Don't stifle that sneeze

Big shouting sneezes run in our family. They’re not the feminine kittycat sniffs that some families boast. These are large announcements that startle even our senior dogs from their ever-slumber. To make matters worse, I married a shouting sneezer whose sequence of three sneezes sounds like a war cry.




That’s a far-flung cousin of the nicey-nice achoo that is acceptable nowadays. And our shepherd Hank lurches to his feet, howling. Good boy, you’re okay. Thank you to the researchers who put together that today’s pronunciation of “achoo” is a learned phenomenon. That’s right, our honkers’ sirens are nurtured, not natural.

Popular Science explains: “Sneezes do make some sound that people aren’t able to control, but people are able to modify the sound, depending on what seems socially appropriate.”

If you can’t accept your natural sneeze and need some instruction on squelching your sneeze sound, the internet provides a multi-step training on suppressing it. First, clench your jaw, teeth, and mouth, pretty much brace your face to control the explosion of air. Next, leave your jaw open a smidge so that your sinuses don’t explode from the pressure. Do not plug your nose. Serious health consequences can include larynx fractures, ruptured eardrums, bulging eyeballs, and bladder incontinence. Last, solicit other sounds from your body to cover your body’s need to sneeze. A cough may suffice but the timing will have to be just right.

If a sneeze is inevitable, look on the sunny side. Science reveals that loud sneezers may owe their decibels to lung capacity. So that’s a plus. Nonsequitur: there are no synonyms for sneeze.

Does this sound ridiculous? Good. It is.

Suppressing the body’s human experience is RIDONCULOUS. This is why my ancestral sneeze sounds have been my pride and joy.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

Helen Keller

Even today, I’m reminded of my Oma whose strong sneeze and pirate-like laugh were transplanted to me after she died. She was a belly laugher and always made time to talk. She left me with several more life wisdoms about universal experiences that should be felt in their full force:

  1. A craving. This is our bodies’ way of reminding us of what we need. Doctors say, “everything in moderation” and “listen to your body.” My Oma said, “I have two pieces of chocolate every day, whether I need them or not.” My Uncle Fred is famous for ordering three courses, starting with dessert. “I’ll have the blueberry cheesecake, and then the double bratwurst with chips and then a side salad with Catalina dressing.” The server’s blank stare flickers over to the rest of us for verification. My Aunt Mary breaks the silence and authorizes the request. “He’s not kidding. It’s okay, just go ahead and bring the dessert first. But only for him.” The rest of us got dessert but only after our meals. Listen to your body is a good rule for life and it applies to so many other situations.
  2. A question. Our wonder defines our individuality and our humanity. It’s taken us across continents, to the deeps of the oceans, and into the stars. I wonder why this apple fell on my head, Sir Isaac Newton asked. A simple question can ignite a host of dreams.
  3. A laugh. This is a smile with sound. If the laugh is deep enough, you’ll spark a bout of hiccups. It goes without saying, do not smother a hiccup. That’s your body’s reward for laughing: a tickle from the inside.
  4. A sob. The flip side of the human experience is grief. Whether from loss, disappointment, or frustration, you must go through grief. It is a wave that will break hard and, even after you are immersed, it will continually splash. In “Princess Bride,” Inigo Montoya said it best: “Fezzik, do you hear that? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when the six-fingered-man killed my father. The Man in Black makes it now.” Such crushing emotion must be released into the world. To restrict such a thing is to lock lava down in a volcano. It only festers and builds to cause greater devastation. You will become comfortable with its gentle lapping at your feet, as part of your life.
  5. A hug. This is your body’s connection with another. Hugs come in so many variations, you may choose between them. The quick hello. The side-lean. The heart-to-heart. And the ever-popular cuddle which is a lingering hug, especially good to nurture mind-heart connections.
  6. A dance. Think you can’t dance? No excuses here. A dance is nothing but a hug set to music. A slow dance is a swaying hug. A swing dance is a playful hug. The hustle is a group hug. A dance in your own kitchen is the most joyful dance of all. Your body was meant for moving. Start tapping your toe and take it from there.
  7. Love. Oh, Love. She cannot be silenced or shut down. She cannot be measured or contained. I still feel the strength of my third-grade puppy love. Though unrequited, it was my first taste of love and lingered for several years. Love must be heard and felt. Every love is worth feeling.

So stifle nothing. These wisdoms are inherited from a family tree of women who reached 90 or 95 or more. These women lived through hardship, hunger, assault, cold, joblessness, uncertainty, loss, and war. Yet, the centuries of family photos I now hold show eyes full of sparkle that are saying, “Go. Run. Into the dunes, into the waves, into the fields. Gulp deeply the air and fall headfirst into life.”