“Would you like your hands blessed, too?” my boss asked us.
My co-worker said, “Yes.”
I turned back to my monitor.
I had expressed my dislike of going from nurse to nurse during Nurses Week, making the sign of the cross with oil, offering a blessing.
My boss assumed that was the reason for my turn. He didn’t see the tears, didn’t feel my brief inability to breath.
I don’t like being the blesser of the hands. I am a words person and yet I have some communication anxiety. The idea of saying the same thing over and over feeds that anxiety.
I want to find the exact words for each person, a way to tell them each that their work during the last two years has been remarkable. During the days when no one could visit, the hands of these nurses and these techs became the only touch for the many people we call patients. During the days when people died after these nurses did everything possible, everything right, these hands, scrubbed countless times, shook and wiped tears.
How is it enough to say, “Your hands are the hands of God. May God bless the work of your hands”?
And so for me, every one of those blessings reminds me of the sheer inadequacy of my words. It feels like a series of encounters with falling short.
And I don’t want to look at each of those people and cry.
It’s not, of course, that I believe I cannot speak. During the days leading up to the blessing of the hands, I sat with families in devastating situations and spoke and was silent and offered care.
And it’s not that I believe the blessing of the hands is bad. I am grateful for each of my colleague chaplains that go from unit to unit, floor to floor, hand to hand. It is powerful. It is, literally, a blessing.
But for me, it is, perhaps, too sacred.
For the blessing of hands in 2020, we figured out how to wear masks, to use swabs, to keep our intimate distance and still went from unit to unit. I did, too.
That year, I added to the blessing this phrase: “And tell her heart that she is enough.” Or his heart. I wanted the oil of God’s voice to bring peace to the anxious overworking hearts. I’m not sure anyone noticed in the assembly line of blessing. But I did.
For me, it was an affirmation that in all we try to do, we often cannot do enough. All of us. Each of us.
I finally turned back to my boss, tears intact but contained. Brene’ Brown said somewhere that if we offer help but cannot receive help, we are judging the people we are helping. We don’t want to be the kind of people who need help. We don’t want to be the kind of people who receive blessings. We’re more comfortable giving them.
My colleagues and I lined up. We listened. We took our turn.
I was last, by choice. I didn’t want to be the public crier, not this time.
I accepted the oil of blessing on my palms, the word of blessing in my ears. It is blessed to receive.