Updated: Aug 3
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Like many whose teenage lives were enriched by her music, I have been engulfed in sadness since Sinéad O'Connor's passing this week. As I revisit her albums as well as her life and career, I'm moved to reappraise her impact on me and draw some connections to my book, which is almost done. (Update to follow!)
The short but profound passage at the top of the post is known as the Serenity Prayer. It is the first thing you hear at beginning of her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. As a 17 year old still trying to figure out my relationship with God, hearing this prayer was an unexpected and valuable gift from Sinéad. It helped me to whittle down theology to an acceptable and appropriate portion; something I could use and apply at that moment in my life when discernment didn't always come naturally. I've revisited this prayer from time to time, especially in the last couple of years as my faith has undergone challenges.
The prayer is significant in two ways. First, in terms of how she navigated her life on and off stage. And second, how it foreshadows what Sinéad's career was about to become. It's almost as if she's anticipating (and perhaps fearing) her impending fame knowing that she will need all the serenity, courage, and wisdom that God can throw her way.
Much has been written about her childhood and how horribly abusive her mother was. Certainly, someone as broken and mentally ill as Sinéad's mom was never going to be the loving supportive parent that she needed as a young girl. She could not change that. But as soon as she could, she got out of Ireland and bolted for London to pursue music. The change of scenery was necessary for her survival. When she became pregnant during the recording of The Lion and The Cobra, she rejected suggestions from the record company to get an abortion to "save" her career. Two years later at the 1989 Grammys, she wore her infant son's onesie around her waist as she performed "Mandinka"; a tender expression of motherhood and a defiant Fuck You to those who underestimated her courage and her wisdom.
Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the word "ally" has been restored to a place of importance as America continues to grapple with racism and police brutality. We white people have needed to reconsider how our silence has negatively impacted POC and reflect on what actions we can consistently take to stand against injustice. Back at that same Grammy show in 1989, the powers that be refused to televise the awards for Hip-Hop. When Sinéad found out, she shaved the Public Enemy logo into the side of her head as a show of solidarity (see photo below).
That was the first time I became aware of Public Enemy, so thank you, Sinéad!
In 1990, I eagerly awaited the latest episode of the new MTV show Unplugged. Sinéad and The Church were the guests. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got hadn't been released yet, so "Nothing Compares To U" had yet to blow up. She could have easily played it or sang it a capella but she instead chose a different song. "Black Boys on Mopeds", with its frank lyrics about police brutality, chilled me then as it does now. Here again is how one demonstrates allyship.
Later that summer, some friends and I saw her live at Harriet Island in St. Paul. She only performed a few songs before leaving the stage due to mental or physical exhaustion. I have tried over the years to find video footage and have come up empty. I can't even find a review or article about it. So if you were there and have some memories, please share! Or if you are a better sleuth and bigger pack rat than me and have a press clipping, please share!
There's no need for me to write about her 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live. Great articles abound. Check these out:
It was an "Oh, wow!" moment when I watched it live. The ovarian fortitude it took to confront the Catholic Church and its cover up of child sexual abuse is even more astounding considering what has come to light since her performance. I'd love to see some t-shirts and bumper stickers saying "Sinéad Was Right!"
I think serenity is what Sinéad sought most, especially when it came to religion. Despite the abuse suffered as a child in the Church, the hypocrisy, and the betrayal of religious institutions, she seldom (if ever) wavered in her belief in God or the power of prayer. She became an ordained priest herself in 1999. Always seeking truth and spiritual validation, she eventually converted to Islam in 2018. Though she adopted the name Shuhada Sadaqat, she also continued to use Sinéad O'Connor as well.
The last chapter of my book ties up the loose ends of my faith journey that I allude to throughout the chapters. It is defined by joy, confusion, contentment, disappointment, and constant searching and questioning. As I near completion of my book, I am encouraged and inspired my Sinéad's music, her integrity, her quest for faith, and the Serenity Prayer she gave me.
The end is near! I am trying to finish by the end of the summer and submit a draft to a couple of publishers who have good track records with memoir and non-fiction. I am also considering working with a hybrid publisher where I would have more creative control and maintain most/all of the royalties. Going this route would also mean making this 10-year endeavor a reality a lot sooner.
I know I haven't posted here for a while, but as things ramp up, I'll post more updates. Thanks again as always for your support and encouragement!
Here's one more from Sinéad. It's probably my favorite. She co-wrote the song with The Edge from U2 in 1986 when she was still an unknown. Larry Mullen Jr. also plays drums on it. Enjoy!