As four-leaf-clover luck would have it, Dennis Manion, Irish-American, got the green tie for St. Patrick’s Day. Here is where it took him:
My gift was a green tie. I wore it once to the office. In our office, it is rare to see men in ties. When someone is wearing a tie, it usually means he either has just come from a funeral or a job interview. I had prepared to explain the tie was a gift from my church community, and that I was only a temporary care-taker of the tie; that its meaning was a lot deeper than just an ornament hanging from my neck. It was a symbol of a movement that stands for the interconnectedness of all life. But as the calendar would have it, the day I wore my green tie happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.
One colleague told me I looked like a leprechaun – but since I have Irish roots on both sides of my family, that isn’t hard to do even without the green tie. Another colleague did actually ask me what job I was interviewing for, and as I started to explain the gift, he just walked on muttering something about how dapper I would look staring into a pint of Guinness later on. There were other comments; all related to St. Patrick’s Day and things Irish–so I just went with it, realizing that in the stress-loaded office environment there was not going to be much appetite for a conversation about the deeper meaning of the tie.
But, I knew the deeper meaning of the tie – and I held on to it all day. I found it comforting carrying a piece of my church community with me.
What stays with me is the personal St. Patrick’s Day parade I marched in throughout that day and the rest of the week. If I hadn’t joined UCS ten years ago, I don’t know that I would have recognized how much we tend in society to celebrate stereotypes. St. Patrick’s Day conjures up a lot of stereotypical images of what it means to be Irish. I am proud of my Irish heritage, but it occurred to me all week how many ways I have become an anti-sterotype. First, I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I have found a home in a religious community that guides me away from seeing people who don’t look or think or live like me as “other.” The tradition in which I was raised is all about “other.” I’ve had to un-learn as much as I have learned. I have even reached a place where I no longer see the Catholic Church as other. There is much goodness in the church, and many good people. I am connected to it by tradition and family. But I have found a spiritual home that proclaims a mission of radical inclusiveness, which appeals to me more and more by the day. And that puts me outside of the “by-laws” of Catholicism. I know that I am not the only UU who can claim Irish Catholic roots, and that is very comforting. But in the Irish diaspora- some 250 million people around the world – we are are rare – and we remain anti-stereotypes.
Another way I live the anti-stereotype is that in fact, I did not have that pint of Guinness that my colleague envisioned for me. In fact, I haven’t had a drink with alcohol in it for more than 30 years. It’s a health choice and part of a spiritual practice I embarked on when I was a young man, and I do not miss it. But needless to say, for many in our society “Irish” is synonymous with “drunken brawl.”
I do appreciate the fact that I was taught never to take myself so seriously. I love irony and at times overindulge in sarcasm – but does that make me Irish? I think it makes me human.
All of that said, I married a Colleen, and our children’s names are Patrick and Erin. And on this St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrated with corned beef, cabbage, and Irish soda bread – with traditional Irish music playing on the stereo – with me in my green UU tie to remind us that it’s good to honor our ancestors, and our family traditions – but that we are part of a much larger tradition today -one that includes the entire universe.
Thank you to Andy Roth for passing on the gift of the green tie to me. I pass it on now to another community member with an (abbreviated) Irish blessing:
“May you be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows your dead!”