I was at home yesterday, on St. Patrick’s Day, having taken the day off, as it’s my birthday. I had decided to spend the day doing a little spring cleaning. My thought was, I would prepare myself for the upcoming year, and (also) for the rest of my life. A lot of emotional pressure to put on to cleaning out a closet for sure, and I was getting stuck in the rubble of clothing discards. I was feeling very sad as well, missing my beautiful sister, who moved on to another (better) place without me this year. I didn’t understand how to celebrate my birthday without her. As I was sitting on the couch in a funk, I received a happy birthday text from a friend and fabulous artist, SiYeon Lee. She said that she and a few other friends were going to draw ‘my’ parade – the Patty’s Day parade, and that they had been inspired to do so by my reportage work, currently exhibited in the Artists for Art Gallery in Scranton. I thought, why aren’t I inspired by my work? And decided to go out and draw the parade a bit myself.
As soon as I got off the train on Fifth Avenue, the sounds of bagpipers hit me like a green wave. What a familiar sound! I came around the corner, and saw a cacophony (can you SEE a cacophony?) of Irish faces and blue eyes marching along. I love the eclectic feel of it, and it’s really funny, but the Patty’s Day parade for me is always about those faces…
Smiling, winking, laughing, and feeling proud – those faces all feel so familiar. I am of 3/4 Irish descent, after all. I recognized the emotion – the twinkle in the eye no matter what – the sense of humor against all odds – such a singular Irish trait, and so very much like my sister. I smiled to myself, thinking that she would like it that I was there, and not moping at home on the couch. It was fun to draw these guys and see the American flag turned Irish for a few hours on Fifth Avenue in NYC. What a great way to get out of my own way for a little while.
This parade is very much like a family party – as many people marching on Fifth Avenue as people watching them go by. It is not uncommon for parade spectators and parade participators to know each other, and it feels at times like a small community in the midst of a major metropolis. There isn’t a lot of spectacle in the way of floats or sparkles, just a lot of Irish New Yorkers saying, hey, we’re here and proud to be so! And why not? Irish immigrants built half of this city, after all.
I love the Irish step-dancers, the young girls with their starched Celtic dresses and their starched pony tails. They remind me of my own 8th birthday party, when my friend Mary taught us all what she had learned of the Irish jig. What fun! The properness of it all mixed with the silliness, this crazy combination that is so familiar to me, (and what I am missing so much about my sister Patty), is here marching through the city. I’m so glad I’ve come.
And the bagpipes keep coming! You can’t even begin to count them, more and more, so military – after all, the phrase ‘fighting Irish’ doesn’t come from nowhere – and so fantastic. I give up trying to identify them individually and just draw a bunch of pipes moving down the street as a unit. As a clan, if you will.
I work my way down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as it seems like this is the backdrop and the heart of the entire parade. The crowd is beginning to thin out a bit, and as it does, the packs of young drunken men are beginning to stand out. And I am also smelling something green that isn’t the grass of the Emerald Isle. Time to head home. But as I am about to turn the corner to go downstairs to the subway, I see him – a real live leprechaun! I can’t NOT draw this man, so proper and so full of joy. He seems to be twinkling with a little bit of Irish magic.
And so, another year of my life goes by, and once again I am reminded on my birthday of the importance of my heritage and the importance of my future. Inspire yourself towards the future, but bring the past along for ballast. And keep those close to you right by your side, always.
Great day, great lesson.