Last week, I traveled one morning on a PEN mission—Rochelle Cashdan, one of our members died recently, and I was on my way to Guanajuato where she lived to help plan a gathering to honor her life.

As I sat in the front seat of the bus awaiting departure—a long distance Primera Plus bound for Guadalajara, a six-hour ride away—I noticed a middle aged man and a young woman facing each other standing a few feet from the bus door. The man rested his right hand on the girl’s head for a moment, then touched his upright palm first to her left, then her right shoulder, ending with a cross in the air in front of her heart. They embraced, and she boarded the bus with her backpack. The father (my guess) stood and watched the bus pull away.

I had never observed this parental blessing in real time, but it was familiar from a Mexican movie, El Infierno, in which a mother blesses her son as he sets off to seek his fortune. Sadly, he ends up working for a drug lord, but that is later in the story.

Touching; the parent sending his daughter off for school or work with his blessing; I imagine an intercession for the blessing of God upon her journey, her safety along the way and success in her new life away from home.

Reminiscent of the custom in my own Jewish tradition of blessing one’s children on Shabbat.

Here, perhaps, is a rationale for what many contemptuously refer to as “organized religion.” In Mexico, Catholic custom; for me, Jewish practice.

I suspect these rites of passage handed down for generations do not spring easily to the unaffiliated. Although it can work: My older son improvised a welcome to his first son, a lovely party with neither baptism nor brit.

Yet something calls many of us to celebrate death, birth, weddings with classic rituals.


Would that we had more shared rituals to connect us to each other and our ancestors. Whether believers or scoffers—we all need hands to hold.

Certainly our political morass could do with some blessing? Ritual healing? Cleansing?

Like a blessing for a politician from Fiddler on the Roof:

May the Lord bless and keep the Czar—far away from us.”

Maybe laughter is the best connector.

Vis-à-vis another quote:

And if I laugh at any mortal thing,

‘Tis that I may not weep.” Lord Byron.

Whatever can connect us and help us get on with our work—our human family needs more blessings.

conga line