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“When we bless life, we restore the world.” ~ Rabbi Marcia Falk
I am a Chaplain in a 912-bed inner-city hospital in Washington, D.C. who loves to bless and recognize blessings. Once a year, we visit all the patient units in the hospital and bless the hands of scores of nurses. Blessings are the substance of my spiritual day.
But as I walk through the hospital, I often see other employees (we call them associates) who probably need to feel blessed and receive a “thank you.” What happens to the woman who cleans the bathrooms, the man who washes the dishes, the associates who cook and prepare the food, and those who remove the trash? How about the associates who run the infrastructure, make sure the hospital is clean, keep the machines operational? Do they know we are grateful for their efforts? Do they feel blessed?
In the hospital, I reflect as I pass the associates transporting patients, the clean-up crews, the trash collectors: Do I notice them? Do I fully recognize their work? Have I expressed my gratitude?
So, one day I decided to try to do just that.
100 Blessings a Day
There is a Jewish tradition of saying 100 blessings a day. Jews have blessings for practically everything, from lifting sleep from one's eyes, to seeing beautiful objects, to the blessings of nature and for the simplest bodily functions.
In that spirit, I offered 100 blessings throughout the hospital one day in a different way. Rather than saying the traditional 100 blessings in our liturgy, I prepared 100 blessing cards to hand out to whoever agreed to receive a blessing. I set out to find 100 associates who do not normally deal with the public to bless them.
The hospital is a huge campus with thousands of support staff. I walked all over the hospital, finding the places in the deep infrastructure unknown to the public. I blessed associates who sweep floors, wash dishes, empty bedpans, move equipment, gather trash, answer phones, fix computers, and transport patients. They keep our hospital running, but they probably don’t hear words of gratitude as often as they should.
I asked them their name, how they were. I asked them if they wanted a blessing, and if they said “yes,” I gave them a blessing card, took them by the hands, and blessed them.
May these hands be blessed for the loving care they give.
May these hands be blessed for the kindness they show.
May these hands be blessed for the great mitzvot (good deeds) they perform.
May there be a great blessing on these hands.
I was touched by so many of the encounters. In the kitchen, associates grabbed me and said, “You must bless my colleague.” Some staff told me about their fears and concerns and asked for prayer. Associates told me of relatives and friends who also needed a blessing. I found people who rarely see another person whose spirits were lifted just by a visit and by the words of blessing. And I gave some people the chance to pause and recognize the blessings of their work, how what they do affects the lives of everyone in the hospital – patients, staff and the public.
One encounter that touched me was with an Environmental Services associate who had just cleaned the room where a patient died. He told me how he worked so hard to make the place completely spotless, how he felt it was sacred space because a person had died there, and how he wanted to make the space immaculate for the next patient. I blessed his strong and kind spirit.
4 Lessons Learned
I learned four invaluable lessons from giving these blessings.
We typically do not see or acknowledge the tremendous efforts of all the dedicated associates who make the hospital work. Just as we say in Psalms that a human being is “wondrously made,” a hospital functions because of the efforts of thousands of wondrous people focused on a wide variety of tasks, many of which require tremendous effort.
Second, taking the time to acknowledge, speak with, greet, thank and bless another helps support-team members recognize their own humanness and the vital nature of their tasks. There is a hidden seed of wholeness in each person; acknowledging and blessing the person helps that seed blossom. It reminds the person that they are performing a holy task in serving others.
Third, blessings take us out of the world of the ordinary, of taking things for granted and bring us to a world of radical amazement. When we bless we see the wonder around us and see how each person is making a unique contribution. Blessings help us to feel and perceive the unique humanness of each person and how we are all connected.
Finally, the one who offers a blessing is blessed as well. When we bless, we recognize the blessings we have received. As Rabbi Marcia Falk observes, “When we bless others, we free the goodness in them and in ourselves. When we bless life, we restore the world.”
I felt I received the greatest blessing by giving blessings that day. It expanded my heart and helped me see God in so many faces. Perhaps some days the greatest blessing we can give is to those who work in humble silence to get the job done.
Meister Eckhart said it best: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”