Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Standing in line at the check out counter, the cashier suddenly sneezed. Instantaneously there was a chorus of "God bless you" from other cashiers and customers in line with me. "Thank you," she replied with a smile that reflected not only her appreciation but a slight discomfort at drawing attention to herself.
I had a bit of a wait, so I proceeded to ruminate, as I usually do when unoccupied. What crossed my mind at that moment was the writing on a church marquee I had seen not long before. It read:
GOD BLESS YOU-NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT. Clearly the clever wording intended to convey the importance of God's blessings, something I can only agree with wholeheartedly. I found myself thinking about the meaning of that response to an everyday, ordinary happening, sneezing. We sneeze for so many reasons : the onset of a cold or in its throes, allergic reactions to ragweed ; the stark smell of pepper. I know someone who sneezes when excited or erotically aroused.
Why do we bless a sneezer? There are many suggestions. If it represents a symptom of sickness, then it is natural to wish someone well in this way. Others believe that sneezing indicates the opening of a bodily orifice that makes one vulnerable to the harmful intentions of the devil or the "evil eye," always in waiting to inflict injury upon the innocent and unsuspecting.
I consider this ordinary act differently. It is a way by which we extend our good wishes to others, many of whom are complete strangers and in this way create, if only for a passing moment, some bond of human connection. We can then express our gratefulness for the instinctive sense of caring and concern that flows from the human heart. Perhaps the phrase is a ubiquitous and universal prayer heard in every and any possible location and circumstance.
Indeed, it is nothing to sneeze at.

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