Time to Surrender
Mother Teresa told us: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you”. As I am getting ready to enter the Kalighat Home, which used to be called “Home for the Dying” and was recently renamed "The Home of the Pure Heart" (Nirmal Hriday), I am gathering my strength for the week to come.
As part of my travels, I felt the strong desire to give back and to start my career break in Kolkata at Kalighat home.
I wondered for many days how I would communicate to the “outside world” what I see & feel during my visit while keeping the privacy & respect of the place. When you work with dying people, a sense of profound humility arises inside your heart. You have to surrender to what is. Everything else seems very superficial and most attempts to put this profound feeling into words is often in vain.
Also, as photography is not allowed, I am crediting the beautiful pictures of Wim Klerkx in this post.
So here is what my day looks like.
I wake up at 5AM daily and get ready in my simple hotel room, next to Mother Teresa House. I start the day with a short meditation to give me strength & clarity of mind. I walk outside towards Mother House and slalom between hundreds of sidewalk sleepers, in the already warm & humid city. Every morning I witness the awakening of the beautiful Bengali people and life at this most simple & raw level.
I sit down at 6AM as over 150 sisters, Missionaries of Charity, enter the church (a very simple room lighted by neon and “cooled down” by a few over-run electric fans), and sit down on their knees. The sisters start singing & praying. I sit next to them with all the volunteers, whatever our faith, whether or not we believe in God. We are all here to gather forces & faith, to help in the best we can, those who need it the most. I have to say that despite not being a “church” person, I am in awe and humbled by these sisters singing and sweating on their knees, and there is definitely a presence in the room that connects us strongly together. On the first day, the emotion was so strong that tears arose in my eyes, and my heart said “Thank You”.
7AM we gather all together for a light & quick breakfast and together read a prayer. There is a feeling of Joy, of community, and serenity in the room. Volunteers come from all the countries in the world, and from all faiths, and English definitely helps us all communicate together!
7.30AM we take a 20 minute bus ride to the Khaligat Home. The name comes from the district name of Kolkata, named after the Hindu Goddess Kali, who you can venerate in the Kali temple right next to the Home for the Dying.
8AM we enter the home where 60 men & 60 women live, all mostly very old and sick. The first sensation is the smell of the iodine water used to wash everything. Many people here have diseases that have long disappeared from our modern countries (Tuberculosis, Leprosies…) and for which common and simple vaccines have existed for over 50 years. Some men are so sick and so skinny it is almost impossible to understand how they are still alive.
But there is still LIFE and LOVE in their eyes for many of them. As we wash them, wash their clothes by hand, touch them, talk to them in our own language (but somehow we understand each other through universal smiles), massage their tired bodies and bones, put cream on their hard skin, hug them, and feed them, a feeling of common humanity arises between us. There is a smile back, a hand that firmly hold mine when I hold them, and even one who sings for me a beautiful Bengali song to say thank you for the massage I just gave him. On the second day already a few recognize me, smile at me as I come near their bed, and wave at me when I arrive. What a profound feeling to give a small release and peace to someone on the edge of going.
Last Thursday, on my only day off of the week, I was surprised to find myself missing them, and thinking they probably missed our care and us. Those men are almost like babies, back in a place where they need the full attention and love of another adult. I think of how important caregiving is and how essential it is for us in our modern society to care about our elders.
As I sit with other volunteers during a short break and sip a delicious Indian Chai Tea (I want the recipe for this one!), a 50-year-old volunteer sit next to me. He has been living in India for 17 years, and is a Franciscan Monk originally from Italy. Father Pascal. He reminds me what Mother Teresa once said “There is nothing more holy than taking care of those who need it the most”. This is true faith. And all volunteers around me – Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslims, non-believer – we all agree and feel it in our bone marrow.
I am diving into this, and I feel good about it. I feel good giving, something very simple in fact. Just attention, care, and love. We have an infinite reserve of it.
What I receive is so powerful and beautiful that I feel home in my heart, I feel blessed to have the chance to live this.
I am sure very next to where you live there is a place where you can give a little bit of time, of care, a smile, a hug, to someone that need it. I promise you will feel a profound feeling of Love by simply surrendering to this beautiful act of giving. Please share back here your experiences.
In memory of Mother Teresa