(This story is drawn from the journal I kept while a Fulbrighter to India, an experience on the last day of volunteering for Mother Teresa’s mission in Khalighat, Calcutta/Kolkata, March 30, 1986.)
I left for Khalighat. I was a bit confused when I first got there, for the bed linen was now blue as were the uniforms of the patients. I didn’t recognize many of the volunteers, and there were many Western non-volunteers, including a film crew. The alter was set up for mass.
The most striking change was the presence of Mother Teresa herself, sitting at a desk looking over the books. Now in her seventies, the Nobel Peace Laureate is a short woman, with glasses and welcoming strong hands. Or so they seemed. Cloaked in the now-familiar sari/habit, white with blue trim and a crucifix over the heart near the shoulder, she is very recognizable.
“What is going on?” I asked a woman.
“That is Mother Teresa,” she answered
“I know that,” I said, and Mother Teresa looked up and smiled at me.
“It is Easter,” the woman clarified.
Of course it was Easter, and though no one had told us, I had hoped something special would happen on this my last day at the center. Still, I was surprised.
Finding no apron at first, I began by helping with the food and water until someone asked if I wanted to attend the service. It was a bit cramped in the area where medicines and supplies are stored and distributed, so many sat on the floor.
The service was simple and moving, sincere and short. Sisters in white habits sang, a few joining them. Children with ribbons in their hair sat restlessly. Many locals, especially women, sat in the front row on our side, the whole area ringed by aproned volunteers.
I sat in the front next to the alter. Mother Teresa sat quietly behind me, finally leading a prayer at the end of the service. It was a very special experience.
The small crowd of about 60 broke quickly. Mother Teresa left quietly and the volunteers went back to work.
I was sad to go but felt good that my departing namaste and salute were greeted by warm waves and smiles.
I took one last look at the corridor after saying goodbye to Sister Luke, glad that such a place exists to relieve pain and loneliness, and stepped into the the crowded heat of Calcutta.
John Bader – Fulbright to India 1985