she, waited to go thru. He could see the, Hassle, as the woman just wanted to get on across the road, to get on with her life. He wrote the first two paragraphs then, and the final one later, when he got to Newry.

The Four Green Fields symbolically refer to the 4 Provinces of Ireland: Leinster, Munster, Ulster & Connaught, which hold the 32 counties. The “fine, old woman” represents Ireland herself.

What did I have? said the fine old woman
What did I have? this proud old woman did say
I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, they fought to save my jewels
They fought and died, and that was my grief, said she

Long time ago, said the fine old woman
Long time ago, this proud old woman did say
There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved by mountain valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she

What have I now? said the fine old woman
What have I now? this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, one of them’s in bondage
In stranger’s hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers
And my four green fields, will bloom once again, said she
Yes my four green Field, will bloom once again, said she.

In this time of birth, and rebirth, the beginning of new eras and new days, that dream of one country is not over. One Ireland is closer now than it has been in more than 800 years.

It is 5 Days Until Christmas ~ 5 years ago next week. we launched the Ohio Irish American News – it premiered January 1st, 2007. I saw the final proof for the January, 5th Anniversary issue last nite ~ The cover is spectacular. Hopefully you will find the issue equally so.

I couldn’t begin to tell you all the stories, the doors opened, the memories and the friendships that have come about because of the OhIAN. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the late nite sessiúns and sing-alongs, the friendships and fun I have been privileged to be a part of. I have met, I have travelled, I have learned, and yes, I have cried, in all seen and done over the last five years. The list is long, the list is distinguished; in my mind, the list shall live in infamy.

I have told the story before of how we started, but it is ironic, exactly five years after the launch of my first book birthed the OhIAn, the launch of my new book coincides with the 5th Anniversary issue. Five years is an awful long time to go by in a blink. I am grateful beyond words, grateful to be so blessed. Two words have so much meaning: Merry Christmas; Happy New Year, Happy Anniversary; Thank You.

It is 6 Days Until Christmas ~ 6 has many prominent places in society.
One of the most prominent, is, of course, that “On the sixth day, God created Man,” It was a good day for man! A few others that came easily to mind are a fit to yesterday’s blog, with the 7 notes of the Diatonic scale, paired with the 6 strings of the guitar in today’s blog, and my love for music in a previous one. We take a change in playing that game of association, so we have six sides of a die. We have fun on the rise and fall of the die, and the wish to die as you plunge down a rickety rackety track ~ Six Flags’ roller coasters, almost everywhere we look, including the six inhabited continents. The sixth sense tells you to run, to not get on the coaster, or you might meet Kevin Bacon, and we all know about the 6 degrees of that! You could die, and then what happens? You go 6 feet under ~ Coffins are buried six feet underground. It has its good points and its bad points, but there is 6 points in scoring a touchdown and in the Star of David. If that doesn’t make you drink … there are 6 packs, and, strangest of all, 6 is the number for carbon, which we humans are emitting/creating at an unprecedented and dangerous level. I love a green Christmas, and a green earth. Last, but most importantly, 666 has no chance at all, for in 6 days, that Star of David, the Light of the World, shines brightest of all.

It is 7 Days Until Christmas ~ Musically, the Diatonic Scale has 7 notes. 1. Do. 2. Re. 3. Mi. 4. Fa. 5. So. 6. La 7. Ti. Then it starts all over again, on a higher plane, with Do. The world was created in 7 days, and a week has 7 days – and 7 days from today, it is Christmas. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, the things I remember most are the frequent guests that stayed over night, when they were playing in Cleveland. Do you remember Bridie Gallagher, the great singer? I remember listening to Dermot O’Brien, Glen Curtin, Noel Henry, Barleycorn as well. When I woke to the smell of bacon on a Sunday morning, I knew Dad had brought the band home, and the breakfast table was going to be full of stories from the road. It was a great way to grow up.

As I got older, I started finding my own songs and singers that I loved. My dad and a group of friends started the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, with the first one in 1983. One day my dad walked into my bedroom and said, “Johnny, we’re starting a festival, you’re doing the parking”. And he walked out. I was 16 years old.

Because of the festival, dances and Sunday morning breakfasts, I became immersed in the music. I was deeply impacted by the message of Tommy Makem and how preserving and promoting the culture was so important, before it all disappeared. Being able to meet, talk with, and form friendships with so many of the performers who had impact on the music, and on me, really influenced my thinking.

