Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maureen's Letter

This is the story I premiered at a concert last night in Seattle. The song described will be on my next CD, which will only be made when my first CD is sold out. Hint. Hint.

When I started learning Scottish Gaelic and our society, Slighe nan Gaidheal, was just a glimmer in our eyes, our teacher, Richard Hill, encouraged us to get on up the road and attend events at the Vancouver Gaelic society to meet and learn from the community of Scottish expats there, many of whom were native speakers.

I did so along with my classmates, and got something out of it I wasn’t expecting. I was already giddy with excitement at having started to learn this language and music which I had been looking for since I was a child, and with the beginnings of a community of people here in Seattle that were just as excited about it. Through the friendships we made in Vancouver, though, we discovered that we were connected to something that spans the globe and the centuries. I found a culture in which because I play the harp and sing, and was studying Gaelic I was automatically valued.
My first teacher, Richard Hill and Maureen circa 1996.

My first native speaker teacher was a woman from the Isle of Lewis called Maureen Lyon. Maureen was a high school teacher in her working years, and was a driving force in organizing events at the Vancouver society. She has an easy laugh, a bright spirit, and is a woman who gets things done. The more times I made it up North to study Gaelic with her, the more I felt like we were becoming real friends.

At that time, I was single and had been for most of my adult life, so the fact that I was Gay was pretty theoretical. That was, until I had a short affair that happened to coincide with Mòd Vancouver 1999. His name was Glen, and he has sadly since passed from this world –may his spirit find peace– and I brought him along. People noticed, and my deep-seated insecurities surfaced. These folks were mostly from the previous generation or the one before that and I don’t know if you know anything about the Isle of Lewis, but the Free Church of Scotland is a big part of island life and their outlook on many subjects is black and white. I became worried that my friendship with Maureen and the others would evaporate if they knew.

In true Gaelic fashion, somebody told Maureen that I was worried. The next time I was up in BC for a weekend I got a call from Maureen on Sunday morning as I was packing up to drive home. “Stop by the house. I have something for you.” Seemed perfectly normal. Probably a tape (we still used tapes then) or book or song or something.

Maureen lives in White Rock, right on the border. I drove into her drive way and got out of the car, but then something strange happened. She came out of her front door and closed it behind her. She had an envelope in her hand. I walked up and greeted her. She handed me the envelope and wished me a safe drive home, then went inside and closed the door. If you know anything about Highland culture, you know that is exceedingly strange. No tea?

I went back to the car and then the metaphorical bucket of ice water went down my back. This was a letter telling me to take my abominably sinful lifestyle choices home with me and never come back.

When I got in line at the border, my hands were shaking as I opened the envelope. Inside was a half sheet of paper with a poem in the format of a letter. It began “a Sheumais Chòir,” – Dear Seumas. I won’t translate the whole thing because it would sound like I was praising myself and that’s simply not done. Suffice to say that she gave me a long list of all the things she likes about me told me that she would never want me to be heavy in mind, but full of light for my whole life and true to myself always. She signed it “le gaol agus tuigse” – with love and understanding – “do dhéagh charaid” - your good friend, Maureen. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

Last year, as I was thinking about putting together material for another CD, I glanced at it up on the wall and wondered why I had never done anything with it. It’s kind of short for a song, I thought, and then it dawned on me. I would write a reply, and so I did.

My reply begins “a Mhaureen Chòir” – Dear Maureen. Your enduring faithful friendship is more valuable to me than I can tell and I want you to know how important that poem was to me that you wrote twenty years ago. It’s in my mind and heart still encouraging me every day. – And I close my reply with “le gaol agus cuimhne” - with love and memory. “do charaid gu bràth” - your friend forever, Seumas.

The song I made from these two verses is titled “Gaol agus Tuigse” – Love and Understanding and will be on my next CD. As soon as my first CD is sold out. Hint. Godsdamn Hint.
Just to prove this a true story.


Greenmanharper said...

Now I wish I had the Gaelic to praise you for not only being such a fine musician, but a story teller of exquisite skill, for this posting brought tears to my eyes and lots of Scots goosebumps as well.
You bring such joy to us all with your life!
Blessed Be!

John Yohalem said...

The straight world never realizes: We don't just "come out." For years after we understand ourselves, we still have to find the strength to "come out" to family, to old friends, to strangers who might not hire us for various jobs, to new congregations we might join, to a crowd when we're performing on a stage. The shakes and cold chills can go on for years. It's a matter of caring about other people as well as caring about the image we project. But we have to keep doing it. And we have to seek out people like Maureen who don't give a damn about the details, they just love you.