Monday, June 30, 2014

heart to serve

I woke up this morning with dreams of India still swirling through my head.
Even in my dreams, I was nostalgic for the humidity and the rich spicy air,
and I walked through familiar streets, reading familiar signs and making our way to our guest house.
Inside, the guest house--a simple home--was transformed into a plush palace of Persian carpets and tapestries.

I remembered when we would see Missionaries of Charity's ambulances driving by us, we would get so ridiculously hopeful. Seeing them would cause our hearts to start beating faster, we would hope against hope that one of them would stop and take us up into their blessed shelter of semi-silence and some semblance of personal space--a relief from the chaos of the Kolkata traffic. It is wonderful to remember how desperate our hope when we glimpsed an ambulance, and how pathetic our despair when it passed us by, and yet how utter our joy when we caught a ride on one. It is silly how much such a little thing mattered, and yet it did.

I thought of how scared, how utterly terrified and overwhelmed I was that entire first week in Kolkata. I remember walking through the neighborhood streets in my completely temperature-inappropriate clothing, that I had worn, sweaty and dirty not only from the sun, but also from the thirty plus hours of travel. Jet lag and sleep deprivation and general culture shock made my vision blurry, and I remember following my compatriots through the streets with a filmy, gauzy veil pulled over my dulled senses.

Seeping into my mind, the memories of the sister's first vows permeated my dreams. Sharply and distinctly, I remembered sitting in the hot church, not yet accustomed to being cooled only by fans, and dozing off during the homily, and really anytime I was sitting for long periods of time. I clapped along as the novices danced in Motherhouse, and I stood dumbly in a corner and watched in awe as parents and families showered these grinning sisters with garlands upon garlands of fragrant, exotic Indian flowers. The music, the tinfoil decorations, the noise, the commotion. All this was so foreign to the sweet still of Motherhouse. My sense were decidedly overwhelmed.

I remembered sitting on the bus with Sister Beatina, who looked as me as though she remembered what it was like to be a tenderfoot in India. How overwhelming and exhausting the entire city was at first. She smiled at me kindly. And I looked away, out at the traffic piling up between Park Circus and the Zoological Gardens, in order to blink back the tears that came, unbidden, to my eyes and clogged up my throat.

Later, I found myself in the middle of the Zoological gardens, separated from most of the group, except for another volunteer and Maria and Pinky in her wheelchair. A monsoon rain--the first of the summer, but absolutely not the last--came roaring down on us. It soaked us all to the skin, try as we might to escape from it, it came crashing into us. I remember as I walked as quickly as I could through the zoo, thinking to myself: what is even happening here? What have I gotten myself into?

I recalled that moment when, scared but determined, I prayed at the foot of Mother's tomb. And I realized that I didn't have to wait for a mythical savior to show up with a plane ticket back to America. If I wanted to leave this place, I absolutely could. Acknowledging that I could leave convinced my wavering heart that I certainly was not about to do that. I looked up at the crucifix and said the only words that I could possibly think of in that moment: not quite a dare, more a cry for help, or the only promise one can offer when you have nothing else to give: Love on, I will requite thee.

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