Just as the leaves changed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I took a walk through the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Among the winding paths, I found a headstone with a unique epitaph. It read: “May the least of what we’ve done be blessed.”
I kept this blessing with me like a coin in my coat pocket, forgetting it was there until I was searching for something else.
Each time I remembered, the phrase hit me as though it were new again. It captured something I had been waiting to be told for a long, long time.
I tried to locate this headstone again, to learn the name of the departed, but I couldn’t find it. I searched the internet, hoping this was a common or attributable saying, but nothing came up.
I was left with this nameless, timeless blessing, and perhaps that made it easier to hear as though it were for me.
“May the least of what we’ve done be blessed.”
It’s been nearly two years since I last stood in a church and received a benediction – those last words before you leave a sanctuary and open the doors to reenter a loud, bright world.
While there are traditional benedictions, I more often find myself in spiritual communities that have written their own.
What blessing do we need to hear at this particular time, considering us as particular people?
I remember how I felt when I caught COVID-19 in October 2021 – just as ashamed as I was sick.
The shame of missing meetings. The shame of asking for an extension on a paper. The shame of needing a housemate to do my care work or needing a friend to bring groceries.
My graduate student union was on strike, and I even felt ashamed that I couldn’t join the picket line.
I was unproductive. And I knew that to some people, to some institutions, and perhaps to myself, that made me less.
My experience is just an outer ripple of a productivity obsession that is much more systemic with much higher stakes.
In the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve seen the U.S. choose profit over the lives of working, immunocompromised, older, disabled, incarcerated, unhoused, undocumented and Global South communities.
Six Amazon workers in Illinois and eight workers in a Kentucky candle factory recently died at work during a tornado.
This is about bosses, billionaires and the racial capitalism that makes them. We need organizing to radically transform our society and put people over productivity. But in our everyday lives, we may need blessings too.
Thank you to Indigenous and Black leaders who know and teach this already. Thank you specifically to Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry, whose work has been fundamental to my learning.
As we begin our journey through an uncertain new year, I offer this as a benediction:
May the cult of productivity unravel at its seams.
May ease and care find us simply because we exist.
And may the least of what we’ve done be blessed.