Mother Theresa of Calcutta is a saint. She already was. She always had been even when doubt assailed her thoughts and God’s silence seemed deafening. The saint of the poor, of course, even though it would be better to remember her as the powerful icon of love without limits. Theresa started with the realization that every one of us has the need to give and receive love. Only love can make us fully human and if happiness is possible, it’s love that makes us happy. To love is a gift that is free, it asks of nothing more than to find someone who allows themselves to be loved in return.
I met Mother Theresa in the beginning of the 90’s during my first trip to the city of Calcutta. When I saw her, I immediately felt the sensation of being in the presence of a fragile yet potent woman, physically petite, but a giant when it came to everything she had the strength to do. Not including the extraordinary things she would do to comfort others and the words of the curious people who would seek out saints and pray for miracles. The big blue eyes carved into her wrinkled face still leave a mark in my memory.
Being in Calcutta is like being in the heart of the same contradictions as those in the subcontinent of India. There are the emotions emanating from your soul mixed with the copious amounts of sweat dripping down your forehead because of the unbearable heat. It’s impossible to tell if you are living a dream or a nightmare. Traveling down the chaotic streets crowded with cars, wagons, bicycles, cows, raccoons, men, women, children, everyone together, everything together, is an overwhelming commotion.
Men and women along with children and the elderly work frantically, they look for work, they hope to work, and perhaps to eat as well. There are men who are sitting, laying down, resigned, maybe waiting for death. I often found myself asking as a westerner with strong convictions, what did they expect, what could they get without taking life head on. Important palaces, hotels for wealthy managers and traders of all kinds, modern architecture that would make the west envious alongside emaciated men, children tortured by hunger, the pungent odor of poverty so strong that it blocks both the stomach and the throat. To weakly judge every human reflection, the blatant contradiction between those who have and those who have nothing stuns you and almost forces you to run away, to ignore it, or worse: to adapt to the system that doesn’t ask the ultimate question: Why is there so much injustice?
These were my thoughts in the March that I met Mother Theresa, in order to be able to begin a project that would help the children of the slums in that area. Before meeting her, I made a stop in the temple of Calì, right in front of the house of suffering she had created to welcome the poorest of the poor, those abandoned from the world. In the temple, delirious men tried to appease the wrath of the goddess with animal sacrifices. A trickle of blood touched my feet. Silence and peace embraced me as soon as I crossed the road, within the plastered walls of the house of the suffering poor people who were ready to die. In just two steps I entered a completely opposite world, but it seemed light years away. I found the eyes of Theresa and they sent me great hope. She asked me: “But why are you here?” and I responded: “So that I too can do something for you and your people.”
Every word she spoke was weighed and accompanied by a radiance in her eyes. It was then that I sensed the color of holiness in her: to compromise and expose herself in favor of God’s beloved children until her final breath, regardless of their skin color, race, or religion. She said to me: “You already do so much, without your love, mine would be useless!”
I love thinking about our last embrace and the words she gave me after years of collaboration, almost embarrassed I told her: “Forgive me, I am talking about my small plans to a person who carries out tremendous projects.” “Your project is not a drop” she responded “and even if it was, it’s a drop that makes the ocean, an ocean. So the entire ocean, as big as it is, is just as important as a single drop.”