Keeping the Faith

Caution: Risk of Blessings Ahead!

There I was, jogging on the treadmill at the gym, maintaining my usual four-minute kilometres.

Ok. I wasn’t going that fast.

Ok, ok. I wasn’t even running.

But in my defense, any kind of jiggly activity while a mum is still breastfeeding is not recommended. Let’s move on from that mental image tout de suite.

So I was walking – very briskly – on the treadmill at the gym, and I’d forgotten my earphones and the infomercials were making me feel dumber by the second. Instead, I let my mind carry me away (a dangerous activity), ruminating on such world-altering ideas as why gyms don’t somehow offset their energy consumption by using treadmill-junkies as power generators, hamster wheel style. And, if Harry Potter’s such a good wizard, why does he still wear glasses? And why do cats gravitate towards the laps of cat-haters?

Anyway, it was amongst all that brain waffle that I noticed a warning on the treadmill. CAUTION: RISK OF INJURY TO PERSONS! The notice proceeded to advise the operator to read the instruction manual before use. But what caught my attention was the translation in French: RISQUE DE BLESSURES!

English: injury. French: blessures.

As a bit of an etymology nerd, I snapped a pic of said notice and got Googling.

photo 2-2

Why does the English word for injury sound a lot like blessing in French, a language that is like a sister to ours (more than a third of English words are derived from French and most English people will know around 15,000 French words before so much as opening a Français-English dictionary)?

This is what I learnt from my amateur online word forage.

‘Bless’ comes from a Germanic word ‘blodison’ which means, ‘to make sacred with blood’, referring to a pagan ritual of sprinkling blood on an altar. From this root, the meaning branches in two logical, but entirely divergent, directions – the French ‘injury’, and the English ‘blessing’.

Why did this small discovery excite me so much? Because at the intersection of blessures, injury, blessing and history is human experience.

Most of us will know that the injuries of life tend to serve up unexpected fortune – in a non dollar-sign value. Often it’s a case of, no bruising no blessing – ‘no pain, no gain’.

Solomon wrote about this reverse-thinking in Ecclesiastes 7:2-3.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better and gains gladness.”

It doesn’t really make sense. It’s particularly senseless in a world that sells happiness, success and power as the pinnacle of life achievement.

Yet isn’t it strange how, for many who have been handed those things on a silver platter from birth, life has not been so straightforward. The Paris Hiltons of the world.

Solomon’s wisdom is about character – the fact that hard times make us better people.

The writer Paul takes it one step further in Romans 5:3-4, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Imagine that – being thankful for the curve balls.

Back to the treadmill now where my mind’s wanderings have come full circle and I’m increasing the speed and incline, feeling the burn. And that little warning line near all the dials and digits reminds me that blessures and blessings can be one and the same.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 13, 2014.

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