My memories of the first festival are still very strong and I have so many cherished memories from the ensuing twenty-nine years, all related to the festival performers, many, like Tommy, now gone home, the volunteers and amazing, legendary afters parties and sessiúns that have filled the years with joy remain a treasured part of my life.

I was hooked on the music and still, to this day, learn as many songs as I can, knowing hundreds at this point. Songs in my head, songs always on my tongue, songs I love to sing, songs that tell stories ~ Folk Songs.

For as Sean O’Casey said, in his Rose & Crown:
Oh, and the folk-song, the folk-song, the gay and melancholy strains of the Irish folk-song, on fiddle, on harp, and on fife. And no folk-art is there but is born in the disregard of gain, and in the desire to add a newer beauty and a steadier charm to God’s well-turned-out gifts to man.

In recent years, maybe as my strident side mellows and I meet people from all over the world in this writing life, I am more struck by the similarities in people than the differences. Every culture has its own niches, its cool things that touch your soul, but the similarities, especially of emotion and defining values, are remarkable, and unmistakable.

For as William Butler Yeats said:
Folk-art is indeed, the oldest of the aristocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered unto itself the simplest and most unforgettable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all art is rooted.

It is 8 Days Until Christmas ~ The 8th day is a new week, a new beginning, the eighth day starts over the cycle, but is not held back by the past, it writes its own road. Eight days after Jesus was born, his name was officially recorded. In a manger, in Bethlehem, the world began anew. More than 2,000 years later, Christmas, the mass (celebration) of Christ, is observed in countless ways, some secular, some not, even tho the nots still call it the mass of Christ, or Christmas. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it too – a free ride of celebration, but no accountability; of presents, but no kindness; of all the joy of the season, but none of the advent. It is 8 days until Christmas, and the world anticipates the coming.

It is 9 Days Until Christmas ~ In the 12 Days of Christmas song, the 9th day says “9 Ladies Dancing”, which symbolizes the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Never heard of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit? In Galatians 5:22-23, it says:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Spirit is capitalized on purpose, to indicate it is a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to an essence or idea to shoot for.
To me, that means being men for others (also the motto of St. Ignatius, where I went to high school). The greatness of a man can nearly always be measured by his willingness to be kind.
It is easy to be cruel. It is easy to mock, insult or ignore others. Life is lived in seconds. Greatness is in the man who doesn’t take the easy way – who thinks beyond himself, and his tiredness, to take the extra second, the extra stroke of kindness, the road less taken, and makes one man, and thereby mankind, better for it. WWJD? THAT is What Jesus Would Do.

It is 10 Days Until Christmas ~ I have 10 nephews, a pretty remarkable thing for me. Growing up, I had no brothers, no relations in the United States, so the nephews and the common interests of sports, faith, and foraging about, to see the world first hand, is such a pleasure for me. From age 5 to age 25, the boys cover it all, share it all, and best of all – never stop laughing. Life is good!

It is 11 Days Until Christmas ~ It is 2011, 11 years after the world was going to end, at the turn of the century, and America was going to end, on 9/11. One was a blip, the other was … more than a blip, but not an end. Some would say, it has even been a beginning. We are a stronger, more mysterious, more technologically dependent and more technologically secure country, tho the smallest among us often takes the biggest hit. That is the way life is, and always has been. Our heartbeat is stronger, tho our politics are more broken. Our party system isn’t just out of date, it is out of touch ~ even tho those we elect are supposed to represent us. How do you represent a constituent whose views you do not present. A congressman was once a very respected achievement, now it is simply a clique of people who consistently put the interests of their party above the interests of their country – the proof is online, in line, and border line insanity – the enemy is not terrorism, the enemy is within.

It is 12 Days Until Christmas ~ Recently there has been an effort to discredit the olde catechism, or beliefs around the meaning of The 12 Days of Christmas song. I learned the song, and the true meaning behind it, some 40 years ago. Bah Humbug on those who are only happy when they are unhappy, and insist on trying to take others down with them.
Here is how I learned it: The 12 Days of Christmas is a song of symbolism ~ little clues to help young goslings remember tenants of our Catholic faith. Long ago, writing or even talking about Catholics, being Catholic or observing any Catholic rite, passage or ceremony was subject to death. A way to teach and help children remember the most important things in our faith, in a way that was safe should they run across authorities, birthed the 12 Days of Christmas song.
The ‘True love” is the song is Jesus (On the 1st Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
A partridge in a pear tree – which represents the mother church, who protects her young by distracting would be persecutors, murderers and those who would harm the church or her people.
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments

3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues

4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch”, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace.

