The Uilleann Pipes

Fitting on St. Patty’s Day:

I strive to be relatively stoic or at least make fun of the bad or hard things that come along with these invisible scars. There is one thing though that will fill me with that little choking feeling and rush little pre-tears to my eyes. Bag pipes. I remember as a little private standing there at attention as “Amazing Grace” was played on the bag pipes as a soldiers funeral was coming to a close. I glanced out the sides of my eyes (you can’t move your head at attention) and I could see all of these grizzled sergeants deeply moved by the music, the song, the situation. I didn’t really understand then. I asked one of the guys, “What’s the big deal.” He smacked me on the back and said nothing. A week later I was in Afghanistan.

Flash forward a couple of years, and every bit of pain and emotion devoted to losing a soldier or a friend or a leader is attached to a bag-pipe trigger. Part of me hates it. Part of me is proud to have that kind of pride in my friends and their service. I also think it has a lot to do with the instrument used.

Its just broken and jaded sounding to evoke those level of emotions and then it sounds just pissed off enough to illicit that response. Whatever it is, it is powerful, palpable, and contagious. Too many quiet ceremonies with a group of tired soldiers staring a picture or a slideshow, while their buddy is heading home in a body bag. Too many, swallowed and bottled feelings of regret, anger, loss, buried way down deep. Those bag pipes for whatever reason allow a window into that dark pit of even darker emotions and just as I did not understand then, I doubt very much that an inexperienced onlooker would be capable of interpreting what was happening. Its like being dropped into a pitch black tornado and trying to determine where you are at.

I suspect, that many of you have been nodding and understanding what I am talking about. The reason I am writing this is because of late I have found myself cursing every commercial or glancing blow of anything related to the bagpipes. I feel that is wrong and somewhat cowardly. The reason I do this is because I am trying to keep those demons locked up tight. I once wore these invisible scars with so much pride and I have some how reverse stigmatized myself. Its ridiculous, the goal that I had set to work to be stable again, that when I slipped or showed the tumultuous stuff under the surface I would lament myself and feel that I failed.

Those invisible scars are my personal badge of honor, meant for no one else but me. They remind me, I am here, I have lived that vigorous life, I did not take the easy route, and I have been tried and tested. I carry emotional baggage, really, if thats all I deal with after going through that meat grinder I should count myself among the lucky and proud. I should never be ashamed of being proud of my brothers’ ultimate sacrifice. I should never be afraid to show that yes I was emotionally connected to those great men, that I lived with, ate with, bled with. If they think it makes a man less manly… I will show them my stamped and certified man card.

The next time you get a chance to hear those bag pipes, it will unfortunately probably be at a funeral or at a memorial. But I challenge you to stand there and take it, let it rip that window into your soul and let a little of the pain go but hold tight to that pride. Not personal pride, but pride that you were once counted amongst men and women cut from a different cloth that were so proud of their country that they signed that blank check, men and women that so loved the others they served with they gave their lives to protect them. Dig in, grit your teeth and let those little badges of pain well up in your face and take it like a grown man or woman.

Happy St. Patty’s, everybody is Irish today, go get some green beer!


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