Thursday, 21 March 2013
There is a person who has profoundly disturbed my peace of mind for a long time. She didn’t even know me, but she continually went around minding my business. We had very little in common. She was an old woman, an Albanian who grew up in Yugoslavia; she was a Roman Catholic nun who lived in poverty in India.
I disagreed with her on fundamental issues of population control and the place of women in the world and in the church, and I was turned off by her naive statements about "what God wants." She stood at the center of great contradictory notions and strong forces that shape human destiny. She drove me crazy. I get upset every time I hear her name or read her words or see her face. I don't even want to talk about her.
In the ladies room at an airport in India, there is a wash basin. Above the wash basin is a mirror. I stopped at this place one day to tidy up and look at myself in the mirror. Alongside the mirror is a photograph of the troublesome woman. Each time I looked in the mirror at myself, I also looked at her face. In it I have seen more than I can tell; and from what I see, I understand more than I can say.
The photograph was taken in Oslo, Norway, on the tenth of December, in 1980. This is what happened there:
A small, stooped woman in a faded blue sari and worn sandals received an award. From the hand of a king. An award funded from the will of the inventor of dynamite. In a great glittering hall of velvet and gold and crystal. Surrounded by the noble and the famous in formal black and elegant gowns. The rich, the powerful, the brilliant, the talented of the world in attendance. And there at the center of it all - a little old lady in sari and sandals. Mother Teresa, of India. Servant of the poor and sick and dying. To her, the Nobel Peace Prize.
No shah or president or king or general or scientist or pope; no banker or merchant or cartel holds the key to as much power as she had. None was as rich. For hers was the invincible weapon against the evils of this earth: the caring heart. And hers were the everlasting riches of this life: the wealth of the compassionate spirit.
To cut through the smog of helpless cynicism; to take only the tool of uncompromising love; to make manifest the capacity for healing humanity's wounds; to make the story of the Good Samaritan a living reality; and to live so true a life as to shine out from the back streets of Calcutta takes courage and faith we cannot admit in ourselves and cannot be without.
I do not speak her language. Yet the eloquence of her life speaks to me. And I am chastised and blessed at the same time. I did not believe one person could do much in this world. Yet there she stood, in Oslo, affecting the world around her. I did not believe in her version of God. But the power of her faith shames me. And I found myself believing in Mother Teresa.
December in Oslo. The message for the world at Christmastime is one of peace. Not the peace of a child asleep in the manger. Nor the peace of a full dinner and a nap by the fire on December 25. But a tough, vibrant, vital peace that comes from the extraordinary gesture one simple woman in a faded sari and worn sandals makes this night. A peace of mind that comes from a piece of work.
Some years later, at a grand conference of quantum physicists and religious mystics at the Oberoi Towers Hotel in Bombay, I saw that face on the news again. She strode to the rostrum and changed the agenda of the conference from intellectual inquiry to moral activism. She said, in a firm voice to the awed assembly: "We can do no great things; only small things with great love. "
The contradictions of her life and faith were nothing compared to my own. And while I wrestle with frustration about the impotence of the individual, she went right on changing the world. While I wish for more power and resources, she used her power and resources to do what she could do at the moment.
She upset me, disturbed me, shamed me. What did she have that I do not?
If ever there is truly peace on earth, goodwill to men, it will be because of women like Mother Teresa. Peace is not something you wish for; it's something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away!