So I was sitting in the DMV the other day, in one of those damned uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for my car-less friend Jacob to have “Motorcycle” added to his driver’s license so he could legally ride the apparatus he had just purchased. As with most things connected with the DMV, I should have brought a book. In the end, I'm glad I didn't.
It was nine a.m. but the waiting area was already crowded. Across from me sat a very pretty teenage girl, also waiting for someone I suppose. She had her knees up on the chair and was slouching onto them, looking like she was asleep or trying to be, but in any event the expression on her face indicated she was highly unhappy about being out and about at this ungodly hour of the morning. Next to her was a middle-aged white woman, not entirely unattractive but wearing a skirt that was too short….really too short if you know what I mean.
On my side of the room, right next to me was an older black woman. And by “older” I mean nearly my age (51). She had a very young boy in tow who kept calling her, “Mama,” which I thought was odd. And she had this gentle, motherly, calm-but-in-control manner about her; an absolutely noticeable aura that just emanated like the comforting glow of a nightlight in a child’s dark bedroom. Some people can seem frantic and nervous even when they’re sitting still. Not this woman. Just being next to her, I could feel my blood pressure dropping by several points.
Suddenly, the woman in the short skirt across the way sneezed. Before I could say anything, the black woman next to me said, “God bless you!” Short-skirt woman looked up and smiled. A genuine, appreciative, heartfelt smile. “Thank you!” she said. I couldn’t see the face of the woman next to me (although you know I wanted to look), but I’m certain she smiled back. I smiled too.
In fact, I chuckled. Silently and to myself, because I didn’t want them to think I was laughing at them, but I chuckled nonetheless. I was still smarting from some recent back-and-forth blog posts between the littlewoodenman Matthew and me on his blog and this one. They were still fresh in my mind. Matthew, the atheist, maintains that there is no God. I, the Creationist, believe that there is. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
“God bless you.”
I chuckled because it’s funny how God slips insidiously into our daily lives, almost unnoticed, whether we want Him to or not. And I wondered what atheist-boy would have said in such a situation had he been sitting next to me instead of the kindly black woman? “Bless you?” No, that still implies that it’s a contraction for “God bless you,” and in any event atheists apparently do not adhere to the concept of being blessed because where would that blessing come from?
How ‘bout, “Gesundheit!” Well…ahh, no, not that either. It ostensibly means, “To your good health.” But it’s not as God-free an expression as you might imagine either. We think of it as a German expression, but it is actually much older than that. In fact the origin of “gesundheit” is a little bizarre. According to the answers.com website:
The expression is also found in Jewish custom. Although not technically part of Jewish Law (Halacha), the custom of saying "gezuntheit," "tzu gezunt," "labreeyut," or "God bless you" is considered a mannerly custom. It is written in the Talmud that the patriarch Jacob was the first person to become ill before passing on. Before that, people would sneeze and die. When God infused the soul into Man, He "blew it" into Adam's nostrils. Thus, when it came time for the soul to be returned to its Maker, it would leave through the same portal it arrived.
So maybe an atheist would say nothing, simply not acknowledge the sneeze. And maybe that is the proper thing to do after all. It is a bit odd that we feel we must say something when a person sneezes. But "good manners" demands it. Traditions…sheesh.
Perhaps atheists really, truly believe that there is no benefit at all to society in a belief in God. Perhaps atheists really, truly believe that we’d all in fact be better off if we just stopped all of this silly God-believin’ and just went on with our accidentally-evolved lives without (insert sarcastic eyeroll here) "...bringing Him into it all the time." Sorry, but I wouldn’t want to live in such a world.
Sure, the woman next to me in the DMV the other morning could have said nothing. Instead she said, “God bless you,” and the woman across the way smiled and thanked her. Human interaction; just a small bit of common courtesy, things we might gloss over or fail to notice as we go about our busy lives. But God snuck in there and brightened, however slightly and however momentarily, the days of two random strangers.
Well, three if you include me in the deal.