My Irish Grandmother, on my father’s side, used to say that.
I heard that uplifting saying often as a young lad.
If you are raised by Irish Catholics, you are imbued with a predilection for humor that makes you smile while crying. Literally.
Let me give you an example, a possible Irish graveside toast: “Johnny. Here’s to ya. I raise my glass, to a man funnier than a one legged man in an ars-kicking contest. But ya owe me money, so, go push daisies”.
Ireland was so desperately poor 150 years ago, they wrote jokes and limericks to make it through the day.
I never understood the “Time Flies, Death Approaches” saying.
I never understood it. I knew both were true, but why would you combine them into some sort of greeting?
“Ok Sonny. Nice to see you. Time flies, death approaches”. Ummmm. Is that goodbye? Am I going to be hit by a bus? Is Grandma in a hurry to die?
“Get in the car Jeffrey, everyone’s fine. It’s a joke”
-But mom, it’s not funny-
“Keep walkin, it helps Grandma remember to put on make-up and wear her nice dress”
The Irish died a lot, so their humor is not always humorous, in the traditional sense.
I once went to an Irish funeral, in a small seaside town in County Sligo. I thought I had been tricked into being an extra in the sequel to “Waking Ned Devine”. I found myself looking for David Kelly to come careening through the village on his scooter wearing nothing but his helmet.
The funeral was festive. Well, aside from the crying widow. (And what’s with those bagpipes? They sound like the final gasping chords of a dying organ raised by violins)
The men were telling funny stories, over a pint…..and a whiskey.
It was morning. ….oh, yes, there was mourning, as well. (the women were in charge of that part of the festivities. “I’ll be over there Margaret, laughing and drinking, you stay over here and look sad so the widow doesn’t cry alone, and keep her back to the card game!”)
The Irish have so many great phrases, like “Here’s to me, and here’s to you, and here’s to love and laughter. I’ll be true as long as you, and not a moment after”.
So sweet. Right?
I’ll never forget my friend Neil’s wedding. His Uncle Sean was attending from Ireland.
Just as Neil was approaching the altar, from the side entrance, Sean calls him over, puts his arm around him, and in his thick Irish brogue, whispers: “Neil. Remember, it’s the first 20years that are the toughest”.
-Sean smiled, and then frowned, and then smiled again…..the priest called for Neil before he could ask Sean if that was a joke, or advice. (obviously it was both)
Unfortunately, my father inherited the family jokes and sayings… almost like some cruel heirloom.
I can picture the late 19th century pep talk from Irish mother to daughter: “Gretchen O’Malley! Yes, the Protestants inherit land and sheep and jewels, but we Catholics inherit something they will NEVER have: our JOKES!”
….”And to my son, not the handsome one, I bequeath my sad jokes and sayings. Jack, you get the house”
Another one of my father’s favorites was “such is life”. Never understood that one either.
“Dad, I ran over my son’s turtle with the lawnmower”.
“Such is life”. Well, I suppose so….IF YOU’RE A BLOOMIN IDIOT.
“Dad, looks like I’m going to have to get surgery to remove my 3rd arm”.
“Such is life”. Well, I suppose so…but my tailor’s sad, he has made a fortune from it.
….You know the saying “you had to be there” after the re-telling of a story falls flat? Irish humor, like all humor, is “local”. You have to be FROM there.
For example, New Yorkers found Seinfeld funnier than Oklahomans . (although I DO find Oklahomans funny)
Irish humor evokes a heartier laugh from a fellow Irishman in the same way a Borscht Belt comedian is going to bring down the house in Miami, and leave them scratching their heads in Branson, Missouri.
And then Dad died.
My siblings and I had wondered how we would feel when it happened. There were tears, and jokes, right on schedule. Time had flown by, death had approached, but it made a pretty rough landing.
My Dad’s last words to me? As I leaned into him on his death bad, August 10, 2012: “Dad, you taught me so much. Even the bad lessons were valuable. Like, I never took the belt to my son for crashing his bike into my car. I’m going to miss you”.
-only kidding, I only considered saying that-
Keep in mind, I had never said “I love you” to my Dad, even though I often felt that sentiment. (mostly after the “disciplining” stopped)
“I’m going to miss you Dad”….it was the overwhelming #1 answer on my survey of things to say to him. I then moved closer and mustered the energy to say: “I love you Dad”.
He looked up at me…..his 80 year old Irish blue eyes tired and defeated, and says: “such is life”.
Back it up people. Places!! Doing over that scene. Nurse, walking out of room.
Typical Tragic Movie, Pre-War Father saying goodbye to middle child.
Son, look like you are hoping father says ”I love you” back to you. Good, tears streaming down eyes.
TAKE TWO: ACTION!!
“I love you Dad”.
So, my final “conversation” with my Dad, ended with his favorite ‘Such is Life ‘ phrase.
No Dad! Wrong line!
Why not go off the stoic script? …, why not say “I love you”, as your last words?? Seriously Dad!
Why couldn’t he hand me an Irish heirloom I can cherish, and pass along to my children?
It was a perfect ending actually…..such IS life. The endings are as imperfect as the beginnings and the middlings.
So, let me pass along a blessing….a seat of the pants, impromptu blessing:
May they cry at your wedding and laugh at your funeral…..and if you are given the chance, remember to dance……and if your child is holding your hand, and saying goodnight, or goodbye, say “I love you”…..and if you raised them right, they’ll say “I love you too”.