The invitation did not come on Valentine's Day, which would have made this a better story. But it was close. Instead I received the update of our itinerary on February 14, 2015.
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I was pilgrimage bound, amid other travel writers, battle-hardened cynics who dwell in a swirl of departure lounges and hotel breakfast buffets, happier quoting the Life of Brian than the Bible, who were to join some religious group leaders in what we in western Europe call, with self-conscious exceptionalism, the Holy Land. Not a real pilgrimage, of course, because we do not dwell in the real world, but a sample itinerary tackled at speed.
And in this unusual circumstance, I found love.
Although I had been to Israel, Palestine and the occupied territories before and had seen many of the sacred sites, I had never done so as part of a formal pilgrimage.
Pilgrimages work in a different way to every other aspect of the travel business. A network of clerical and diocesan contacts organise the itineraries and gather up people - some of whom do not take any other holiday abroad - and it all happens below the radar of the travel sections in the newspaper supplements.
Besides, pilgrims have a reputation for being party animals. I heard tales of marathon sessions around the piano in Lourdes, of octogenarians bringing the house down with renditions of Pete St John's Dublin in the Rare Auld Times and epic Robert Service poems.
I wanted to see for myself.
For those who have never been, the Christian sacred sites are an enigma. All of the action happened in Galilee so it was something of a marketing masterstroke to bookend the life of Christ with Jerusalem, already a sacred city for Judaism and due to become one for Christianity and Islam, and nearby Bethlehem for the origin myth.
I fell in love with the pilgrims. All of them. They were a mix of spiritual advisors, clergy, religious zealots and diocesan fixers from America and Ireland.
The genial Christine Burke from Dublin, sprightly in spirit as she was elderly in years; Carol from Canada; Dominic and Theresa Lynch from Cork; and the wonderful Fr Charlie Kiely: "the sermon from the American priest was great today Charlie, pressure is on."
Many of them had been on dozens of pilgrimages. One had been on none at all. She was Orla, a nurse midwife from Meath, who was not supposed to be on the trip at all but had received a late cancellation call-up two days before; she struggled womanfully to get her shifts covered at the hospital where she worked, and set off to the airport with the words of a family friend ringing in her ears: maybe this is where you will meet the man of your dreams.
She didn't. But thankfully, she got me instead.
In my marriage, I had been through Genesis and most of Deuteronomy and was heading for Exodus, but not quite there yet. It would be two years before my divorce came through, so I was not in the business of a new relationship.
At the time, the prospect of another relationship with anybody but my laptop seemed remote, if not impossible, for a travel writer, travelling to a different country each week, accumulating 30 countries a year and some of those individual countries up to five times. Not one for Tinder, or the social and personal in Ireland's Own.
Orla had not been married, had children or a scary long-term relationship. Her baggage would fit in the Ryanair sizer (without the extra fiver for priority boarding).
Orla and I first encountered each other on row 11 on Turkish Airlines flight TK1978. I had my lover, my Macbook on the fold-down table, attempting to complete another book on sports history.
I slowly realised I had been allocated a seat beside one of those chatty passengers who torment the lives of us laptop dancers. This was assuaged by the fact she had someone else to talk to, a young student she engaged in conversation.
To underline the deep and lasting impression on her that I was to make, I promptly fell asleep. When I awoke I inquired, gruffly, if I had missed the all-important coffee round.
I had also missed the earphones, so I turned the in-flight entertainment to a subtitled Bollywood movie, where Krish and Manya fell in love and decide to get married.
Later Orla would tell me that she assumed I was one of those cranky ones - the sort who keep ringing the emergency bell for non-emergencies when there are lives to be saved elsewhere in a busy ward.
Initial contact made, we talked and laughed a lot throughout that trip. I have photographs of her, more than any of the other non-journalists on the trip, as we exchanged thoughts and theories in the trek through Tiberias, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Dead Sea, the church of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the hinterland of Jerusalem. There is one grainy iPhone picture of the two us together, trying to ignore each other on a sailing on the Sea of Galilee.
If it was love at first sight (site?), it would appropriately have been the site of Cana. The first miracle of Jesus is best remembered in our parish for Fr Willie's joke: Joseph had a hangover after the wedding and asked Mary to get him a glass of water, but to be sure not to let the young fellow near it.
There was a renewal of vows in the French church there (most of the Galilee churches are 19th-Century French). Our genial tour guide, Michael Kennedy, who sadly passed away last year, told us: "Whoever renews the wedding vows can pay for the reception afterwards."
Nothing more intimate or romantic happened but, as we were told in the Hill of the Beatitudes, easily the most beautiful of the biblical sites for anyone planning a visit, the meek shall inherit the Earth.
"The ninth beatitude," Michael announced, "blessed are those who are on time."
Many of us have an abiding overwhelming and occasionally irrational fear. Orla's was not irrational at all, but her fear of snakes meant that she would not get off the bus to walk through a landscaped path to one of the sites at Arbel Nature Reserve under Mount Nitai.
I was the solution to this particular agony in the garden. I used all the snake-divining formulae I could think off: most of them are not poisonous; they only strike in self-defence; they are more afraid of us then we are of them; and I promised to stamp my feet firmly and manfully as we walked so the sound of footsteps would send them scuttering for cover.
Besides, I had met a lot of snakes, are not just those you find in Dublin journalism circles: a spitting cobra in the dark in Africa; an eastern brown, one of the most venomous of all, on the grass beside the door of my lodgings in Australia; a rattler in America. My snake whispering past, overstated as it was, reassured her enough for us to go wandering through the wilderness, our hands entwined together for the first time, and my little heart beating faster with the contact.
And this may be the biggest lesson of them all. Stepping into a new relationship can be about overcoming fears and burying the memory of past painful failure, consigning our predetermined notions to be expelled.
Finding love can mean entering the snake pit, but sometimes the snakes are larger in our heads than in the grass.
I departed the trip early for a tourism trade fair in Berlin. In my absence, Orla was allocated my room, and it had the best view in the hotel.
We did not see each other for two years. In the meantime we exchanged thoughts and fears, histories of our lives and loves and our perceptions of the world, framed within our memories of that first encounter in the spiritual vortex of the western world.
I was drawn to her bucolic breezy enthusiasm and unique world view. Her world, of mending broken people, navigating complicated childbirth and getting on with it, contrasted with the fake sophistication and underwhelmed value systems with which some of us surround ourselves in the lives we chose.
Authenticity should not be as surprising as it is. She was using her spare time to study for an extra qualification in air evacuation. And she made everyone laugh.
Four and a half years later, we got engaged.
In retrospect, the essential ingredient in the mix was hummus. I saw her at her sparkling finest with what we call the hummus incident. Orla asked did I want some. She left the table and carried it back to me.
I responded, as we do in the country, by saying that she was "handy as a small pot".
The Americans in the group jumped on the expression with the joy of a medieval Crusader finding a piece of the true cross. Orla led the response with that commanding presence she reserves for matters medical and theological, and anything to do with the rich oral folklore of the land around Croghan Hill.
She enumerated several uses for a small pot, and brought a warm smile to everyone present. Especially me.
Blessed are the hummus eaters, for they shall inherit the earth.
Sunday Indo Living