04/15/2007 03:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Power of "God Bless You"

A few days ago, I shared my personal Kurt Vonnegut story here. It certainly did not intend to be an incendiary post, but while most commented with their thoughts on the loss of the satirical writer, there were some that took issue with my title, "God Bless You," Mr. Vonnegut. Quite likely, there were those who thought it was simply a sentimental send off while others got it that I was paying homage to Vonnegut's "God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater." Moreover, I wasn't the only one slammed for title selection.

What I found most interesting, though, is that one commenter went so far as to make this disparaging remark about me:

And you madam are without question what is termed up north here in canada as a "little shit".

I then wondered if perhaps everyone misunderstood my title.

It reminded me of a time several years ago when Mr. Vonnegut was in the hospital after being injured by smoke inhalation where his apartment caught fire. As I was perusing the get well cards, I began to laugh at some of the possible choices, such as, "May God Guide You Back to Good Health" or "We Are Never Alone"--you know, the flowery religious type. However, since Mr. Vonnegut didn't know me well enough to realize that the expression would have been an attempt to humor him, I decided on a Winnie-the-Pooh card that simply stated: "Oh, Bother."

However, going back to my post, WarrenS understood why I selected the title by going above and beyond by doing a bit of research on other writings I have done, (Thanks, WarrenS!) which made it clear that I wasn't out to impose my beliefs (or lack thereof) on anyone.

In addition, what struck me most is how those three words of "God bless you" often ruffle the feathers of so many, me included.

Quite some time ago, I got into a discussion with some friends when one of them sneezed and I was the only one who did not respond in Pavlovian fashion by saying those three words. When I initially stopped saying, "God bless you" after someone sneezed I always heard an unintentionally insulting silence. Eventually, I managed to avoid it by rushing out the words, "Need a tissue?" If I say it really fast, it sounds like the old standard response, in part because it's what's expected. I don't feel like I'm being phony or rude, and I actually think it's more proactive than the standard reply.

The thing is, what do I say when I sneeze and someone says, "God bless you" to me? Well, for one, I don't call them a "little shit." My reply is a simple, lighthearted "Excuse me" (for sneezing) and I leave it at that.