10 Oct Find Your Own Calcutta
On Sunday, September 4th, 2016 Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonized by Pope Francis, officially making the woman known worldwide as the “Saint of the Gutters” a saint in the Catholic Church.
But I believe that if anyone would ask Mother (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta), she would say that even the honor of sainthood would pale in comparison to a life of service and one filled with kindness.
Some time ago I was invited by Leadership Asheville to be part of a panel discussing needs and services in our community in the areas of health and human services. With more than 50 current and aspiring leaders in the group we discussed what each of the panel’s organization’s provided, gaps that we saw in existing services, progress we have seen in the past decade, future needs and concerns, and how we all were preparing to meet the challenges facing our community and organizations among other things.
As interesting as the conversation was, it was the final question asked that brought the morning into the most important perspective of why we were there. The last question was simply “What can we do?”
The answers that came from the panel were varied, good and thoughtful. Find what you are passionate about, volunteer with an agency or group, get engaged with a cause near to your heart. Certainly all sound advice spoken from invaluable experience.
As the conversation continued I recalled a story that Mother Teresa had shared and related it to those who are wishing to lead who were there that morning. Mother had received a letter from a young lady who had been following Mother’s work for some time and decided she wanted to join Mother in Calcutta and dedicate her life to serving the poorest of the poor. Mother received the letter, and wrote back and said simply, “No.”
She then went on to write:
“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people, who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
In sharing her story I was also reminded of another story Mother had shared that exemplified what she had written to this young lady.
“I had the most extraordinary experience once in Bombay. There was a big conference about hunger. I was supposed to go and I lost the way. Suddenly I came to that place, and right in front of the door to where hundreds of people were talking about food and hunger, I found a dying man. I took him out and I took him home. He died there. He died of hunger. And the people inside were talking about how in 15 years we will have so much food, so much this, so much that, and that man died.”
It amazes me that so many with kind and good hearts choose to ignore what is right outside our doors to instead set our sights on transforming the world. Stepping over those in need as the attendees of the hunger conference did in Bombay to talk about ending world hunger.
In all my reading of history I have found that the men and women who did indeed change the world never had that goal in mind at all. Nor did they seek any recognition of their own. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and so many others never set out to change the world – they just set out and the world changed.
In these most trying and difficult times we don’t have to look any farther than our own backyard to find those who are in need and calling upon us, often quietly, for help and our kindness.
Perhaps if we stop talking so much and setting our sights on changing the world we and the world would be better off. As we all know, words only go so far. And if we, as Mother Teresa advised, find our own Calcutta and turn our good intentions into good works, changing the world will take care of itself.
Our community is most fortunate in having such a great number of organizations and individuals who first look to those children, adults and families nearest us and for so many who are willing to step up to lead and give of themselves.
Let us all remember that the pronouncement of good intentions is not where our work ends, it is where it begins. And there is no better example for us all than Saint Teresa of Calcutta.