I am a chaplain in a 900-bed inner-city hospital in Washington, D.C. As a chaplain, blessings are the substance of my spiritual day. I love to bless and recognize blessings, and once a year we go to all the units and bless the hands of scores of nurses.
As I walk through the hospital, however, I often see associates who probably do not receive blessings or thank yous. What happens to the woman who cleans the bathrooms, the man who removes the trash? The dishwashers, the food preparers, the associates who ensure that the hospital is clean, and keep the machines operational — do they realize we are grateful for their efforts? Do they feel blessed?
As I pass the person moving beds, the clean-up crews, the trash collector, I ask myself, do I notice them? Do I fully recognize their work? Have I expressed my gratitude?
So, I decided one day to make a change.
There is a Jewish tradition of saying 100 blessings a day. From lifting sleep from one’s eyes, to seeing beautiful objects, to the blessings of nature, to the simplest bodily functions — as Tevye notes in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jews have blessings for practically everything.
In that spirit, I decided to offer 100 blessings in a different way. Rather than saying the traditional 100 blessings in our liturgy, I would find 100 workers in my hospital who do not normally deal with the public, and I would bless them. I prepared 100 blessing cards to hand out to whomever agreed to receive one.
The hospital is a huge campus with thousands of support staff. I searched throughout the hospital finding the places unknown to the public. I blessed associates that sweep floors, wash dishes, empty bedpans, move equipment, gather trash, answer phones, fix computers, and transport patients. They were people who are rarely acknowledged for the work they do, who often are overlooked, who rarely hear the words of gratitude.
I asked them their names, how they were. I asked them if they wanted a blessing and if they said yes, I 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, staff members grabbed me and said, you must bless my colleague. Some staff members told me of fears and concerns and asked for a 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 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: the patients, the staff, and the public.
One encounter that touched me was with a cleaning person 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 a sacred space and he wanted to make it perfectly clean for the next patient. I blessed his strong and kind spirit.
I learned three invaluable lessons from giving these blessings.
We typically do not see or acknowledge the tremendous efforts of all the dedicated employees 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 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 the support staff recognize their own humanness and the vital nature of the tasks they are dedicated to. There is a hidden seed in each person; acknowledging and blessing the person helps that seed blossom, and it reminds the person that they are performing a holy task in serving others.
Finally, the one who offers a blessing is blessed as well. When we bless another person, we recognize the blessings we have received. As Rabbi Marcia Falk observed, “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 G-d 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.
By David Balto