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A Life of True Compassion – Working with Mother Theresa

The train was crammed. I crouched together with the local Indian people, pigs, chickens and fleas on the floor for 2 days. There were no benches in 3rd class. I was just 18 years old, thirsty to discover what real spirituality meant, as I travelled on my own from Germany to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. For many years I had wanted to work with Mother Teresa in the slums. I was very impressed with this remarkable woman, who started with a penny to serve the poorest of the poor, and dedicated her whole life uncompromisingly to God and humankind.
After my arrival in the city of Joy and Hell, I walked at 4am toward the nunnery. The sun was just rising over the city. What I saw shook me. Everywhere on the sides of the streets people lay sleeping only covered with ragged loincloths, some were washing themselves in muddy rain puddles. Many were skinny to the bones. Some were severely crippled. They had nothing.
As I walked into the nunnery my heart was pounding. I went up the stairs toward the prayer chapel and met a small woman. I asked her where I could find Mother Teresa. She held out her hands and I burst into tears. With a warm smile she simply said: “Welcome. It’s me. “Her obvious love, simplicity and purity touched me deeply. For several months I worked alongside the joyous nuns and Mother Teresa. Every day we went to the slums to offer food and medicine. I saw that even though these people had nothing, they shared their little bit of rice with each other. They were there for one another and had faith. The hunger and illnesses had left marks on their faces, yet their eyes shone with an inexplicable joy. Who really is poor I wondered? We in the West with our excessive wealth, isolation from each other and loss of soul–or they? We have a different kind of poverty that may be harder to heal though, than the one in India, where basic necessities make life possible.
A little 5 year-old girl in the orphanage, where I worked offered Mother Teresa her only toy to take to the children in the slums. I could see how precious this doll was to her and yet how happy she looked to be able to offer her gift. Mother Teresa did not want people to give from their abundance, what they did not need, or a left over. What matters, she always said, is how much love is put into the giving. That is where joy is found.
When I entered the house of the dying, I felt enveloped in a real sense of peace. The sisters tended so lovingly and respectfully to the ones close to death. They felt loved, may be for the first time in their lives. It was hard for me in the beginning to wash oozing wounds and to face all this suffering. How could the sisters bear to live and serve in the midst of the worst of human suffering? What was it that made them capable to do this work daily with such apparent love, joy and dedication? I remember, whilst praying beside Mother Teresa in her small chapel, when she said to me as if answering my unspoken question: “My lover is Christ and he is in everyone. In serving the poor we love, feed, wash, and clothe him. In giving love we are loved. Treat everyone like you would treat Christ.”
There was a handwritten paper pinned on the wall of the chapel, which read: “When I was homeless you opened your doors. When I was naked you gave me your coat. When I was in prison, you came to my cell. When I was lonely, you gave me your love. Searching for kindness you held out your hand. When I was happy, you shared your joy. “Every person, often the ones closest to us, is offering a gift–a chance to love.
This humble and strong woman had changed my life. Mother Teresa is more than a Christian saint. Her life of true compassion can speak to all of us with a profound and universal message: to simply act from love every moment of our lives.

Published article in Connection Magazine (2001)

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