The oddest thing happened to me recently. I was walking through the frozen foods aisle at WalMart, and a fellow shopper just ahead of me let out a big, loud sneeze. I said "Bless you!" and he looked up; we made brief eye contact. He got this sheepish look on his face like I had just accused him of shoplifting; our carts passed; and I didn't think anything of it. A few minutes later, I was in the 20-or-less checkout aisle, and out of the blue, someone gave me a couple of pats on my left shoulder. I looked to my left shoulder and saw "the sneezer" walking away. He looked over his his shoulder and said "thank you--you made my day!"
This comes on the heels of something that happened this past Sunday. We had a LOT of visitors at church this week, and a visiting couple sat next to me. The lady sneezed LOUDLY during a prayer. I reached over across the pew, patted her shoulder and said, quietly, "Bless you!" After the service, she came up and gave me the BIGGEST hug, and her husband shook my hand--and they both said that my "Bless you!" helped make their decision to join our church.
So--since when does simple civility make someone's day or cause them to join a church?? A simple "thanks!" would have been more than sufficient, and even that wouldn't have been a major deal. I mean, I'm very happy that both events happened--but honestly I'm borderline troubled that these even made a ripple in the pond. Both of these folks were surprised that I blessed them. Since when was that out of the ordinary? I was raised to say "Bless you!" when someone sneezes; apparently I'm not alone, as in Schedule Planning staff meetings, when someone sneezes, the chorus of "Bless You's!" rises up in unison like a liturgical response in a sanctuary. I always thought it was a Texan/Southern thing, but since nearly everyone in my Department is from all over the country, now I think it's an American thing.
Saying "Bless you!" when someone sneezes implies many things, but it's really just using the opportunity of a respiratory spasm to show someone a little human compassion and some good wishes. It's based on a historial (and false) belief born centuries ago that when someone sneezed, their heart stopped; blessing them made the re-start of their ticker more probable. Unfortunately, in these days of soul-numbing anonymity, such niceties seem to have fallen off the map. Why? And why should we tolerate the gradual eradication of American nicety? I just don't think we should go quetly into that dark--and lonely--night.
So here is my challenge. Starting today, and for the next week--whenever you see/hear someone sneeze, give 'em a loud "Bless you!" and make eye contact with them. Let them know that someone wishes them well. Say it loudly--not obnoxiously, but say it loud enough so that they hear it, and hopefully anyone around will hear it as well. We're going into allergy (and, somewhat more frighteningly, flu) season, so we should have ample oppportunity. Let's see if we can pay good wishes forward! And equally important to this little social experiment--if you get any reaction (other than a polite smile!)--please post a comment here. We'll see what a polite, and caring, army might be able to accomplish!