On the Good Friday when I observed the most passionately poignant kiss of my lifetime at the altar rails of our country chapel I was a 10-year-old altar boy, very cherubic and very innocent altogether in that different Ireland.
At the time we altar boys knew more Latin for the responses of the Mass -- "Ad Deum Qui Laetificat" -- than most modern professors.
We were highly skilled. We knew how to light the charcoal discs that fired up the thurible for important occasions. We knew all the requirements of the Easter church services.
We knew that on the dark Good Fridays in the chapel, before the glory of the Easter resurrection, that a pair of us would flank the priest at the altar rails at the peak of the somber service whilst the people filed up silently to reverently kiss the crucifix held by the priest and quickly wiped by him with a linen cloth between each brief kiss. Many of you have been part of that in your time.
What happened that Good Friday as I watched from behind my ceremonial candle was that a highly respected village hairdresser, the mother of three sons, briefly kissed the crucifix and turned to go back to her bench. Suddenly then the man behind her in the queue powerfully took the crucifix from the startled priest's grasp before he could wipe it and, incredibly, shockingly in the context, very passionately kissed the brass feet of the Savior where the hairdresser had kissed the cross.
There were audible gasps from those around. That kiss seemed to me to last forever but it was probably about 10 seconds later that the man handed the crucifix back to the priest and turned away to go back to his bench.
As he turned I saw tears on a grown man's face for the first time in my life. Silvery streaks from both eyes.
Until then I did not know that men could shed tears like that. I knew more about Latin than about real life.
When I got home I asked my mother what had happened. She shushed me up and told me to say a prayer for Johnny, which was the man's name, and I was well down my teens and no longer angelic when she told me what the media now call the back story to the story. It was a story old as time in rural Ireland back then and perhaps still.
You see, decades earlier Johnny had been engaged to be married to the hairdresser. They were the most handsome couple in the parish.
She already had inherited her beauty parlor from her aunt and he had taken over the family farm after the death of his father. He was the captain of the football club which won a county title, and she was the life and soul of every party.
One Easter she proudly appeared wearing a glittering engagement ring and, in the ordinary run of things, they would probably have married in our chapel the following Easter. But there was a fly in the ointment. There often is.
The facts were that Johnny's widowed mother, with whom he lived of course, was feared by everybody in the parish. Her nickname behind her back was Scaldie because she had a sharp tongue, they said, sharp enough to scald the soul of a saint.
The rural reality was that no other woman in her right mind would share her roof under any circumstances. Johnny and his fiancée were engaged for no less than seven years, my mother told me, before eventually the lady returned the engagement ring and married another farmer.
The Scaldie lived to a high age, always tended well by poor Johnny, and by the time she passed away he was into his fifties and it was too late for him to find another woman back then even if he had wished to. He never went out socially with any other woman after his engagement so tragically ended.
So that was the back story to the Easter story which unfolded before my eyes that
Good Friday so long ago now when I first realized that it was possible for grown men to shed tears in public, even in the chapel, as they poignantly kissed the ghost of an old love's kiss on the brass feet of the Savior.
A much happier Easter than Johnny's to all of you out there.