A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



According to legend, Saint Patrick's greatest claim to fame was being charismatic enough to charm all of Ireland's snakes off of the Emerald Isle and into the sea, where they drowned.

I love that legend. Of course, I love any story that results in fewer snakes -- legendary or otherwise. But I can't help but wonder how Patrick himself would feel about the legend, and the way his life and legacy are celebrated every Saint Patrick's Day.

Take, for example, those "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons. While Patrick would probably appreciate the gesture -- especially the kissing part -- he would be the first to point out that he wasn't. Irish, that is. He was actually a native-born Brit who, at age 16, was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. After six years of slavery, he managed to escape Ireland and return to his home in Britain. Rather than being filled with bitterness and resentment toward the Irish, however, he was consumed by the idea of returning to Ireland to convert his captors to Christianity.

Somehow, "Baptize Me I'm Irish" doesn't have the same jovial ring, does it?

Saint Patrick's Day today is also a big day for visiting your favorite pub and hoisting a few while singing Irish folk songs. Now, I don't know how much time Patrick spent in the Irish pubs of his time, but I'm pretty sure he spent a lot more time in church. He founded more than 300 churches during his ministry in Ireland, and he baptized more than 120,000 converts. Tradition has it that the use of the shamrock as Ireland's national symbol was born when he used one as a visual aid to teach the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity (somebody should alert the ACLU: there's bound to be a box of Lucky Charms on display in some school cafeteria somewhere).

So if we're really going to celebrate Saint Patrick and what he was about, we should probably do it in church, perhaps while reading his autobiographical "Confession," in which Patrick chronicled his personal spiritual development. But I suspect that has about as much chance of happening as Notre Dame changing their mascot from the Fightin' Irish to the Baptizin' Brits.

All of which makes me wonder: what if I were to be canonized some day? Hey, it could happen. How would people appropriately celebrate Saint Joseph's Day? Would it be a day to do good deeds, to say kind things and to make the world a better place in which to live? Or would it be a day to ignore your children, swear at the computer and watch TV while complaining that the world is going to heck in a handbasket?

I'm not going to answer that. At least, not right now. Thankfully, I've still got time to make my life more worthy of celebration -- if not by the masses, at least by those who live around me.

But what about you? What if you knew there was someday going to be a Saint Jody's Day, or a Saint Sam's Day, or a Saint Elma Leta's Day? How would you want it to be observed? Would you want the world to celebrate your life as it is, or would you like to do a little fine tuning before the celebration begins?

That's a decision we must each make for ourselves. Are our lives going to be insignificant, or are they going to be legendary? Are we going to get by, or are we going to get going? Are we going to sit there, or are we going to stand for something? The choice is ours, every day of our lives.

I just have one request: if you choose to do something with your life, would you please try to include in your plan something about snakes? I'll celebrate anything that results in fewer snakes.

Legendary or otherwise.


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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and