I love southern colloquialisms. "Fixin' to..." rolls off the tongue more easily than "getting ready to..." and lacks the pretension of "preparing to..." "Y'all" covers the missing second person plural in regular English. But my favorite Dixie expression isn't a word at all but the exclamation: "Bless his heart!"
"Bless his heart!" is what we say when we don't have to say anything. When we find out that Ol' Man Jackson the town drunk was arrested again for disorderly conduct we can't say much. We don't pile on. We don't add our favorite Ol' Man Jackson story. We don't curl our lip in contempt. We just sigh and say the magic words: "Bless his heart!"
In three words we've conveyed three important thoughts: So, what else is new? God help him, and let's not talk about it any longer. It's like a combination of the Greek expressions: Ta kalos enoumena paralipontai (You don't have to say what everybody knows!), Na einai evlogimeno (May it be blessed!), and Telos panton (Enough, already!).
"Bless his heart!" doesn't suit all occasions however. When you find out that Billy Ray (your 16 year-old son) was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, "Bless his heart!" is without a doubt the farthest thought from your mind. Still, we abuse "Bless his heart!" Lots of times we use it to excuse caddy comments. "She's such a floozy, bless her heart!" is a weak attempt to make gossip sound less un-Christian.
So, why make a big deal about "Bless his heart?" Because it's the perfect reply to many of the things said at church:
Just like the South, this phrase doesn't always work in the Church either.
"Hey, Father, Mr. Dscvh said you're anti-Slobbovian," calls for a heartfelt "Bless his heart!" while "Hey, Father, Mr. Dscvh started circulating a petition saying that you should be transferred because you're anti-Slobbovian," demands a less passive reaction.
The second person version works well with many thoughtful remarks that people feel compelled to share with their priests:
Haven't we all been guilty of encouraging gossip by entertaining it? Shut down a spicy tidbit about a third party with a simple "Bless his heart!" And while you're at it stop antagonists in their tracks with the second person "Bless your heart!"
Call me simple-minded. Accuse me of being childish. Tell me that I'm an idiot for thinking that these three words would ever catch on outside of the South. You already know what I'm going to say back to you.
Rev. Aris P. Metrakos is the pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He is frequent retreat leader and speaker for both teens and adults. Prior to attending seminary, Fr. Aris was an aviator for the US Navy. He travels annually to Romania to help the Romanian Orthodox Church establish ministries for Romanian youth. You can contact Fr. Aris at FrMetrakos@orthodoxytoday.org.