Monday, January 19, 2015

Mary Ann's One Little Word for 2015

Possibilities (M.A. Reilly, 2015)

"Quien canta, sus males espanta"
"He who sings scares his woes away"  - Cervantes 


Last week I opened my Facebook stream to see a photograph of my dad staring back at me.

A surprise, that.

A cousin had posted my father's image--one made while he was overseas in England during World War II.  My father is dead--a decade now this last November.

There in that pixelated bit of magic, he's beautiful, unmarred, anticipating perhaps his return home where he will marry my mother and they will adopt three kids from Ireland, take them across the country to camp, sing to them, and show us by action what it means to live deliberately, what it means to love deeply.

These are lessons I carry with me--ones that formed my bones.

I study the image as if some secret might reveal itself and even though the image is not in color, I still see his hazel eyes clearly, perhaps more clearly here than I did in life. I hear his voice, the songs he sang.

And here, now, my Da has done the impossible: Returned from death and is now several decades younger than me and somehow this juxtaposition of role, this slight of hand, this trick of time has me thinking about being open to possibilities.


I know almost nothing and am the better for it. I learned this early.

My Da told me that when I first came to America I was afraid of him.  At 6' 2" tall, he towered over me. I had just turned 2 and the only man I was told I had seen while at the orphanage in Dublin was a doctor who stuck needles in my upper arms--most likely the inoculations I needed to enter the United States.  My mom had gone to church the Sunday morning after I arrived and I cried at her leaving, curled myself by the front door waiting for her to return, curled myself away from my father who sat in his chair in the living room--the chair that sat angled by the back windows. He told me he watched me and waited until cried out, I fell asleep. He then walked across the room, picked me up, and sometime later I woke up in his arms, safe, present, and perhaps I began to learn the first definition of home I would know.

I like to think that this is why he used to play this game with me--one I'm sure he must have tired from and yet he did it night after night.  He would sit me on the edge of his knees as he sat in his over sized chair and then open his legs quickly and I would fall through giggling, climb back up as he lifted me and fall through again and again and again until the call of my mom from the kitchen signaling dinner ended our game.  And each time, each fall was slightly different, slightly unexpected, something to anticipate. The very definition of possibilities.

He did this while he sung to me the same lyrics over and over:
For it is Mary, Mary
Plain as any name can be
But with propriety, society will say Marie
But it was Mary, Mary
Long before the fashions came
And there is something there that sounds so square
It's a grand old name

I thought he had written the song for me, just as he had named me, and I loved how we blended our voices together to sing with such dramatic flair:  It's a grand old name.


We were a family who knew music, not by what we had been taught, but rather by what we felt--a tacit way of knowing--one we could not bear to code. There was always a radio on in the kitchen. There was always a piano in the living room and now and then fingers to tickle the keys. Later there would be guitars, recorders, flutes, 8-track tapes, an Irish drum.

But above all, there was the human voice.

Only my Da who would call my mom, Kate.  He said it with such affection. And sometimes he would sing to her too and I would join in thinking the song with its repetition of sounds was so funny.  We would serenade her:

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy,
You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the cowshed,
I'll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.


I am told that there are thirty-six muscles that are used in breathing for singing. Without these muscles air can't enter or leave the lungs.  I learned early that dwelling was its own type of song. And I wonder how I ever could have forgotten so quickly that it was my Da who sung often, who sung daily.  How I needed this image of him to shake loose another memory.

We forget more than we know.

My one little word for the year is possibilities.  It is woven to this memory of my father and me singing.  As I make my way through this new year, I want to remember how possibilities are present alongside each breath I make, each breath I expel.   Today, here, now, I breathe in and feel the air settle low, exhale the old breath, and at the onset of sound, I sing out.

*Note, I saw this type of post over at Two Teachers blog and thought I would have a go of it.


  1. Beautiful heartwarming post! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks Deb. I actually will be sharing this work with the 4th graders I have been co-teaching this last month. Looking forward to seeing what stories one word might inspire in them.