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The other day I stood in St Peters Square surrounded by one hundred thousand people to witness the canonization of the Saint of the Gutters. The atmosphere was electric, palpable, and as Pope Francis pronounced her a Saint, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes. It was a very special moment, not just because here we were witnessing something momentous, but because, Mother Teresa has personally touched me and my family. Those ripples she talks about in the quote above, well one of them was me. Let me tell you my story.
I must been about six years old when I first met Mother Teresa and visited Sishu Bhavan in Calcutta. Though the memory is now clouded, the visit left a big imprint, so much so that I was drawn back frequently. Initially I would beg my parents to take me back there whenever we transited through Calcutta. As I grew older and we moved around, we always found a Mother Teresa home close by to visit. The habit continued even when I left home to join university.
You see, the big attraction was the babies. I was born with an inherent gene that made me hopelessly madly in love with babies. And so I could spend hours there, helping feed them, or carry them or just watch other people feed and carry them and I would be contented. My heart would bleed to think that here were babies who were abandoned and if I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have happily smuggled some of them home. But of course I knew I couldn’t. Instead I decided that as soon as I could, I would adopt a baby.
I must say here though, that yes, initially it was all about the babies, but later it was also about so much more. Mother Teresa’s example of selfless love and service to humanity touched my family to a great extent. My parents themselves were altruistic and we grew up watching, learning and soon practicing ourselves, just how to live our faith and give back to the community with our time or whatever other resources we had to share.
Well, I grew up, like most little girls do. Many other childhood dreams and ambitions were forgotten or deemed silly, but this one desire kept burning bright. In my final year of university, I met my prince charming and quite soon into our relationship I dragged him one Saturday afternoon to spend time with the babies. He was a trooper. He got that this was a big deal to me. Over the next few years we talked about adoption a lot. He listened patiently, asked questions and brought up concerns. But my battle plans were drawn and I was well prepared with facts and testimonies. I took him to more orphanages and adoption workshops. I read him excerpts of books. I knew one hundred percent that we could love a child we had not conceived as much as one that had grown in my belly. To be honest though, he didn’t need much convincing. We made a pact. We would have biological children, and adopt one too.
We had our first child a year after getting married and the pregnancy and parenthood was everything and more than we had imagined. Life was perfect. We treasured each milestone and enjoyed watching our first born grow.
Around the time she started school we knew the time had come to plan for baby number two. We began the initial paperwork required for adoption and the wait began. Though shorter, it was every bit as exciting as the nine months of pregnancy. We looked for names and prepared our families and friends. Our immediate families were very supportive but we did meet with many who asked, “But why, when you have your own?” Most often we just smiled and just said “Because we want to”.
And so at 28, my lifelong dream came true and on July 27th 2003, we brought Ryeika Teresa, all of two months old, into our hearts and lives. As I held her that first time, the tears flowed freely. We looked at her angelic face, the sparkling eyes and felt such a gut wrenching tug of emotion (the good kind). We were so blessed to have been given the honor of being her parents. Her name Ryeika means ‘unique’ and Teresa is for the little bent lady, the one in the blue and white sari who held hundreds of babies in her arms, who fought for their right to live. She believed that they were all, each and every one of them a gift from God.
In the next couple of years we went on to have two more biological children and today I am the proud mother of four girls. Life is full, I am blessed and the circle of life continues.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to attend the canonization ceremony with my husband and our four girls. I feel blessed that Ryeika was able to witness the person who inspired her parents, who delivered her into our hearts, be proclaimed a Saint.
I have read some disheartening articles in the media recently criticizing Mother Teresa. While I cannot but agree that perhaps some of her practices were outdated and her dogma could be perceived as harsh, the simple truth is that she helped scores and scores of people. She gave dignity to the dying. She set up hospitals and schools in areas of the world where life has little value, and built safe havens for babies of unwed mothers or women who, because of poverty or other circumstances had to leave their children at her doorstep.
I have seen personally how the nuns from her order look after the aged, the sick, the HIV positive, the children with deformities and I wonder, if they did not do it, then who? I have met so many of her nuns, Europeans, Americans, Asians, Africans; brilliant, well educated, charismatic women, who could have had great careers and the world at their feet. And yet they chose to give up all that and wear the blue and white, dedicating their lives to service and simplicity of a whole different kind. And the beauty about them was that they were all so happy and contented. In spite of tough conditions and bone tiring work, they were always cheerful. I till date have never met a grumpy Mother Teresa nun.
So perhaps more than all the work and charity and selfless giving that Mother Teresa did, day in and day out, what marks her for sainthood, is the influence she has had on a plethora of people. People who, inspired by her example, were prompted to go out and make a difference, be kind, lend a ear, pray or do a little bit of charity and change somebody’s life in whatever small way. The ripples....some small, some big, but all so very significant.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, yes you cast the stone across the waters. So glad one ripple touched me. You inspired me. You touched my life. Thank You.