Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

Monthly Archives: January 2016


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” – John 14:1-3

This reading has followed me over the course of my life in the last seven or so years (or at least that is as long as I have been aware of it as it has surfaced). The first such instance was when my church music director in high school shared a David Haas album with me which included a musical setting of text from John’s gospel. I listened to that song almost non-stop during some of the more difficult stretches of my time in high school, doing my best to let the words sink into the depths of my being in those moments.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. I will go forth to prepare a place for you, then I’ll come back to take you with me, that where I am, you may also be.”

I wasn’t as aware at the time that the Gospel reading is a (can’t think of a better term here) popular choice for funerals; my first interaction with it on the level of grief and sorrow was at the funeral service for former DePauw professor, Dr. Stanley Irwin. I was sitting in Gobin United Methodist Church in Greencastle when I heard the reading proclaimed and it was the first time I resisted the message.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

‘How can my heart not be troubled right now? This man, this educator, this joy, was taken from us before we were ready…how am I supposed to have faith now?’

A thought something like that crossed my mind as hearing these words that, for so long, had been a comfort were now bringing tears to my eyes in grieving for losing Dr. Irwin.

Turns out it came up again, when my uncle Jim Mahoney passed away.

Now, this week, I cantored more funerals than I ever have before (four in three days), and, since losing Maria D’Albert, that reading kept coming up. Just hearing the opening line brought my grieving to the surface, tears welling up, doing my best to be recovered by the time I’d have to sing again.

That word, “troubled”, just kept sticking out to me. A quick definition check of troubled gives us this: adjective, beset by problems or conflict, showing distress or anxiety.

When we lose someone, our faith is tested, and I mean that in so much more than a religious way; to steal a phrase from my mentor Michael Bernoff, I don’t care what you believe in, God, light, sound, horses, pigs, whatever it is that’s important to you, I mean your personal belief, your own purview of the world around you, is fundamentally shifted after losing a loved one, belief in God or not. If it’s not, then you’re most likely a sociopath and I have no idea why you’re reading my blog right now.

Do not let your hearts be troubled; you do not have to feel conflicted or anxious in your loss. You most likely will feel conflicted or anxious (or both or many other things), yet the operative word in that command statement is “let”. You let your heart be troubled or conflicted or sad or angry or any multitude of emotions; how you respond to letting yourself feel that way is the incredible influence we have in our lives.

Even as I write this, I feel the tears welling up, I feel the lack of understanding of why we’ve lost who we’ve lost, I feel grief and sorrow and joy of love. Yet I also know that these feelings are not who I am, though they make me realize that I am capable of great emotional depths and capable of giving and receiving a tremendous amount of love in my life.

I’ll leave you with this quote that I’ve been reflecting on about loss; do not let your hearts be troubled, my friends.

“Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious.” – St. Rose of Viterbo



my voice

About 8 days ago, I found out that my childhood voice teacher, Maria D’Albert Matyas, had passed away. I was sitting in a Starbucks listening to a training call from Michael Bernoff waiting to go to a movie screening with a friend of mine when I received a call from my mom.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news….”

As she told me that she had heard from Maria’s husband earlier that she passed that morning, I sat there just weeping. The woman who taught me how to sing was no longer with us. Had it not been for her and her husband’s insistence, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today; they heard me singing in church (as I’ve been told by other parishioners, “rather loudly”) and cajoled my parents to sign me up for voice lessons with Maria, which I started at the ripe old age of nine or ten as a boy soprano.

I didn’t really know it was unconventional until I started sharing with my friends what it was I was doing afterschool every Monday afternoon. Turns out singing Italian arias in the female voice range isn’t exactly most kids’ idea of a good time.

It wasn’t until I went to DePauw that I realized what I had been doing with Maria; as I was taking lessons from her, I honestly had very little clue what was going on. It was much through sheer repetition of vocal exercises and repertoire that Maria managed to instill discipline and develop my instrument. I often wonder what kind of student I was; she must have had some kind of saintly patience to deal with me in those years. When I got to DePauw (on a partial music scholarship, another credit to her) and I actually started taking my study seriously, I started to pick up from my own voice teacher there, Dr. Jay White, that there were many things that Maria had taught me that I had no understanding of until Jay reflected them to me in a different way.

