I was pulling into the driveway the other day – backing in, actually. We back in because we have a lot of pedestrians who walk up the sidewalk on our street and it is easier not to run over them if we are pulling forward out of our driveway. So we back in.
Our driveway is a bit narrow and our neighbor’s gas meter is only a couple feet or so off our driveway. If you are not backing in straight you could run into the concrete posts that protect the meter.
So I was backing in and suddenly I felt a sneeze coming on. As we all know, the greater majority of people automatically close their eyes when they sneeze. This has actually led to very serious traffic accidents (see link below). I was in my driveway; no one else was in the car and I wasn’t going very fast, so I wasn’t concerned about killing anyone or dying myself. But the sneeze was not coming on gradually; it was coming on like a freight train. All sorts of muscles in your body do amazing things when you sneeze. But the most amazing thing that happens is how difficult it is all of a sudden to get to that handkerchief in your back pocket, or that Kleenex sticking part way up out of the box which is just out of reach.
There wasn’t time to stop before the sneeze; grabbing for the handkerchief might have put me square in line with those concrete posts. This sneeze – like so many others – was going to happen whether I was ready or not.
Did you know that the average sneeze expels 5,000 droplets of mucus at a rate of up to 100 miles per hour? (Think about that the next time you sneeze into your elbow; you might not want to be wearing that shirt or sweater again – ever.)
Why is it, I wondered, that I always seem to sneeze when I am least prepared for it?
My two sons make fun of me with a bit of disgust for carrying around a handkerchief in my back pocket. Really, they say; you really want to be saving that stuff, and then sitting on it all day?
My mother always ironed my father’s handkerchiefs. When he did manage to get that piece of cloth to his nostrils in time to catch the sneeze, Dad would refold the handkerchief and place it back in his pocket. It was as if the snot had been gift wrapped.
Is there a life metaphor here, I wondered. How much of life is like sneezing while backing up? We close our eyes, spread our “snot” all over the place, and go backward!
Some people have very distinctive sneezes. My maternal grandfather, who lived with us, would sneeze very loud … RRRRRRRUUUUUUSHA … I always wondered if this didn’t have something with the “Cold War” – that’s what it was called – and my grandfather’s profound distrust of Russia. But as I thought about it, I never heard anyone shout CCHHHHHHINA when they sneezed, and when I was a child China was as feared and hated as Russia. And when I met a girl (who would eventually become my wife), her sneezes were nothing like my grandfather’s. When she sneezes she takes a sudden deep breath, shuts her eyes tight, looks like she’s going to “blow your house down” … and then, nothing. A slight jerk of the head in complete silence. It took me a long time to really believe she was sneezing when she did that.
Our youngest child sneezes like a Trinitarian. Never once. Never twice. Never four times. Always three times in quick succession and always with the conventional AAACHUUUU.
You might be expecting this “reflection” to conclude with some humorous event – like I backed into the garage door; or perhaps something on the tragic side – like I ran over the neighbor’s cat. But this post will end neither tragically or humorously. I just found myself the other day having to sneeze while driving backwards and it got me to thinking.
One final observation: none of us look our best when in the act of sneezing. We sneeze ill prepared and ugly … and yet, doesn’t it feel good to let lose with a barrel chested AH … AH … AAAHHH…..
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