6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation

7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments

11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles

12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
The gift we receive, is baptism.

It is 13 Days Until Christmas ~

It is 14 Days Until Christmas ~ Two weeks from today, for all you shoppers given to panic or planning. I am subject to neither, and tend to shop in the week before Christmas, making a day of shopping, lunch, walking where the music and the sites of the season can settle deep within me, where it is most welcome and anticipated. Though I physically start the season early, always decorating the day after Thanksgiving, I am held back from the mental immersion, because of the crass commercialism so prevalent today, and exploited by retailers earlier and earlier with each passing year. As church and music work their magic within me, I begin to tune the greed out, and the reason for the season blossoms. We get out of anything, only what we put into it. It just takes a little nurturing, a little effort, a little opportunity, a little time, for faith, family and focus to prevail.

It is 16 days until Christmas ~ John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
When we were kids, we used to see that, John 3:16, on hand-made signs held high at sporting events. You don’t see it quite as often anymore, tho once in a while. The signs were often shown between the goalposts as a field goal or point after were being kicked – I always raised my eyes at the subliminal message – “here’s the goal (of the game, of life), hit it and win.” Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we miss, but we always are striving to achieve the goal, to succeed in the gift called life, which is to have lived a life worthwhile. We don’t fail when we miss; we fail when we don’t get up after falling, when we don’t try again. The reward is three points, or the trinity of Father, son and Holy Spirit.
I remember going thru the pain management program at the Cleveland clinic, and how so much of pain management is not actually physical healing, but mental healing and acceptance. There was a woman in the program whose daughter had been killed by a drunk driver, middle of the day, an otherwise innocuous day, and she was so lost in pain, and anger. “Why did it have to happen, what could have been done to alter life by one second, one city block, so my beautiful daughter would still be here today?” She was so angry at God, at the world. How could God let this happen?
There is no real human solace or explanation for that kind of pain ~ God allowed His own son to be tortured, crucified, murdered, so that we would have a chance at eternal life. We don’t understand the route we must take to understanding. When we think how frustrating and hard life can be, when we get bogged down in, “If life were JUST a little bit easier, wouldn’t we be more loving, more nurturing, if we weren’t so tired from fighting?” We lose sight of the forest for the trees. Life is not meant to be easy or full of laughter – human life is practice, For eternal life.
“Your ways are not my ways.” When we try to put our thought processes, our ways, our hurts, to the thought processes or ways of God, we are trying to put the thoughts and ways of humans, TO GOD. That is incompatible. That is like trying to put the ways of a Christian to the ways of a Muslim, or the ways of a rich man to the ways of a poor one; there may be similarities, there may be commonalities, but they are different worlds, levels so far apart as the only link to be found, is faith.
I could not heal her hurt; I could not shed light on why; I could not explain specifically what was gained by her daughter’s death or how a loving God would allow such pain. My faith, and utter understanding that I am to small to understand, gets me through those deepest, darkest desolations that challenge me, each of us, as we try to do the best we can, to be men for others, in our journey to a better life. We can’t find answers but we can’t stop trying to find answers, to why, to how, to everlasting life.

It is 17 days until Christmas ~ I was not blessed with Children. To ease the sting, especially around the holidays, when family gatherings are preeminent and memories are crafted, God gave me 17 nieces and nephews, who bring me more joy and more laughter than I could ever wish for. They don’t know it, they just go about their life, living, and I get to dream, hope, laugh and cry with them, from near and far. Never has a man with so little, been so rich.

It is 18 days until Christmas – Sorry, the author of this blog is currently unavailable. He is at Casey’s Irish Imports (where you should be), signing his new book, First Generation. Are you still here? GO TO CASEY”S

It is 19 days until Christmas – 19 is the numerical value of the word ONE in Aramaic, Hebrew & Arabic. The number 19 proclaims the First commandment in all the scriptures: that there is only ONE GOD. I believe that – that there is only one God – I also believe there are many paths to Her. We are told since we are very young that our God is a loving God. No way a loving God says, sorry, you were born in the wrong country, wrong religion, wrong time, wrong sex, wrong sexual orientation or wrong whatever, you go to hell for eternity. THAT would not be a loving God.

