October 12th, 2010
My sneezes come in threes. Today the VA cafeteria was not crowded. I sneezed. A fellow two tables away said bless you. He was wearing a black cap with yellow lettering. It said FBI. A few second later I sneezed again with even greater force. He blessed me again, but with a touch less friendliness. I got the sense he felt I was making him do too much work. My third and final sneeze, I looked to him, waiting for him to fulfill his contract, but instead of blessing me he gathered his tray, walked to the bins, and swept his dirty paper plates away.
It got me thinking to the time I was on the bus shortly after my leg was amputated. I had my crutches nestled in my left arm and one pantleg pinned up. I don’t recall that I was in any discomfort at the time, but I must have looked to be in pain. The woman across from me caught my eye and, urging me to brighten up, smiled a stewardess smile. She might as well have put her fingers to the corners of her mouth. I couldn’t think of any subtly nasty thing to say, so I just stared at her without expression for as long as I could hold her attention.
I don’t like enforced good feelings. I’m a grown man and I’ll cry if I want to. Or sneeze, or cough, or look blue. But I was surprised that an FBI man was put on my case.
Later in the afternoon I walked outside the north end of the cafeteria. There they have a merchandise table set up. Rings, jerseys, wallets, all of them imprinted with slogans celebrating a branch of the service, or a war, or a point of view. A black cap with a bright yellow FBI got my attention. I leaned over the table and read the small print: Firm Believer In — and below that, not so prominent — Jesus.