We humans do many things we don’t mean to do, some of us more than others. But I have known no man who has escaped the Sneeze.
Though it comes in various forms–the Sneeze of Suspense, the One That Sneaks Up On You, explosive, silent, painful, relieving–all sneezes are uncontrollable. You can learn to yawn on cue, you can often squash a yawn, but even when you know a sneeze is coming, you can do almost nothing to hurry it along.
Other such outbursts (farts, coughs, burps) require only a quick “Excuse me!” from the one committing the offense. Everyone else is merely supposed to politely ignore. The Sneeze, however, is so unexpected and uncontrollable that it requires a response from all gathered. “God bless you!”
The precise reason that this phrase is the custom has been lost, but the fact is, a response is required.
Each Sneeze is an interruption in our ordered lives. We would like to think we could get through a day without losing control in such a ridiculous way. We would like to think we can do something as basic as breathe without fearing possibly painful consequences. But truly we have no power with regard to a Sneeze.
No doubt, we would like to change every Sneeze. We would like our eyes to press shut less tightly. We would like our noses to be seized less roughly in the hostile takeover. We would like our tongues not to be convulsed and struck multiple times against tooth and lip. We would like our saliva to stay in our mouths where it belongs, rather than to become so many projectile droplets falling into the complete control of gravity. But we cannot. A Sneeze proves how little control we have over even simple things.
Whether alone or with others, each sneezer is faced with a choice. He can react with annoyance at the interruption of his ordered life. Or he can laugh.
It is fitting to think of this at Christmastime, when Sneezes abound. When we come together in ever-increasing numbers of family and friends. The more people, the less we have control. The less control we have, the more the lesson of the Sneeze applies. Do we laugh? Do we cry?
Whatever the case, always observe the polite custom with Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”