It is 20 days until Christmas ~ 20 years is also called a score, as The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln – “Four SCORE and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty….
In the land of liberty, I scored big today, when I received the most wonderful Christmas gift from the land of Saints & Scholars – a gift pak, with Barry’s tea, Biscuits and candy. How Great Thou Art.

T a Secret Friend
by John O’Brien, Jr.

Icy
Cold
Yet even the site of you can be refreshing
soothing, calming
or can fire up my mind and leave me exhausted for sleep
with no hope of finding it.
You tantalize, long, golden brown
or flip, black, turning back all light
You can burn me,
bubble over me as I poured over you
in making you.
And yet, yet
you are what I long for on the way home from a long journey
a half spoon of sweetness, takes off your edge.
Omnipresent, at the dinner table, with friends,
at celebrations and funerals
always my hand wrapped around you
I taste you, and I sigh
how I love thee,
Tea

It is 21 days until Christmas ~ 21, the age of “adulthood” and freedom. Freedom in America has a different meaning than in many other lands. I remember being in Ireland, in 1981, and going to Bobby Sands funeral. In a word association whose roots I cannot recall, the words of the song, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” rolling thru my 14 year old head.
John Lennon & Paul McCartney’s musical version brought pictures of my cousins and friends back home, their fears and hopes, things they accepted as the norm, that were anything but, to me … Crystallized when I came home to a place I had never been before.
I remember sitting in the back seat of a lil car in riding thru Belfast, and watching a 4 or 5 year old child dash out from a wall to throw a rock at a passing British tank … “and meanwhile back in Ireland, there’s a man who looks like me. And he dreams of God and country, and he’s feeling pretty sad. And he’s sitting in a prison. Should he lie down, do nothing, should he give in, or go mad.”
I am grateful for our freedom, and those who earned it, grateful to have not lost any loved ones to The Troubles, tho we love all that were lost. I do a presentation called, At Each End of the Rifle, at festivals and cultural events. It incorporates songs, poems and verse, including the song “Francis Tolliver”, on how at each end of the rifle we’re the same, at each end of a conflict, there are more similarities between us than differences, if we can be wise enough, be humble enough, control our emotions and hurt enough, to look beyond the dialogue. Only when we are adults, in mind and in body, can we truly appreciate our freedom.

It is 22 days until Christmas ~ I am John F. O’Brien. I was born November 22nd, 1965. I have always had a deep connection to John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated November 22nd, 1963. I miss Camelot. I am grateful for all the things JFK did, in civil rights, in further human rights and the path of the Irish in America; the pain and the promise of 11/22 has evolved – some nostalgia, some hope and most of all, the perseverance of America. I miss Camelot:
Camelot

My name is John F. O’Brien
In Cleveland I was born
In 1965 – Two years to the day
that Camelot died
I miss Camelot

The promise of a better today, not tomorrow
Glamour, Hollywood in the White House
Principles, Character. Hope.
Despite the Marilyn’s

The Volunteer Corps
Service to God, Country, others
I am Third – or fourth or fifth
When families meant two parents

Before ‘Nam blew up, and Woodstock’s reasons died
And the Kennedy’s weren’t falling. Bullets.
Though there are buildings and roads and airports and schools
I’d rather see that come later – much later
I missed Camelot

It is 23 days until Christmas ~ Did you know that each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to start a new human life? Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. That is the very meaning of the word – Christmas, Mass of Christ– Mass is Celebration – Celebration of Christ. People who say they don’t believe in Christmas, yet they celebrate Christmas, often mystify me. Anything that brings people together, across miles, anger, hurts and trials HAS to be celebrated in and of itself, yet alone for the miracle still marked 2,000 years after the birth of Christ. If you don’t believe, I respect that. It is between you and God, but either believe, or don’t. Celebrate, or don’t. I hope you do. Merry Christmas.

It is 24 days until Christmas ~ In the spirit of the show “24” I am grateful for the all Law Enforcement, Emergency Management, Safety Forces, Military, First Responders and support partners who treat every hour on duty like it is the most important hour – in your life – when they respond to a crisis. Often at risk, often with sacrifice, always with generosity, bravery and a helping hand, they respond. I am honored to be part of the team.

