In a wonderful book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells of childhood conversations she shared with her grandfather, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Every afternoon when she came home from school, they shared tea and he told her stories. His stories guided Naomi’s entire life.
When she was 4 years old, he told her a story of creation. A great ball of darkness broke up into countless sparks of light which were scattered throughout the universe. There is a god-spark in everyone and everything. To listen and to notice the light in others is to heal the world. He told her we are born to bless and serve life. He himself had a blessing for everything, and he taught many of them to Naomi.
When Naomi was 7, she and her grandfather had a very difficult conversation. He was very sick and he told her he was dying. He said he would be going somewhere else, closer to God. He said she wouldn’t be able to visit him there. “But,” he said, I will watch over you and I will bless those who bless you.”
Now in her 70’s, Dr. Remen says her life has been blessed by a great many people, and each of them has been her grandfather’s blessing. She has passed it on. After years as a pediatrician, she began to lead support groups for doctors who were treating cancer patients and carrying enormous grief they couldn’t express. Then she expanded to treat cancer patients themselves and others suffering from incurable diseases. Herself a victim of Crohn’s disease since age 15, she now helps people find meaning in their own suffering. And she teaches them to bless life, to bless others.
These blessings are spread through conversations, some of them tough: stories, listening, sharing compassion.
Dr. Remen says, “The power of our blessing is not diminished by illness or age.” It’s something we can do until we die. Our struggles and memories give hope to others.
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