Friday, March 17, 2006

Luck of the Somewhat Irish

I’d confess that it was the beer, if that were the case. But my falling in love with a girl on the most Irish of American holidays had little to do with the libations.

Not so long ago, I found out that St. Patrick's Day isn't only for the full-blooded Irish -- it's a celebration open to all, especially the lovelorn. Those looking for love come out in droves for a pint on the holiday, many of them thinking, "Maybe I'll get lucky."

Judging from my experience, I'd say that a nip of Irish luck is in the air on St. Paddy's Day. In the lilting giggle of gal, you might find a sweetheart, as I did. And you'll never be as young as you will be this St. Patrick's Day.

On this rather irreligious religious holiday, the Irish people's love of a good laugh is evidenced by the peals of enjoyment ringing through pubs across America. It's a day when people let their guards down and sing, a day when they toast strangers as well as friends. It's a perfect day for a love-match -- even if you're not planning on it.

Six years ago on the holiday, which is my brother Sean's birthday, he and I went to Fatheads, a bar in the South Side of Pittsburgh, to have a few pints of Guinness for his birthday and for the holiday, and to munch on some of the locally famous chicken wings. I wasn't through my first glass when in walked a rare flower. I saw her about two seconds before she walked up to me. She smiled confidently, almost smirking, and the flash in her eye gave me a nervous queasiness.

I'd met her a month before, but I had been too self-conscious to call her. Being part Irish -- a willowy branch of the King Clan -- Anne felt at home on this holiday. It turned out that she was meeting her good friend, who is Jewish, to have a few drinks for the holiday.

Anne leaned over and tested me: "So where's your girlfriend?" she said with a smirk.

"I don't have a girlfriend," I said, speechless, as I pondered the nest of curls of her long, reddish-brown hair.

It wasn't the single beer I'd had that made me think that her lips were redder, and her skin, fairer. Maybe it was simply the luck of realizing that the best gift I might ever have was staring at me. I was done, and vaguely scared as hell at the prospect. I thought Anne was Jewish because of her last name, and I asked her about it. She shook her head.

"I'm Presbyterian," she said.

"But are you Irish?" I asked.

"I'm Irish enough," she said, flashing her hazel eyes and winking at me.

That holiday worked its charm on Anne and me, and we've been together ever since. Two years ago when we were planning our wedding, we were checking out the church in which I was raised -- First Presbyterian, in downtown Pittsburgh. At the end of the sermon, the Irish minister gave the Irish Blessing along with the Benediction.

"And now, may the road rise to meet you, and may the wind always be at your back," the preacher said in his subtle brogue. "May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rains fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."

I had always considered this blessing to be the best part of the service, and I had been away from the church for so long that I forgot about how good it felt to hear those words.

Anne and I were touched -- the blessing reminded me of growing up in "First Church," as we called it, where Irish ministers seemed to have always been a part of the church family. Rev. Logan and other Irish ministers would give that blessing when I was young, and it always gave me a warm feeling. Anne liked the blessing simply because it is beautiful. That day we decided to include it as part of our wedding ceremony.

My Uncle Holyman, who is a Lutheran minister, officiated at the ceremony and recited the blessing at the end of our wedding. I always felt that those words would bring Anne and me good fortune, and they have.

In this age of three-minute-dating, Internet hook-ups and pricey matchmakers, remember that love might be yours for free. Or it might cost you the price of one beer. So if you take a chance this St. Patrick's Day, smile confidently, and the Luck of the Irish be yours.

This essay originally was published in 2004 in TPQ Online.

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