Adventures in Calcutta: "Let none of it go to waste"
How a few weeks in Calcutta will teach you everything you need to know about life
It's a paradox.
It's the most revolting place I've ever been.
Yet, it's the one place that I'd drop everything in a heartbeat to return to.
And most who've made the long journey into that dark corner would concur.
It's indeed a paradox.
The experiences of Calcutta, specifically working along the Missionaries of Charity, could fill the Library of Congress.
So many lessons, so many realizations.
Of the many, many of which I'll share over time. This one came immediately to mind.
And if you know me, you've probably heard it before.
But, man, does it bear repeating…
We set out from the Motherhouse by rickshaw. The distance was too great to cover by foot if we intended to be helpful once we arrived.
Our destination, Nirmala Hriday, translates to Home of the Pure Heart, A once Hindi Temple that fell into ruin for unknown reasons. But for something to fall into ruin in Calcutta? Well, there's no shortage of possible causes.
Mother Teresa, undaunted by the collapsing structure, appealed to the powers that be to turn it into a residence for the dying destitute. And after a year-long struggle, she prevailed.
It was the first residence she'd open.
And she opened it on August 26, 1952.
Her 42nd birthday.
We arrived just following a torrential rain that threatened to prevent our passage. The streets now rivers of muddy, grey waters
As we climbed the steep steps to our destination, the Sisters warmly received us.
But for all the warmth in their smiles and offer of chai, the specter of where we were was apparent.
The large concrete rooms lit by half a dozen fluorescent lamps. Men, heads shaved, dressed in similar garb, all sharing a common bond.
They were all near death.
When Mother opened the home, she intended to offer a clean, safe place for those from the streets to experience Christ's Love and the warmth of dignity in their final days.
"A beautiful death," she said, "is for people who lived like animals to die like angels-loved and wanted."
I was traveling with a man from Egypt, another volunteer. And if there's one thing to be said about anyone who volunteers in Calcutta, they're selfless people.
To leave the comforts of the Western World and willfully subject oneself to the barely breathable air, mud-filled streets, and abject poverty of the City of Joy takes a unique character.
Of the several tasks we were assigned, he and I, along with one Sister, would clean a man who was mostly paralyzed and in great pain. His body covered in dead skin, sores, and fecal matter.
It was difficult.
I'm not sure what was more of a challenge to face: the stench or his appearance. He moaned in pain, his unseeing eyes darting intensely as we gently cleaned him.
The hours passed quickly as the Sisters kept us busy until our shift ended.
And that's when it happened.
My companion and I gathered our belongings and began our trek down the long, dark hallway towards the exit. And he leaned over, tears in his eyes, and said, "Jeff, I don't think I can do this. I can't handle…"
If she were a mugger, we'd have been done for. One of the Sisters that assigned us our task magically appeared before us. She smiled knowingly and said these words. One that I'll never forget. "Anything you see here that makes you uncomfortable, any smell that makes you ill, or anything that you encounter that scares you, offer it up to God for these poor souls. That way, everything will be of use…let none of it go to waste."
We were stunned. She was right. And there was plenty to offer up.
Helping those in need in this hell hole was three-dimensional.
Let none of it go to waste.
We all face suffering in our lives. It could be from broken relationships, financial hardship, illness, loneliness…or maybe a bad knee. It could literally be anything.
But when we attach that suffering to Christ's sufferings on the Cross, it changes from a curse to a blessing.
It changes from a weakness to a strength.
Don't get me wrong, none of us wants to suffer. But if we do- which we inevitably will. Make sure that you offer it to God for the sake of your soul or the soul of another in need of His Grace.
And remember the Sister's words.
"Let none of it go to waste."
Words & Pictures by Jeffrey Bruno is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.