It is 25 days until Christmas – On December 25th, my Irish twin was born. She is the Martha Stewart of WestPark, with her kids, and all the kids, that live in the neighborhood. I admire her, I love her. Boy, did I made out THAT Christmas!
“Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” – Franklin P. Jones

It is 26 days until Christmas ~ Our family started out with two Irish Immigrants: Mom, from Montreal, Canada, & Dad, from near Athlone, Co Roscommon, Ireland. Their four children grew up without relations near, but we have made up for that! Love hoe close my 17 nieces and nephews are with their cousins, and with me.
A Very Merry Christmas to the 26 members of my family: Mom & Dad; Noreen & Mike, Caitie Tommy, Brian, John, Will, Michael, Annie, Caroline; Cathy & John, Maura, Kathleen, Jack, Declan; Trish & Phillip, Maria, Tony, Phillip, Eileen, Neal; ME! I am having the best one of all.

It is 27 days until Christmas ~ I have had Rheumatoid Arthritis for 27 years; it has made me a better person, more empathetic; a better writer, more versed in the colors, tastes, scents, vibrations and texture of struggles in the world; and more understanding that the greatness of a man can nearly always be measured by his willingness to be kind. Doors close so windows will be opened.

It is 28 days until Christmas – I am grateful for the estimated 28,000 people who read the Ohio Irish American News each month in print and online.

It is 29 days till Christmas, I am grateful for all the friendships we have made, over the 29 years of the festival, so far!

It is 30 days till Christmas ~ I am grateful for 30 years of Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival

It is Christmas …

Happy 5th Anniversary, It is Christmas! ~ For 30 days, I have been writing about things that matter to me as we approach Christmas. I got the idea from Maggie Keenan, who wrote about things she appreciated or was grateful for. One of my sisters birthday is today. She is my Irish twin.

We always celebrate her birthday Christmas Eve and her husband makes this amazing Chicken Cordon Blue. I could eat just that, leave all the other stuff behind, and be one very happy man. We eat, have a great cuppa or three and exchange gifts. Seeing the kids open their gifts, their joy and excitement, is a highlight for me. I am a fan of and very respectful of tradition.

Cherish the Mystery
by John O’Brien, Jr.

Ghosts of Christmas past, go floating through my brain
I remember cold and snow, yet remember not much pain
Joyful childhood, waking up Christmas morn’
Delivering the paper, before the wrapping could be shorn
The house all dark but the tree lights still lit.
Not a sound in the sharp air, as I pull on my mitts
Bag over my shoulder, paper in my hands
Had to be in the door, not today’s “wherever it lands”
Quiet, so quiet, but this one morn I’m not afraid
I think not of dark driveways or who hasn’t paid
The stillness so peaceful, I try not to make a sound
I’m all alone in the world, as six a.m. comes around.

Up the long driveways and then back down them again,
Can’t jump the snow high on the grass, stuck like a pig in a pen
Broom hockey shoes keep me from falling, on my ass, in the snow
No matter how I hurried, I went much too slow
Frozen and often wet, I’d turn the corner for home
My mind is on presents, and Christmas past poems
The last paper’s delivered, each door tightly closed
My Irish cheeks look like Santa, the weather has rosed
I trudge up the hill and see my dad at the door
My mind sees those less blessed, many reasons for the poor
The houses in the neighborhood with no presents or a tree
My world’s not so cold, I’m starting to see.

Into the house I go, my bag hung on the stairs
One sister wakes up the others, who come down as a pair
Warm clothes, thick socks, and hot chocolate whipped to a foam
Rush through breakfast quickly, eyes to wonder and to roam.
My stocking off the fireplace, filled with fun little gifts
Then under the trees too sharp needles, the attention snaps and shifts
Clothes and cool games, wall holders for my collection
We each had our spot, our haul’s own little section
And when it’s all over, put the wrapping in the bag
Mom always says: “for thank you’s keep the tag”

Tho’ my sister is all tired, as my mother did warn her
I lean back against the wall, in my section in the corner
I think of the morning, from high chaos to early still
Of the food and the company, that this day will fill
The smell of the turkey, reaches me as I stretch out
Such wonderful memories are without a doubt
The reason I still cherish Christmas, and the still of the morn
Jesus works in mysterious ways, since the very night he was born.

***
The pic is of the January cover of the Ohio Irish American News, and features Marys Lane playing at the gazebo on Medina Square. The photo is by Tom McInerney. I thought it very fitting to mark our 5th Anniversary issue with this photo. We have received so many gifts in the five years of the Ohio Irish American News, a picture of music, lights, happiness, sharing – all the arts rolled into one, was a perfect statement. We are blessed, we are grateful – Christmas has been our daily blessing for five years now.

