There is a power that lies in the formal, scheduled blessings we exchange with our spiritual and religious leaders; and there is a power that lies in the informal, unscheduled blessings we exchange with regular people like our family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Recently, my husband and I received one of the latter—an informal blessing—from a complete stranger. Let me tell you about where we were and what we received.
On July 12, my husband and I received our second vaccination at the Victoria Conference Centre. Even though we knew that did not give us instant immunity (that would take 10-14 days) we decided to stop for a treat at a local restaurant which has an outside patio. We kept our masks on until we reached our table. There was no one else on the patio, the tables were all at least six feet apart, and we felt comfortable with the waitress who wore her mask and kept a respectful distance.
When we were almost finished our meal, we struck up a conversation with the waitress. The topic, as is so common now, was about vaccinations. We told her we had just received our second dose; she was looking forward to getting her second shot soon. As we were talking, another couple—a man and woman—arrived on the patio and took a table near us. They naturally joined the conversation, shared that they were fully vaccinated, and then we shared topics about travel and pets.
Though sociable, my husband and I rarely engage in conversations with other patrons in restaurants, probably because we wish to enjoy our meal and feel that others would like to do the same without navigating the social minefield that happens between strangers when controversial topics arise. I sensed that the other couple might feel the same way, yet because we were all sharing the restaurant experience for the first time in sixteen months, and we all had the same attitudes towards masks and vaccines, the conversation flowed smoothly.
We finished our meal shortly after they ordered theirs, and as we left the restaurant I told them it was a pleasure to meet them and wished them good health and long life—one of those informal, unscheduled blessings that we take for granted as socially acceptable. As I turned towards the door, I heard the gentleman say, "And may you be covid-free forever."
I can only describe my reaction as stunned. I stopped suddenly. I turned to look at him. And as the weight of what he said rolled over me, I replied "Thank you so much for that blessing. I wish the same for you." His words are still with me today, as I write this article, and I have given them to many people over the last two weeks, if the situation seemed right to do so.
Every faith-based culture has formal blessings, both oral and written. These blessings from our elders, prophets, and sages are powerful but they can seem inaccessible because they were written hundreds of years ago in languages we may no longer understand, translated into yet other languages that often fail to capture the essence of the original thoughts and feelings of the composers and writers. In many cases, we need teachers to help us interpret and understand the words and purpose of our prayers and blessings.
Our informal blessings need no such interpretation. For example, most English speakers usually say, "Bless you!" to someone after they sneeze. We might take it for granted as a polite and automatic response, but it's origins and real intent is to ask G-d to bless the sneezer and to keep them from becoming seriously ill. In many other languages the response to a sneeze is to wish the sneezer good health or long life. In both ancient and current times, we know that a sneeze could mean something far more serious than just an itchy nose.
Research shows that blessings have a powerful influence on our lives when we give and receive them, even when we are not aware of who will receive our blessing or who is blessing us. Hence the practice of praying for the sick, and commemorating those who have passed on from this world. If you are unaccustomed to giving blessings, here are few from my Jewish heritage that you can try from this day forward:
Bless You: When someone sneezes, you could say, "bless you" or look up different ways to say something similar in another language. In Hebrew we say, "labriut" which means, "to your health." You could also say, "Bless you" when someone helps you with a difficult task, comforts you in a time of grief, or tells you a joke that lifts your mood.
I wish you health to … : If you give or receive a gift, or someone tells you they bought or received something, you could say, "I wish you health to use it," "I wish you health to wear it," or whatever fits with their item.
And of course, I would like to conclude with the most recent blessing I received: May you be covid-free forever!
Fiona Prince, MA is a coach and teacher who provides fundamental communication and writing skills through her own company and through Royal Roads Professional & Continuing Studies. Fiona acknowledges that her home and office are located on the traditional territories of the W̱SÁNEĆ and Lkwungen-speaking peoples, on whose traditional territories, she is thankful to live, learn, play, and do her work. She worships at the Chabad Family Shul in Victoria and volunteers by teaching children and adults how to read Hebrew.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking. HERE