To bless someone, in the most literal sense of the word, is to confer your hopes to them.
That's why so many traditional blessings begin with the word "may."
Take, for instance, what is perhaps the best-known Irish blessing (or toast, as the case may be this time of the year):
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
"May" doesn't mean "so be it." May implies that something is possible, but not a done deal. May hopes that God puts it in play and that you get out of your own way and allow it to happen.
John O'Donohue, the great contemporary Irish poet/philosopher (and former Catholic priest), knew the power of "may."
Fifteen-hundred years ago, a Dublin-based shepherd made his mark on history by turning the Chicago River green, staggering inebriated through the city, and inventing the "Kiss Me I’m Irish" hat. Along the way, he wrote Bushmills whiskey drinking songs about the pain of being alive, mixed a cocktail whose name evokes an act of terror, and dyed his hair red.
He magically expelled snakes from the island of his birth, wrote a lyrical memoir of his terrible childhood, won the Rose of Tralee beauty contest, mixed lager and Guinness together (presumably out of an excess of self-loathing and bad taste), had a great oul’ Famine, stared meaningfully across the Atlantic, and dreamed of America.
But he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.
It’s St Patrick’s Day weekend, and despite the fact that millions of people will celebrate something like this vision of what it means to be Irish, pretty much none of the above is true.