I have been asked by a charming reader to comment on the southern propensity to bless the hearts of others.
I view this request with some amount of trepidation. Not that I don't know how to bless hearts or when to do it, but explaining it, in writing, is a whole other thing.
But I'll try.
Let me begin by saying that, generally, there are three distinct situations in which a southerner may bless another person's heart. They can be roughly classified as "Sympathy" "Sniping" and "Pity".
First, there are situations where someone that you know or love truly needs your love and support. In these situations, we may look deeply at our friend and bless that person's heart in a truly heartfelt and sympathetic way. I'll give you an example:
Charming friend: "I got yelled at by my boss, my computer crashed, I gained 5 pounds and now my cable's out!!"It's important to get the "Sympathy Bless Your Heart" out of the way and to know right up front that there are sincere times to use it and doing otherwise would be unthinkable.
Me: "Bless your heart."
But these times are not the fun times to bless someone's heart. And really, those times are not the point of this post.
The next two examples of blessing hearts are really intrinsic to the true ways of the South. In a society that is somewhat romanticized for it's manners, the art of the back handed insult often reaches a certain level of deliciousness and the blessing of hearts is a great example of this art form.
In our second example, the "Sniping Bless Your Heart" you just want to say something mean or ugly about somebody but you don't want to burn in hell for it. Fortunately, you can do this as long as you bless that person's heart.
I will give you some examples:
"Can you believe that that stupid girl is going to marry Skeeter Morgan? He ain't nothing but stomp down sorry! And she is too stupid to live! Bless her heart."
"That check out girl over at the Piggly Wiggly is so bucktoothed she could eat apples through a picket fence. Bless her heart."
"Well, it's not really that she's ugly. It's just that she's, well, she's just so plain. Bless her heart."You get the drift. The "Sniping Bless Your Heart" is great when talking about the girl who married your old boyfriend and then gained 50 pounds - bless her heart. Or your next door neighbor's uppity daughter who went off to college and got so drunk she fell down a flight of steps and now she's in traction for 3 months and will miss cheerleading tryouts - bless her heart. Or their son. You know, the one who couldn't get into Carolina and then decided to become a mortician? Bless his heart. Basically, anything mean you want to say about somebody else can be said without consequence as long as you bless that person's heart.
The third instance, the "Pity Bless Your Heart", is sort of a hybrid of the other two. You use this when you are saying something ugly, but not in a snide way. Or you may use it to comment on a socially embarrassing or even mortifying situation that you know of - but are not involved in. You are, you believe, speaking a truth, which may be hurtful but needs to be said. You can also throw this one in when you just don't have anything else you can say. This one is a little trickier because head tilts and nuance of voice are very important and can often convey more than the actual words you are saying. Basically, you are conveying pity, and you are not doing it in a good way. Fortunately, the "Bless Your Heart" makes you unassailable - as in: (And this is an actual conversation I overheard in the ladies room of an expensive restaurant)
"Is it true?"
"Yes. I was standing there waiting for the reception and one of the bridesmaids came walking by carrying this large basin and I heard her say to another guest 'It's for Ashley. She's gonna wash Ben's feet.'"
*long pause while both stood, flabbergasted and reliving the horror -then finally*
"Bless her heart!"
(From what I could gather Ben and Ashley were the newly married couple and foot washing (although Biblically sanctioned) was frowned upon during uppity wedding receptions at Myers Park Methodist Church. The actual "Bless her heart" was not directed at Ashley - but at the Groom's mother - who was not the least bit happy about Ashley's decision to kneel on the ground, in her wedding gown, in front of others, and become subservient to her husband in front of *literally* God and everybody....)I actually caught myself using this one just yesterday when talking about an unfortunate young man who is on trial in Charlotte for murdering two police officers without provocation and in cold blood. In my opinion, there really isn't any middle ground. He is either crazy or just as mean as cat shit, because nobody walks up behind two cops and shoots them in the head for no apparent reason and with no plan of escape. And he may very well be crazy - but I think he's gonna fry....bless his heart.
The "Pity Bless Your Heart" is also good when talking about distant family members who will never amount to anything - bless their hearts. Or the nasty little shit of a guy who used to pick on you and throw things at you on the school bus and who's now in jail for felony drunk driving - bless his heart. Or, you know, Rachel Zoe, who just needs to eat something, anything - bless her heart. Or your tacky co-worker who's bottle job didn't turn out quite right - bless her heart.
And just in case y'all doubt my ability to do this to myself, just let me tell you that there are times that I am so at the end of my rope that I bless my OWN heart.
My ex once told me I couldn't do that. But there are a lot of things he didn't think I should do, which is why he's now somebody else's problem. Bless her heart.
Image: Eat Your Heart Out by T. J. Toubeaux.