I never dreamed I would go to Kolkata. In March, the Principal and I took 18 juniors and seniors in high school to Kolkata, India, on the Children of Kolkata Interim.
Here are components of a reflection I wrote a week later.
So, what do I make of my time in Kolkata after being home a week now? I’ve really not continued to process it as much as I hoped so this may serve that purpose.
OPENNESS: I found that I was able to open myself to others on a level that I hadn’t before. A human to human level; perhaps even a level that acknowledges the Christ in another. Connecting to Sheela (a girl cared for by the Missionaries of Charity) and many of the other girls through touch, smiles, eye contact, and intention did that. All pretenses that are put up automatically as a part of a developed world dropped away and all that was left was one human being with another and love.
LOVE: Love as something big and bright and all encompassing. Love that doesn’t need anything tangible back but that connects and is resonant with another.
CONNECTEDNESS: Connectedness with my fellow chaperone David and the students on the trip. Connectedness with certain girls at Shanti-Dan and other volunteers: Donna and Josephina. Connectedness to the Khans: Mohin and Nazim. Connectedness with people on the street that we saw and passed by - just by smiling and giving real eye contact. At the beginning of the trip I was so enamored with James Drake’s ability to connect to kids and adults alike - strangers- that almost instantly became friends. How did he do it? I learned that he simply opened himself to their humanity and that is all it took.
PERSPECTIVE: It is good to know that the life I live isn’t the only way to live life. Somehow this real life is less real that than life. Now that I have witnessed and felt what I have witnessed, felt and known, I can always return to that Truth or live in that Truth. I only need choose to do so. Look each person in the eye and see the real him or her, the human beneath the pretense. Be real. Be seen. Be open. Be connected. Be.
First world living - Kolkata: I wasn’t horrified by what I saw. I didn’t feel sorry for people. I acknowledged their strife for day to day living and I know I can’t know (in this lifetime) what it is to be them, BUT I was actually impressed with the way the society is set up to support the poor, the sustainability already in place. This is things like, un-fired pottery for cups, bags made out of old newspapers, street markets that needed no extra plastic, easily accessible (albeit gross) public toilets, public baths, and public water supply (pumps). Public transportation/transportation for rich and poor (bikes, walking, Uber, bus, tuk tuk, rickshaw, taxi (1953?)), burning your own trash, taking your recycling to a place, spices sold in jars, cloth sold for sewing, virtually no packaging to clutter things up.
First world life - to be poor - Kolkata: This is certainly just by observation, right? But homeless people slept on mats or cots or in their rickshaw on the side of the road, bathed, got water, food, toilet, all there. People talked to each other and problem solved together. No cell-phones to separate them from their fellow human being. Those with no one might be “lucky enough” to be taken in my Missionaries of Charity. There , while they own absolutely nothing, they are cared for. They receive a bed, food to eat, clothing to wear, medical attention, exercise, physical therapy, education (for the girls at Shanti-Dan). From volunteers like us they receive more attention, kindness, and love. This is what it looks like to take money out of the system altogether and simply pay attention to the needs of others and how what you have can fulfill someone else’s need. Amazing. This is not to say that life isn’t hard, probably often lonely, perhaps hopeless for some. That I cannot say.
Mother Theresa’s tomb: I want to give this a bit of attention as it is something that has stuck with me. The place was surprisingly powerful. Truly powerful. The heartbeat of Kolkata, I called it. There was an energy there that overwhelmed me. I can’t say that I identified it as Love, actually. But it was Energy and it was Real. I wanted to cry, really. The kind of overwhelming, powerful emotion - crying - that comes to you when you’ve just learned someone you loved has died. And you know that they are gone but still with you. Like that. A powerful presence was in that room where her tomb was. And it was not present for me in the chapel just one floor up. I shall not forget that. I have encountered other sacred spaces - this definitely counts as one!