Charlie: It doesn’t take long to have a life-changing experience. Sometimes a weekend workshop will do it. Sometimes a chance encounter is sufficient. Sometimes a moment can be enough time to create a permanent life change.
Twelve years ago, I (Charlie) had one such experience. It occurred quite unexpectedly in India. I was on my way to Bangladesh on a two-month work assignment for the World Health Organization. I had a thirteen-hour layover on my itinerary between New Delhi and Dakka, the capital of Bangladesh. Rather than spend the day in the airport I decided to see the sights of the city, and I hired a driver to take me around town. The last stop that I asked him to make before returning to the airport was at one of the hospitals run by Mother Teresa’s Order, the Sisters of Charity.
When we got there, the driver explained in Hindi to the sister that greeted us as we entered the building that I wanted to see the hospital. At least that is what I asked him to say. Something must have gotten lost (or found) in the translation because the next thing I knew, I was being shown into a large empty room and offered a bench to sit on. After about 15 minutes, Mother Teresa herself came into the room. She headed straight towards me, took my hands in hers, and with a smile as big as the sun said in English, “Hello! How are you? It’s so good to see you! ”
“Shocked” would be too mild a word to describe what I experienced as the tiny woman looked into my eyes in a way that made me feel like I was the most important person in the world to her. I was literally speechless.
Mother Teresa sat down on the bench next to me and began asking me questions about myself, about what I was doing in India, and where I had come from. I eventually regained my ability to speak and within a few minutes I was feeling like I was with a friend who I had known all of my life. Throughout the conversation there was another background conversation going on simultaneously in my mind in which the words, “I can’t believe that this is actually happening,” kept getting repeated.
Towards the end of my visit, as if to provide me with concrete proof that what I had experienced was real and not an apparition, Mother Teresa gave me a small card. “My business card,” she said. On the card was written these words:
The fruit of silence is prayer
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love
The fruit of love is service
The truth of service is peace.
Still somewhat stunned but feeling blessed and blissed simultaneously, I left clutching the card which contained the life-changing words that would have a profound impact not only on my two months in Bangladesh, but on the rest of my life.
It wouldn’t be truthful to say that I have lived every moment of my life since that meeting being of service. I haven’t. There have been lots of times when my ego took a higher place in my intentions than my commitment to serve. There have been times that I’ve put my self-interests ahead of my desire to contribute to others.
I’m still the same person that I was before I met Mother Teresa. What has changed is not who I am, but what I know and how that knowledge has informed my actions. What’s different is that it is no longer possible for me to deny that my highest priority is to create peace within myself and to promote it through my relationships with others.
What’s different is that it’s no longer possible for me to deny that I have the power to influence the degree to which peace exists within my world. It’s no longer possible to pretend that peace is someone else’s responsibility. What’s no longer possible is to believe that I am unworthy of being a peacemaker.
When I connected to Mother Teresa, I connected to the vision of me that she reflected back through her eyes. In her eyes, I saw the beauty, the strength, the love, and the power that she saw in me, and I simultaneously saw that it is in every one of us. Since that time, it has been impossible for me to continue to live the lie that who I am does not really matter in the great scheme of things. I know that it does.
For me, one of the things that being in service involves is the reflection back to others of the basic goodness that I know is in their heart and the power that each of us has to touch others in a truly meaningful way. This is only one of an infinite variety of ways to be of service. Notice the words: BE in service. That is, embodying a spirit of service, of caring, of contribution simply by being genuinely who you are, and touching others with that presence. In this moment of authentic presence, the war ends and peace begins. It begins with me. Always.