Sneezing: To expel air forcibly from the mouth and nose in an explosive, spasmodic, involuntary action resulting chiefly from irritation of the nasal mucous membrane.
How would you describe your gesundheit? I pretty much imitated my mother’s way of sternutation. She told me it was not good to restrain a sneeze, and I watched her as she sneezed from her toes. What came was ear-shattering.
“The next time I get the urge to stifle a window-rattling sneeze, I might want to reconsider. It could be harmful to my health,” she said.
Then she gave examples: Clamping your nostrils and mouth shut might avoid disturbing others, but it could damage my eardrums or sinuses or cause an ear infection.
Some myths have grown up about restraining sneezes. St. Augustine of Hippo, way back in 395 A.D., a prescient scholar, recommended that you go right back to bed if you sneeze while putting on your shoes in the morning.
Even though restraining a sneeze won’t cause a stroke or blow out a kidney, to most of us a sneeze isn’t too scary, unless you’re a panda. Giant pandas are cute and harmless, with an amusing habit of sneezing. Check out a YouTube of two pandas, enjoying a teatime snack. This mother panda is a picture of calm, before almost jumping out of her fur after her baby emits an almighty sneeze. The hilarious video clip shows the giant bear’s priceless look of shock as her offspring shatters her peace and quiet. The clip, which has been viewed 40 million times in original and duplicate forms on YouTube, is an internet sensation and has spawned numerous spoofs. But back in the day, it was full of deadly possibilities.
Warning: I suggest you sit down for this next story or two. Do you remember me telling you when I had a Bluetooth? I had gone to second floor to see my lovely residents. Suddenly I got a phone call. I pressed the little Bluetooth button and began to talk. Residents didn’t seem surprised when they saw the chaplain “talking to himself.” I doubt that many knew about the funny device I had in my ear, though they seemed to be comfortable with my personal dialogue.
Some years later I was visiting the residents again on second floor, when suddenly I did an unrestrained, loud sneeze from my toes. Those who had a hearing disability suddenly discovered miraculous healing, as their hair settled back down.
I witnessed another “unique sneeze” back when I was working at a home improvement center during my college years. One of the owners was the mother who assigned her young sons to various jobs around the store. I discovered that whenever she sneezed, it sounded like a ricochet. Her two young sons immediately bobbed and weaved and ducked, as they avoided the imaginary bullet. Mom simply rolled her eyes and said, “Get back to work!”
If you read Matthew’s Gospel 14:22-30, I have a theory about Simon Peter’s walk on the water. Remember when Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray after he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side? During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But, when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
I think there was another reason why he began to sink.
Simon Peter sneezed, from his toes, causing him to wobble and stirring up the waves even more. Regardless of the particulars, we know that Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, just as he rescues us when we are in danger.
Then, there is a question we all have to answer. “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.