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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Constant Crisis of When to Play the Bagpipes

I once heard that the definition of a gentleman was "A man who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn't".

This "definition" is one of those phrases that has stayed with me, a metaphoric yardstick by which I measure my own actions around others.  Is this a good moment to let my companions know I can play the bagpipes?  Perhaps I shouldn't even let on that I own a set.  Is there ever a good moment to actually play them?  What if the silence left instead is awkward?  What justifies the sound of the bagpipes, that instrument jokingly labeled the missing link between noise and music?

What if someone else starts playing the bagpipes?  Do I try to discourage them discreetly?  Do I talk over the continuous, unbroken screech of Jacobite angst or do I wait politely for the sound to end before attempting a conversation that lures the enthusiastic one to lay aside his pipes and embrace a better loved instrument, such as harmonica or accordion?

Yet, there are times when bagpipes are necessary, times when nothing but the harshest sound will do.  There is a connection between the sound they make and the culture they inhabit, the customs they herald,  and the scenes they invoke.  Kilts, Auld Lang Syne, the Highlands, and Scotty sending Spock into the great void that will eventually lead to his rebirth.  Who can imagine a world without them, as unpleasant as they may sometimes be?

The sound of bagpipes grows on one.  Watching the Highland games, watching the ceremonial piping  of the haggis, hearing the old airs that convince one that there ne'er will be peace 'til Jamie comes hame, these things would be missing so much without the melancholy sound of the bagpipes.  The sound alone gives them authenticity, the world would lack something without that sound.

Sometimes, I think my purpose in life is to play the bagpipes.  Of course, I am not speaking literally, but I've often been told that while what I say may be true, it is often painful to hear.  Perhaps it's my delivery, perhaps it is that I am an Aries and haven't a clue how to be soft or subtle.  I only know that stating the Truth isn't often appreciated, and it can lead to all sorts of issues with others, be it a mere visible wince or losing one's "friend" status.

Hearing it isn't always pleasant, either. There have been more occasions than I can count that have left me feeling hurt, angry, and disgruntled, often due to the words of those dearest me, those friends, and yes, those priests, who play the bagpipes far too well and too often to be considered polite. They know the worth of the sound that is Truth, that which draws us closer to the society and culture of God, and the closer we get, the more appropriate is the sound of what we hear, until the day arrives that we actually yearn for it.

Here is our Culloden, what seems a lost cause but in which we must hope.  Here is the haggis that no one wants to eat, but without which our banquet would be incomplete.  Here is Truth, its perfect sound grating against the ears of a world that is used to only noise.

We can no longer afford to be gentlemen.