Monday, February 24, 2014

white blank space

Some of the best nights are completely unplanned, unexpected and unforgettable.  Sometimes the unnoticeable appears on a road you have walked down many times, suddenly opening your eyes to a place, a sign, the smell of drink and the sound of music; all you have to do is make the choice to walk through the door. 

The 22nd of February was one of those days where I let spontaneity take me where it wished.  The only thing on my agenda was watching the Ireland v. England Six Nations rugby match at my friend’s flat, assuming I would go home afterward to have a spot of tea and get ahead on some homework.  The thing about Scotland, though, is I have learned to have an open mind about the day’s events.  Although my planner is chockfull of events, club meetings, course work due dates and coffee catch-ups, there is white blank space, waiting for adventure, like a 3-hour concert at a hole-in-the-wall pub in the heart of Stirling, Scotland.

We settled in (pun intended) on the upper floor of the bar, an arch of white-painted bricks looming over our heads in the dimly-lit intimate space.  Once live music took the place of the usual background noise and chatter, the lovely company and great banter completed the atmosphere, making for a perfect night.

After fiddling with the Christmas lights strewn around the tiny stage equipped for a one-man band, host Will Bell opened the night with the Ramones’ hit “Blitzkrieg Pop.”  The audience started singing along once they realized Bell would not let the lack of crowd participation ruin his show.  The 31-year-old Northern Irish completed his short set with a couple of original tunes and the crowd-pleasing “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus.

Following Bell, University of Stirling student George Gilman took the stage with folk tunes and original material, pairing traditional and contemporary music into his set.  Gilman started out on the guitar with an impressive classical style similar to Ben Howard’s tuning and fingering.  With each song, Gilman drew the crowd deeper into his presence, their ears and eyes eager for each lyric. The set kept its liveliness as Gilman switched between guitar, banjo, harmonica and vocals.  Gilman appropriately ended his set with an a cappella version of “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Irish song recently covered by Ed Sheeran on the album +.

The last act of the concert was performed by another local Stirling student, Martin Rowbottom.  Recently involved in the music scene around Stirling, Rowbottom made his debut on the Settle Inn stage, showcasing his guitar expertise influenced by blues and classic rock artists like Jonny Cash and Pink Floyd.  Rowbottom played a set of mostly original material intermixed with the Lumineer’s smooth and haunting “Slow It Down,” and an Allman Brothers tune.  Rowbottom skillfully handled a 12-string guitar, slide guitar and lapsteel guitar during his performance.  The bluesy mood set a chill tone for the rest of the evening, perfect for winding down after a busy day.

The Settle Inn’s Cave of Wonders was an unplanned discovery that was meant to happen.  Bell’s pep and Rowbottom’s rhythm complimented the emotional journey I experienced during Gilman’s set.  I was in the right place at the right time and everything was as it should be: peaceful, reflective, comfortable and content. 

The next time you find yourself overwhelmed with plans, commitments, and appointments, take a risk and allow spontaneity to rule.  In an American society, it is easy to get caught-up in the crazy busyness of every day life that we often find we have forgotten to breathe.  Make some room for blank space, take that chance, and open an unopened door. You never know what you will find; it could be just the thing you have been searching for. 

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."


(all photos found on The Settle Inn facebook page :) )

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A tree branch in the road. . .

      As I sit here on a sunny Scotland morning, (yes, it’s actually sunny!) I can’t help but think about why it was so easy for me to make a return trip to this country.  I’ve never been too great at reading signs.  Everyone always tells me to “look for a sign from God, and then you will have direction in your life.” While this is a true statement to some degree, because there is a clear path to heaven, it doesn't mean He has a clear path for what you will spend the rest of your life doing while living on earth.  

        I like to think God gives us a choice; there are many forks during our life’s road trip and we have the power to make a decision which leads to different experiences but will eventually result in the same ending point or life purpose.  He knows our hearts, our personalities, our strengths, our weaknesses - and because of this, he knows the ultimate reason for our earthly life but he doesn’t limit the way to reach the end result to one specific journey.

I have trouble making decisions whether it’s what drink to order at a coffee shop, which pair of running shoes will be the best for my workout routine, what to do for a summer vacation, whether or not to pursue graduate school or look for a job after graduation, or where I can see myself settling down in the future.  Some of these are pretty simple decisions, but others not so much.  Decisions aren’t easy for a reason; they force us to think about the good and bad consequences and to focus on our heart’s desires.  Sometimes spontaneity is the best answer because we don’t bog ourselves down with all of the “what if,” “how,” and “when” questions.  Regardless, we have a choice.  God doesn’t send us a letter in the mail with all of the answers, it is up to us to discover where He is leading us whether we spend time making a choice, or go out on a whim without looking back or looking too forward.

I know God has placed me in Scotland again for a reason and now it’s time to listen: during a walk around the castle grounds, a train ride to Edinburgh, or a quiet morning with paper and a pen allowing my thoughts to come together.  I know He has given me options: leave on my scheduled flight, extend my stay until my visa expires, look for a job and apply for a work visa, continue research on Scottish literature at graduate school, or get married in the next four months (kidding, Dad and Mom).  Jokes aside, He has given me these options and this location for a greater purpose and now it is up to me to make a decision so I can fulfill my calling.  There will be success, failure, disappointment, encouragement, love and hate but each situation and each decision will mold me into the person He has made me to be-and that’s terrifyingly exciting.  And that’s life.