Posted on July 10, 2012
I had been wanting to visit with the Missionaries of Charity ever since we got off the plane at the end of April.
Before arriving I had gladly put away the fogged up specs of: ‘Calcutta the black hole’ or ‘Mother Teresa’s City of Joy’ but it is hard to separate the two regardless. To make things even for me Calcutta is more than Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa is more than Calcutta and both exist for a very good reasons. I mean, can we ever be damaged by the life and legacy of a tiny lady with big hands and a big heart in an incredible city such as Calcutta? I didn’t think so.
“Put your hands in His hand and walk all alone with Him and never look back” -Drana Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa’s mother)
So finally this weekend Aaron and I made our way to the Motherhouse.
It is a gray building with ochre-colored wooded window shutters.
Considering that there is a frantic world going behind those walls, it is peaceful inside and people quietly walk about their chores.
When Mother (as she is often called at the Motherhouse) died in 1997 she was buried at he Motherhouse. Most people bend down to kiss her tomb or leave prayer request in a wooded box.
“Love one another as I have loved you” John 13:34 is the inscription in her tombstone.
Aaron and I just sat, prayed and observed.
There is a courtyard with some potted plants and a place where the sisters can get their water which is collected in metal buckets like those you’d find in a barn with the farmer holding it under the cow’s udder.
On one side of the building next to the courtyard there are stairs that lead up to Mother’s room (visitors are not allowed to take pictures at the motherhouse, which is to be expected).
Mother’s bedroom is probably 8 x 12 feet with a single bed (that for some reason looked smaller than a regular single bed) a desk, a wooden table with a bench, some small shelves, cement floors and no fan. Extremely austere and simple. On the walls hang a crown of thorns, a cross and a map.
Aaron and I stood with our faced glued to the bars of the now gated doorway of her bedroom as if we pressed harder against it we could slide through an sit on her bed.
The sisters have mass on Sunday’s at 6PM so we stayed and joined them. Some sisters were on their knees for a whole hour not even flinching. They sang, recited and sat in silence. There were quite a number of foreigner volunteers in the room as well. Most of us sat on the floor or wooden benches others knelt, some gently kissed the floor as a signed or respect (or maybe is a catholic form of adoration, not sure).
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” -Mother Teresa
I left the Motherhouse feeling my soul refreshed and filled with gratitude.
That night at home I was very restless, and couldn’t sleep. I decided it was time for me to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity and not as a ‘cool’ thing to put on my bucket list but rather as a honor to help along side people who have put everything on the line for the poor and the unwanted.
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” -Mother Teresa
So I woke up at 5:30AM and took a taxi to the Motherhouse. It was raining and I was running late for 6AM mass. When I got there the gate had been closed and me and other volunteers had to wait outside until mass was over.
The sisters are generous to provide a breakfast for the volunteers: banana, bread and tea.
As I sat there eating my bread and tea and talking to two Italian girls I’d met at the gate earlier. The room started to be filled with people from all over the world. Soon enough we realized that we might not even be able to get a ‘day-pass’ to volunteer that morning. As it turned out, there are so many volunteers at this time of the year that they there are two shifts, morning and afternoon and you can’t take both even if you want to– at which I was strangely relieved–maybe I was not as prepared (as I wish I was) to care for the dying.
Sometimes the amount of volunteers is such that the sisters end up spending more time trying to sort out the volunteers than tending the sick and dying.
My enthusiasm started to dwindle and I didn’t want to be a burden to the sisters. Plus, it started to feel like I was part of a tourist attraction, which I know is not true and everybody has the same good desires and feels honored to be there but anyways… that’s how I felt. I overheard that there were about 200 volunteers this month at one time.
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” -Mother Teresa
Despite my feelings I talked to one of the sisters which was extremely nice considering the amount of people wanting to ask questions. She told me in a soft voice, “If you live in Calcutta (which I had mentioned) why don’t you come in September, at that time of the year we don’t have as much help.” Something tells me I might have frowned when she mentioned that because a minute later she said: “well, since you are already here… why don’t you wait for me after all the teams are sent to their respective assigned locations.”
“Do you know how to paint?”
Completely surprised by the question, I asked again: “Paint? before she replied I said: Yes.
To make the already long story short, The sister looked on her simple art supply locker and took a magazine cut-out of a picture of Jesus. I told her that I could try to paint but I would have to take it home with me, as I was little more than rusty with the brushes to go into such an endeavor. So she agreed for me to take Jesus home.
“Since you are the ‘artist type'(?)” she said, here are some rosaries that need fixing. YES rosaries?, then she said: “the are already blessed”.
I am going to paint the face of Jesus
I am going to fix rosaries for the Motherhouse
I spend all morning with three other volunteers cutting paper hearts and crosses for the volunteer appreciation party.
“Do small things with Great Love” -Mother Teresa
As if all the above was not starting to become strangely satisfying, the precious sister said “well, since you girls are doing such a good job, I want to give each of you a piece of Mother’s bedroom wall,” we all looked at each other like, what? “yes..” she went on “..the Mother’s bedroom had to go under some renovation and we kept part of the wall crumbles, here is a piece for you, you…and you.. and you.”
So there you go, that was my first experience at the Motherhouse, and it looks like it wont be the last, as the sister wants me to continue to visit and help with art or anything that needs helping.
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” -Mother Teresa