The sneeze — a sweet excuse to bless somebody.
By Barry John Johnson.
It is a beautiful day. I am sitting in the park on a beach towel reading a book about how to be a writer.
I am reading a section discussing how to select what to write about. The author is recommending to write about the mundane, the trivial, then break it down to try to find greater meaning in it.
Just then, I hear a sneeze. I can somehow tell that it is a kid’s sneeze, for sure. What struck me as unusual was that the sneeze featured an extended ending. There was an extra fluttering of the lips and commensurate noise, as if intentional, but obviously organic. The overall sneeze lasted longer than what might be expected with the greater noise of this fluttering lip effect.
I don’t know if this was a one-time deal for this kid or if this is how he sneezes all of the time. It’s just that it was clearly distinct, out of the ordinary.
I immediately look up to see what appears to be an eight-year-old boy with whom I assumed to be his mother walking a few yards ahead of him. We make direct eye contact as he continues walking along. I am thinking that either telepathically or via the micro expressions in our faces, we are both recognizing that the sneeze was unusual. As he reaches the point whereby he might be having to turn his head too much to maintain eye contact, I say “Bless you”.
It came without thought or planning, through some sort of sneeze-activated muscle memory and/or social conditioning, but the delay between the actual sneeze and my stated benediction was too long. I was guilty of a faux pas regarding some unwritten sneeze blessing rule, like the five-second rule regarding picking up food to eat after it has been dropped on the floor.
I had never heard of a sneeze blessing rule, yet it was obvious that I had violated some social convention. The time lag was long enough so that it could be construed that I had given this young stranger a random blessing without provocation.
Time seemed to be moving slowly. I felt that touch of stress that one might feel in breaching social convention. I think that the boy stopped walking for a moment. I am not sure. We still had eye contact. He was then either puzzled or passive aggressive in that there was an extraordinary delay before he responded, “Thank you”.
He turned, and went on his way. Whatever tension was in the air subsided as my interaction with this fluttery-lipped kid was over. I was now left to ponder the significance of the event.
What was that all about? I thought as I fell back on my towel, looking up at the sky. My intuitive reflexes told me that there was some greater meaning here.
An answer came to me in short order: A sneeze is an excuse to bless somebody, not a requirement.
Maybe this kid needed a blessing outside of the confines of the normal scenarios which allow a total stranger to grant a random blessing. Maybe this kid needed a blessing that was totally unconnected to his highly unusual sneeze, even if that sneeze warranted its own blessing.
I further thought about why it might seem a taboo or at least socially unconventional to grant blessings to others without the excuse of a sneeze. I couldn’t think of many instances where people straight out grant blessings to others, out loud.
My religious friends might receive certain blessings at church for communion or confession. My spiritual friends tend to sign their emails with the benediction of “Blessings” replacing “Sincerely”. In yoga class, there is usually a concluding “Namaste” which is pretty much a blessing. I also think that when we die, all of a sudden the blessings from others start flowing. Yet these instances seem pretty confined, with the sneeze still being the most widespread and generally accessible excuse to directly bestow a blessing upon another living being.
Conversely, we are quick to curse. We are quick to wish hell and damnation upon total strangers, traffic being the easy example. If only we could throw out random blessings in problem traffic and specific blessings to the individual who just cut us off, endangering our lives. They may need that blessing to help them slow down or to help with whatever they may be rushing towards. Instead of an “F you” and a single middle finger, they get a “Bless you” and a whole-handed trinity swipe. Road rage might be over, cured.
In the same spirit, why can we not each be continually bestowing blessings upon all others we may come in contact with, without judging who may or may not need it? At first, maybe it wouldn’t have to be said out loud. We can practice with it being more of a feeling, a feeling of being a beacon continuously transmitting well wishes upon others, and in the process, that beacon would shine upon ourselves as well.
Then with practice, we can begin to bestow blessings out loud, maybe starting with friends and loved ones, or in traffic, as mentioned earlier, and go from there.
In reflection, my lesson — or blessing — on this beautiful day was this kid’s one-of-a-kind, truly unique sneeze. It taught me so much. It is okay to bless someone when they sneeze, but we don’t need a sneeze to do so. We can do it all the time. Maybe it’s a way of being.
Thank you, dear child, and bless you.
Barry John Johnson is a counselor in San Diego, California. He used to work as a high level bureaucrat until he decided not to anymore. He likes helping people. He also likes meditation, writing, intuitive arts and independent spiritual studies. You could contact Barry at [email protected].