I recruited Mother Teresa for the Tea Party Planning Committee at the age of eight.
At 40 pounds or so, I was a peace sign-toting diva with a thick infatuation for vintage typewriters, Mexican Worry Dolls, and a nun who wore no shoes while roaming the streets of Calcutta.
I gathered from my surroundings—the crooks of our home filled with sunflowers and books on this woman with a face wrinkled by the Sun’s Golden Kisses, and who always kept Little Children in her lap—that she would be a riot at my tea parties.
She’d bring good stories and hungry children. I’d greet her at the door with tea and peanut butter crackers. & chocolate cake.
And then I would tell her, in Little Girl fashion, all the ways in which I hoped to trace her figure with chalk on my driveway before she departed so I could spend months & years after trying to fit into her figure. Trying to be worthy enough to receive a pet name from God like “Little One,” to be a love letter writer for God in this world, to be his Little Pencil just like her.
“But Mama T, I don’t know how I’ll do it. Because I am not a good hand holder. And I want to advocate for children but I cannot always be beside them. I’d rather keep my feet in good condition. I still like pretty dresses. I don’t how I would handle living in a hut.”
Mother Teresa, digging fiercely into her chocolate cake, would shake her head and be honest. She was Always Honest with the World. She’d Be Honest With Me.
“You’ve missed the point. We’ve all got some kind of Calcutta. Go. Find. Yours.”
I didn’t make up that Mama T mantra myself; she actually said it in an interview once. That Calcuttas—places of great need, desperation, loneliness & poverty—are everywhere, if only we have the eyes to see them.
Soup kitchens. Corporate cubicles. Shopping malls. Orphanages. College campuses. Africa. All Places & Spaces to Pin Your Heart Upon and Vow to Plant a Garden Where People Say, “Nothing Will Grow Here.”
Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King. Gandhi. All the notables we write about for college essays when we are on a radical “change the world” rampage, not a single one of them thought to Change the World. That was not their goal. Not their motivation.
They simply found a garden to plant, a place to till & farm & plant all day long, so that others would prosper from their labor. So that others would breathe & eat & be less lonely & feel more loved because they woke up before the sun to plant the world with Goodness.
I’ve always been told that it is finding the place where your Deepest Gladness meets the Deepest Hungers of this World. That is where God sits. And waits. And delights in using your Fingers and your Spirit to Spin Miracles.
Finding that kind of Calcutta does not come from an eagerness to be a world shaker, it comes from stumbling somewhere that could use more Love. More good. And deciding not to ignore that place. Not walk away this time. Not turn the cheek. Not flip to another channel.
The Internet. The World Wide Web. She is my Calcutta right now. While some call her “impersonal,” I’ve come to love the possibility she gives me through just 140 characters, the Laughs & Souls to Be Collected in Putting Yourself Out There in a blog or a tweet.
And Mama T, I don’t think she would have been a Tweeter. Nor one to “Like a Status” on the “Book.” She’d be lost on Flickr and very much Linked Out of LinkedIn. But I think she would agree that this spanning space of urls and hash tags is a Calcutta of its own, that it too is a perfect place to spread more peace. More Love. More Connectedness in a Disconnected World. Through Social Media. & Technology that brings the Poor to the forefront. The Lonely to the Love Letters. The Eager Ones to a Place where they can Volunteer & Help & Advocate.
The Internet, and all the other Calcuttas that stretch far beyond the foldings of India, are a place to put oil in the lamp. To send out messages of love. To offer support. To stretch us to a point where we all have no choice but write down in our statuses or our diaries at night:
This is not about me. This will never be about me. This is actually about my neighbor—be it right next door or fifteen worlds away. The Humanity I Can Show Him. The Love I Can Give Him. The good I can do only after I’ve dropped myself to my knees and started to plant a garden in the Calcutta that needs me most.
Where is your Calcutta?