Rachel Naomi Remen, the best-selling author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, has been counseling people with chronic and terminal illness for more than 20 years. She is co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Bolinas, California, and clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine.
Much of the inspiration that shines from nearly every page in this spiritually rich resource comes from Dr. Remen's grandfather, an Orthodox Jew and ardent believer in the mystical bounties of the Kaballah. He taught her the power of blessings: "A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one other."
Through this healing work, Dr. Remen presents stories of strength, refuge, and belonging taken from her work with terminally ill people and their physicians. Again and again, she shows how service differs from helping, fixing, and rescuing: "(it) is about taking life personally, letting the lives that touch yours touch you." She sees service as closer to generosity than to duty.
The stories here also testify to the various ways we can befriend life through the spiritual practices of kindness, meaning, silence, connections, and compassion. Dr. Remen, who is no stranger to pain and suffering in her 47-year battle with Crohn's disease, concludes that: "There is a grace in life that can be trusted. In our struggle toward freedom, we are neither abandoned nor alone."
At one point Dr. Remen refers to a practice among Orthodox Jews to mark the end of the Sabbath. They pass around a box of spices so that everyone can breathe in and rejoice in the fragrances of the earth. My Grandfather's Blessings is filled with spiritual aromas that will refresh your soul and lift your spirit.