I stand in a twelve-person deep line at Dublin airport, quickly overcome by the feeling of a furnace on my face. The bright shamrocks on the screens in front of me begin to shake, the loud voices over the intercom grow quiet and I drop down on one knee.
Closer to the ground, I instantly feel safer and cooler and confident that I have averted blacking out. (These black out episodes are a long-term side effect of the chemo I had to treat ovarian cancer.)
I start to garner the familiar but unwanted and bewildered looks from my fellow line-sharers. From the Americans, the looks say, "Is she Tebowing?"
Not to appear religiously devout, which will only add to the attention, I peer into my carry-on bag and rummage through it as if looking for a lost Lifesaver. I frown to add to the drama of the looking. As always, this works. The stares stop and I'm relieved to have pulled this off again.
"Ah now, there's no need to be getting down on the one knee," I hear in an Irish accent. I look up to see a large man standing a few feet to my side. This stranger seems to be talking to me. He flashes an approving smile from several feet above and says, "Of course I'll marry you."
I want to dive into my bag as numerous heads turn, but instead, my mouth forms a momentary, shy grin. He catches it while sauntering off, which unfortunately, gives him the satisfaction of knowing I'm a little bit impressed by his wit. I have just been hit by the "Irish charm cannons," as my brother coined them.
In addition to public mortification, here are five other reasons to love Irish men:
They don't ask deep, introspective questions upon meeting.
"So, what are your passions in life?" asked the 40-something, cell-phone-clipped-to-chinos man who looked at me with no trace of irony. We were in the waiting room of a Northern California doctor's office. It wasn't quite 9:30 a.m.. We had only been chit chatting for a few minutes. I wanted to let out an exasperated, "UGGGGGHHH!" but said, "Do you have a pen?" with a slightly apologetic smile as I pointed to the medical form in my lap. Mr. Intensity's line of questioning was one that no Irish man would ask at first meeting. Instead, they punt with "Any craic?" (craic -- pronounced crack -- means something like fun, good times in Irish) or "What's the story?" And they ask these no-pressure questions indiscriminately. When the leader of the Western world came to Dublin, the Irish sardined the streets to see him. They wore Kermit green "WHAT'S THE CRAIC, BARACK?" t-shirts.
They want to make their mothers happy.
When my cousin Mike was 17, his mom would stop him at the door before he headed for a night out with his friends. She'd cup his chin firmly in her hand. She'd stare hard. "Think once. Think twice... Think M-A-M-M-Y!" she'd say. This was a warning: no "messing" (fights) or "carrying on" (sex) because she'd stand for none of it. The Irish Mammy is both feared and admired by her son, who strives not to disappoint her. That's why he wears a Tommy Hilfiger/Ralph Lauren shirt when taking her out, brings her a fancy chocolate egg at Easter and pretends to attend the 10 o'clock mass. Simply put, he loves her.
They downplay a rainy day.
My sister jacked up the volume on the remote so we could hear our favorite TV weatherman over the pelting rain, which flooded against our Dublin door. We knew from experience that the Angela's Ashes rain wouldn't cease, but we tuned in to boost our damp souls.
Standing in front of one massive blotch of dark grey, the weatherman mumbled quickly, nearly inaudibly, about "the unsettled stuff" and "tunderry showers." He said they might cause "one or two problems." He did not detail these problems, nor drill down into the miserable metrics, which his foaming-at-the-mouth American counterpart would have already trademarked RAINpocalypse!
Instead, Martin gave us an adorable smile-wink and showed us a viewer sent-in photo of a daisy head. The next photo was a meadow of tall, sun-dappled grass. This was Martin's masterstroke -- like Ireland's finest poets, he created a beautiful, idealized world. Wear a white linen tunic! Pack a picnic! Raingear is for unimaginative, overly literal losers! He signed off with a cheerful shout out to Bernie in Ballyhaunis on her 80th birthday.
The most macho among them say the word "lovely" with some frequency.
He's an Irish macho man and he (proudly) doesn't own an umbrella. He is a ham-loving, Bono-bashing cynic whose unprintable language would have made Richard Pryor marvel. Pryor, however, would have been baffled by this man's numerous and genuine L-bombs: "I had a lovely bit of beef last week" -- "Well sure, he's a lovely lad." Maybe I'm gullible, or maybe I'm just American, but his tender-sounding L-bombs make me feel a tug of affection for him.
They try to cheer you up, in roundabout sorts of ways.
"It looks like I'm going to lose my hair," I said to my friend Gerry, one of the first times I had acknowledged this fact aloud since my oncologist had told me. I phoned Gerry certain that in an Irish male way, he wouldn't address the emotions around my hair falling out. And this was exactly what I was looking for.
Instead he said, "Well, I'm losing my hair and mine's not coming back." There was a laugh in his voice that confused me; I knew he was sensitive about his previously-unmentioned receding hairline. "Yours, though, yours will come back."
Of course it will, I realized, instantly lifted. As obvious as it was, I had not thought of the growing back bit. Gerry had just cheered me up by pointing out a hard truth for him to illuminate a promising truth for me.
So to the Irish illuminators -- in each and every corner of the world -- may you have a happy St. Patrick's Day.