If you recognize the quote in the headline, you’re a fan of baseball and great writing.
Those words sum up the urgency that accompanies growing older, the passion with which we can live our lives — and for me, how I want to be remembered by those I love. The quote came to mind again Sunday, and baseball had nothing to do with it.
My sister and I attended the Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, NY, outside Utica. This is the third or fourth year I’ve gone, but a first for my sister.
We went to hear the Elders, a ridiculously talented band from Kansas City led by native Irishman Ian Byrne. As such, he would understand why I have already chosen songs for my memorial service later this century.
He also would appreciate that I have put my three sons in charge of that event, including buying the beer. (For the record, I plan to surround myself with great people, craft beer, strong coffee and excellent music for a long time.)
My sister has also chosen some songs she’d like sung or played at her service some decade hence. The Elders will be well-represented at each. For me, “Men of Erin” is a must. My sister decided, after Sunday’s Elders show, to add “Appalachian Paddy” to her wish list.
“Men of Erin” was written by Byrne after the death of his father, and it is sheer poetry, a beautiful gift from an Irish father to his son. It’s sung a cappella, ideally with the help of a high school chorus. “Appalachian Paddy” celebrates the story of how Irish music came to America, and its messages are classic Irish — sing to the angels, shake your fist at the devil and kiss whoever happens to be next to you.
Listen to these and other Elders songs, and it’s impossible not to feel alive — every emotion, pleasant or unpleasant, rises to the surface to be embraced or wrestled to the ground. Irish or not, if you’re at an Elders show and don’t smile like a child, shed a tear and have the urge to get up and dance, you may already be dead.
My sister is a few years older than I, and therefore her summer has a bit more of autumn about it than does mine. But we are of hardy Irish stock, and our parents lived to be 90 and 91 — and that was without taking good care of their health.
So we both have plenty of time. What the hell, sister, let’s shoot for 100. You go first. That gives us plenty of time to plan two rowdy send-offs for our loved ones to remember us by. To the Elders … you guys are invited. My sons will spring for the beer.
THE HEADLINE: The quote is from A. Bartlett Giamatti‘s classic baseball essay, “The Green Fields of the Mind.” Even if you don’t like baseball, read it. Better yet, listen to the former baseball commissioner’s reading of it to a live theater audience. (Note: written versions of the essay use ‘autumn about it,’ but Giamatti, reading it aloud, uses ‘autumn in it.’)
Giamatti died of a heart attack at age 51 in 1989. His “Green Fields” essay, focusing on the last day of the 1977 baseball season at Boston’s Fenway Park, is some of the best writing I have ever come across. It is full of wisdom, perspective, raw emotion and the rewards and punishment of living life passionately. If it doesn’t stir something within, you may already be dead.