Here in Brasil, when someone sneezes, the polite thing to say to them is “Saude!”, which is the word for health.
When you think about it, that makes a lot more sense than our English, “Bless you!” It is, of course, perfectly appropriate to desire and pray for God’s blessing on each other at any time, because we need His blessing constantly, whether we are sick or healthy, rich or poor, happy or grieving. Yet I always thought it was a bit strange to automatically wish blessing on someone when they sneeze, because a cold or other sickness is no indication of a lack of God’s blessings.
The “bless you” custom actually originated in the Dark Ages, when people blamed sneezing and sickness on evil spirit. According to this superstition, the sick person really did need God’s blessing in a deeper way than normal. As we now know, bacteria and viruses, not spirits, cause sickness. When someone sneezes, they probably are lacking a bit in the health department (unless they inhaled pepper or looked right at the sun, of course). So wishing health for them in that moment, as Brasilians do, is quite logical.
However, in the mind of a Brasilian three-year-old, it may not really make sense, as I learned from Isadora.
During a bout with a major cold, Isadora was clearly not her normal optimistic, happy-go-lucky, energetic self. Moping around the house, she sneezed loudly.
I said, “Saude!” (Health!)
To which Isadora replied dejectedly, looking up at me with her stuffy little nose and swollen red eyes, “It’s not health. It’s sickness.”
Another day, Isadora informed me, “The butterfly died a little bit.” After thinking for about two seconds, she changed the diagnosis to, “No, it died a LOT!”
GROWNUPS ASK THE SILLIEST QUESTIONS
The day before field conference started, I was taking care of a friend’s 3-year-old and 11-month-old, trying to tire them out on the soccer field. We were “racing” to the goal, and since the 11-month-old was already tired, and held up her arms so sweetly, wanting to be held, I ended up running with her on my hip.
After the 3-year-old, Elisa, won the race, I told her, “You run really fast! Who taught you how to run so fast?”
“My mommy and daddy,” she replied.
“That’s great. So who runs faster – your mommy or your daddy?”
Without missing a beat, Elisa said, “Jesus runs faster.”