• ˚ •˛•˚ * 。 • ˚ ˚ ˛ ˚ ˛ •
• ˚Merry★* 。 • ˚ ˚ ˛ ˚ ˛ •
•。★Christmas!★ 。* • ˚。
° 。 ° ˛˚˛ * _Π_____*。*˚
˚ ˛ •˛•˚ */______/~\。˚ ˚ ˛
˚ ˛ •˛• ˚ | 田田 |門| ˚

It is 1 Day Until Christmas …

It is 1 Day Until Christmas ~ There can be only One. One day, one Best friend, one quarterback, one God, in life, and of life. I wrote yesterday about Situational Awareness – living in the moment, not just in our own small worlds, but the greater world too. Being able to not only smell the roses, but be able to also see how it affects you, and others as well.

It is easier than ever to spread ourselves thin – the more technologically advanced we are, the busier we are – and the more easily distracted, unfocused, missing the forest for the trees we are, because we have been conditioned to multi-task: tell everyone, tell everyone in 140 characters, and move on … to the next experience, satisfy the next urge, NOW.

I come from a deep and ingrained tradition of telling stories. Today, the oral tradition is more readily available than ever. Only now, it is electric! Name the poem, story or song, and you can often find it on the internet. This is an amazing this for our culture, for every culture, and brings us full circle, because we can see more than just our viewpoint, our own little world.

There are three sides to every story – your side, my side, and the truth. I have been writing a lot over the last six months about the similarities of different people. I do a presentation called “At Each End of the Rifle”. The presentation is poems, verse and lyrics that illustrates how, from throughout mankind’s history, people with remarkably similar hurts, angers, struggles, joys and goals, have insisted on killing each other. With the advent of the internet and sharing, we can now hear more than one side of the story; we can see a struggle from a perspective not often available to us, and we can make our own decision, based upon a person, and their character, not their religion, or the place they were born, whether born in Boston, Belfast or Bethlehem.

“One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” – Golda Meir

Shake the Bones
By John O’Brien, Jr.

Christmas smells and sounds drift through the house.
The sun is shining brightly. There is no snow
but the cold and wind shake the bones, the panes
shudder and stress; sticks against the racing clouds.
On the beautiful blue canvas of the half clear sky.
cinnamon and pine and the green, red and gold
brightly tantalize the nose and the eyes.
Ave Maria, O Holy Night. Tynan in my ears,
praise and wonder in my mind.
Regret not the confusion, the chaos and the urgency
Of preparation. Of Thanksgiving. Of Christmas.
What gathers people, crafts hugs, kisses, handshakes, peace.
That which draws people together across miles, continents and anger,
is worth celebrating itself, let alone for the miracle that gave birth
to more than a child.
Contact, in cards and letters and pictures sent, seeing old friends
reunions, the healing power of hugs,
the healing power of God.
And they say we don’t see God at work in our world today.

It is 1 Day Until Christmas …

It is 2 Days Until Christmas …

It is 2 Days Until Christmas ~
Come my friends, it is not too late to seek a better world. – Tennyson
Living in the moment isn’t hard to do ~ it is so easy that we often forget to do it. Being aware of our surroundings, our blessings, right now, as well as the ripples outward, is called situational awareness.

I work a government job, with the Sheriff’s Office. Every day I trade one day of my life for something. It drives me to make that something traded worthwhile. I can’t recover the day, the opportunities may be repeated, but not in the same way. There is not a lot of money in it, but the opportunity to significantly help people, to make this world a better place for our having been here, exists every day.

This year more than ever, we are aware of situations of struggle, of heartache, of loss and so many in need of a helping hand. This year, we have seen those blessed with enough have taken to paying off other’s layaways – how incredibly thoughtful, subtle and loving, without any banging on chests or self-congratulations. Those without money try to find ways to make the world better by giving in other ways. We can’t let the lack of money dictate a lack of action.

The smallest gift – of word, assistance, thoughtfulness, can have the biggest impact ~ random acts of kindness can be a part of everyone’s day, not just at Christmas time. The theory is sound, the practice of this situational awareness, how we impact others, is so easy, we often forget to live it. But it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. It is 2 days until Christmas … If not now, when? If we won’t begin putting other’s first, of thinking beyond ourselves now, at Christmas, whether we have money or not, when will we? It is 2 days until Christmas, “Come my friends, it is not too late to seek a better world”?