The second Beatitude has always been a tricky one for me. I know that meekness was one of Christ’s greatest virtues: He uses it, and lowliness of heart, to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29. But in today’s culture, the adjective meek isn’t used very often, and when it is, the connotation isn’t positive.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Pope Francis, in the third chapter of Gaudete et exsultate, gives us some great advice on how to live out Christ’s meekness in our daily life in a simple and practical way. “If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary.” Instead, he suggests we put up with the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness; this forbearance of the little mistakes and annoyances of our neighbor is what St. Thérèse of Lisieux says leads to “perfect charity.”
I find most sounds made by other people annoying, and I have always been this way: I have a vivid recollection of my pre-teen self suddenly bursting into tears at the dinner table and proclaiming that everyone was chewing too loudly, then dramatically running off to my bedroom. (My dad, to whom meekness comes naturally, quietly knocked on my just-slammed door and delivered my plate to my room where I could eat alone in my own pre-pubescent silence.)
Since then, I’ve come to discover that this reaction of sudden rage to certain sounds has a name – misophonia, which etymologically means “hatred of sound.” The sounds that trigger my misophonia are many and varied: loud chewing, slurping, and the sound of metal cutlery against teeth can make eating with other people a constant act of forbearance.
One of my strongest triggers is yell-sneezes, those sneezes that are explosive, aggressive, and usually come in multiples. Recently during mass, a man from across the church interrupted my pious and attentive devotion to the liturgy with a giant, hostile sneeze; when I looked over to glare at him, I realized it was a friend of mine, who was returning my sour scowl with a beaming and apologetic grin. This sound-rage toward forceful sneezes has a definite impact on my relationship with my husband, who is allergic to all things, and reacts frequently with exactly five randomly spaced and increasingly violent sneezes. “God bless you” is the furthest response from my mind, particularly on a dusty or hay fever-y day, but it should be. “God bless you” is the perfect response to the unintentional irritations that upset us, make us impatient, and subtly try to steal our peace.
Even if you’re not a misophone, family life (and all communal living, as St. Thérèse proved) provides ample opportunity to respond to the minor mistakes of others with a gentleness that does not judge, and to their little annoying but harmless habits with a meekness that does not force our own preferences. I’m quite sure that when Pope Francis wrote Gaudete et exsultate and when St. Thérèse presented her Little Way, they probably had higher hopes for the faithful than me not glaring at my husband when he has an entirely involuntary allergic reaction, but for this misophone, bearing the irritating noises of my family with gentleness instead of irritation will make me holier, one sneeze at a time.