Unfortunately, when I decided to leave Chicago to go to DePauw, my relationship with Maria changed; given that she mentored and taught me through some very formative years of my life, she felt a sense of ownership about my progress. With that, though she may have never admitted it, she was a little resentful that I flew the coop to go to college elsewhere. I’d visit occasionally when I’d be home on breaks, or take a lesson here or there, yet our relationship was fundamentally different. With what I know now, I realize that we had grown apart, and neither of us was fully willing to accept the other person for where they were or who they had become, instead holding on to the ideas of the other we had developed and being frustrated that we didn’t stay that way.

In the last two or three years, Maria’s health wasn’t great, and on the few occasions we saw each other, our interactions were relatively stilted and mostly one-sided. She’d speak and I’d listen, my heart aching a little bit with each conversation, knowing that we just weren’t seeing eye to eye with each other. I always knew she wanted the best for me, that she loved and cared for me dearly, yet she wasn’t willing to let me to attempt life my own way, usually critical of my choices and career path. She referred to herself often as my “second mother”, and, in a lot of ways, she was; familial love manifests itself in many different ways, not always in the ways we “want” or “prefer”, yet always from a place of love and good intentions.

The woman who almost literally gave me my voice is gone; I know confidently that I would not be the actor, Catholic, friend, teacher or human I am today without her direction and tutelage, so I know she isn’t truly “gone”. She lives on in my life, in the lives of the many voice students she had over the years. When I sing, it is because of her and it is with her, and, for that, I am infinitely grateful.

Rest in peace, Maria, may you sing with the angels, my darling.



private sacrifices

“Whenever you see a successful person you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Vaibhav Shah

As you read this right now, I certainly hope the new year has been treating you well! After my 30 Day Deal for December and how much I felt it helped me make progress moving into the new year, I made a personal commitment to continue my regular contributions here, especially since I realized that, when I was so intentional about committing to contributing here, I started seeing so many different opportunities in my life to utilize this medium to process and to reflect.

I saw the above quote from Vaibhav Shah (who, by the way, is an utter mystery to the Internet, it seems) on a calendar hanging in my parents’ home. It really resonated with me after a friend shared an article last week about a University of Pennsylvania student who committed suicide and her battle with the dichotomous perspectives we create between our “online lives” and our true selves. The world we live in now has this sense of constantly attempting to capture moments (or, at the very worst, manufacture them) so people will “like” them, or retweet them, or share them in another medium. What we end up doing is presenting a distorted sense of what our lives are like, which then influences the perceptions of other people.

The common ground of this quote and that story is the very idea of “private sacrifices”. When you see someone considered “successful”, you are only seeing half (or a third, or an eighth, or what have you) of their story; you don’t see the long nights obsessing over a business plan, or the constant dodging of questions from family members about “what you’re up to these days”, or the bill that shows up in the mail saying FINAL NOTICE – PAST DUE. These are only a few hypothetical situations among the hundreds that I’m certain many successful people have overcome to get to the point where you know about them now. So, when we look at social media and start to think, “That person’s really got it all together”, we need to start reminding ourselves that we are only seeing what they choose to share.

Guess what? Nobody wins all the time; think about it, in the history of the sport, there is only one football team to ever have an undefeated season and win the Super Bowl and, every time a team seems to be getting close to something like that, everyone (who cares about such things) talks about how the 1972 Miami Dolphins will be hoping that team misses out on their perfection. That happened once, and yet we keep having the idea that success must mean you have everything you want and you’re happy all the time (y’know, you have a perfect season, every season).

I’ve learned from Michael Bernoff recently that “how you define things in your life is your ability to accept them”. So, it’s truly up to us to redefine success in our own lives, to create a definition that is attainable for us individually, rather than holding up our progress to the yardstick of someone else’s journey.

When we arrive here, we all start with the same breath in our lungs and the same beat in our hearts; as we grow, it’s up to us to learn how to create what we want in this life and to learn how to love everyone around us who has that same air and that same beat as we do. That will take glories, that will take sacrifices, yet, most importantly, it will take coming to love and accept ourselves and everyone around us for who they are, and who they can be.