contagious infectiousness

There are some things we do that are infectious. Some of them are involuntary. If you have ever tried to suppress a yawn you’ll know that it’s impossible. The yawn decides when it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But why is it that when you see someone else yawn (or suppress a yawn) you then feel the need to yawn too? My theory is not that you are indicating boredom too, but that a yawn is your body’s way of increasing its oxygen intake to increase energy levels and when you see someone else yawn your subconscious thinks it would be a good idea for you to increase your oxygen levels too.

Isn’t it a good thing that sneezing isn’t infectious in the same way? The first sign of pollen or a cold would trigger a mexican wave of sneezing that could shake the world off its axis!

But there are other things that are equally infectious. Laughter can be very contagious. A friend of mine and I were sharing a retreat at Worth Abbey a few years ago. Our idea was to spend the morning praying and reflecting on our own in the morning and then share with each other after lunch and pray for each other.

The monks had invited us to join them for lunch, but only as we were about to go into the dining room were we told that it was a silent lunch. Steve and I realised that this was potentially disastrous because we find each other’s laughter very contagious and we were worried that we would destroy the atmosphere in a fit of giggling. We decided to sit out of each other’s eyesight.

All went well during the meal. By the way, did you know that in a silent lunch you have to look out for the needs of those around you because they can’t ask you to pass the ketchup or salt? Pethaps we should do more things together in silence!

Anyway, the meal was not completely silent. A novice monk switched on a microphone and started reading from a book as we ate. It was a biography of Pugin – the church architect – and he was reading it in such a way that it sounded like Lord of the Rings! That thought got me smirking inside.

Suddenly, towards the end of the main course, the novice monk announced solemnly, “End of book!” And he slammed the book shut.

That was it. I felt an irrepressible giggle rising from within me and, worse still, could see out of the corner of my eye that Steve’s shoulders were shaking as he tried to control a similar urge. The more we tried not to laugh the harder it became and the more we sensed the other struggling to control ourselves the stronger the impulse became. How we managed not to end up rolling around on the floor waving our legs in the air I have no idea.

After the meal the monks invited us to join them for drinks and laughed at us and with us.

But there’s one more thing we can do that is infectious. There’s a semi-trite saying: ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.’ I think there’s something to be said for that. Not artificial, but if you have a smile, don’t feel afraid of sharing it. God invented them as ways of us blessing others and sharing joy.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it may escalate into a snigger-fest, but that’s a risk worth taking!

Be blessed, be a blessing. 🙂

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