I thought I understood what it meant to live a life of service to others, but every new day shows me the opposite. I believe that each profession has its own value, and one can help the others from where one is, but there is no doubt that some jobs are almost exclusively meant to be of service to others, for Love, those that no salary can afford. I knew just a few people close to me like my soul friend Carola, a kindergarten teacher who is for me an example of real vocation: she never gets tired of changing diapers of kids who are not hers nor her nephews, with a smile every time, trying to get the best out of these little earthquakes, forgetting completely about herself and helping them to develop happy and unique. She leaves behind her worries, tiredness or impatience to be their guiding light. ‘Fortunately’ the path of my life kept me away of the world of nursing, with just a few own experiences, until my cousin Agustina became a nurse; slowly I was being convinced that her service y and concern for the person next to her had long ago overpassed the limit of the family; she wanted to help everyone, especially the weakest.
In this journey that we are tracing with “Sharing America”, we have been broadening our horizons, we met Cristina from Grávida in Añatuya* and Susan in Mindo** who are also nurses, whose vocation is to serve others, with a constant spirit of service, always available to help others, no matter how dirty or smelly the other one is. All of them are members of a silent army who moves humbly changing the world step by step with Love. The Wonder Woman exists, there is not one but thousands. They don’t wear that tight costume and brilliant crown, wristband and boots; on the contrary they try to go undiscovered, wearing a camouflage among the people. This time we discovered them wrapped in a white fabric with a blue border and a cross. Simple, they look like younger sisters of Mother Teresa: Missionaries of Charity.
Expectantly we went to meet them with Alejandra, our friend who has lived in Quito for a long time and wanted also to meet them. We arrived at the exact time in which they were getting ready to go to a park for the annual celebration of Easter, so they couldn’t receive us. Almost disappointed, while we were talking to the Sister we peered through a garage and saw 12 grandmothers waiting in their wheelchairs to be carried up in the van. They were all in matching colors, very cute, with their flowered skirts and their matching sweaters and bonnets; ready for a big party. Diego started to help them into their seats while we would do the impossible to put away some wheelchairs inside our trunk. This is how we brought two grandmothers to the park, where we helped again getting them off the van and leading them to comfortable spots under the shade of the trees. Among them the children from the same Home cared by the Sisters were playing, they were like 30 kids. All of them were running around with their flowered aprons, laughing and playing pretending to be in an ice cream shop, offering to us some ice cream and food made out of leaves and little sticks.
At lunch time, 2 sisters arrived along with the Sister in charge of the Home, María Magdalena, who to our surprise was Argentinean! We shared the happiness for our compatriot Pope Francis, and warmly she invited us to get into action. Alejandra had picked up her 5 year old daughter from daycare and both were now helping with the kids’ lunch; Diego was in charge of feeding an old lady while he was entertaining the other 10, and I was trying to cut the chicken so they could eat easily. It was tough task and we were very busy for a long time, overcoming our own barriers. Many of them couldn’t talk, or we couldn’t understand them, but the Sisters know them to the detail; how much they eat, or if they put food in their purse, translating to us their gestures. This is how they would point to us how to help each of them. The Sisters are only 6, they need the help of other collaborators to cook, tidy up, move and clean the old ladies.
Mother Teresa really understood the deep meaning of the word Charity; this love for others that emanates from the Sisters is inexplicable for a common and ordinary human being like us. There has to be a superior Love to overpass all the human barriers of physical discomforts, like smells, sickness, physiological needs, and hygiene in general to be able to help the ones that need it the most. This total dedication, this love translated into charity towards the other, is a love that goes beyond the superficial borders; this kind of service cannot be explained in any other way.
The Sisters intercalate their work with prayers and other tasks; which doesn’t leave them with enough free time. The day we prepared ourselves to talk in a long and relaxed way with Sister María Magdalena, after helping removing the spines from the fish at lunch time, the Sister asked us if we had available time, “Of course we do” we answered without a doubt, expectant for the conversation we were waiting for. Once again, words were blown away by action, without hesitation she set us on a service mission, asking us to take a lady who couldn’t move from her home to a doctor’s appointment at the hospital. Finally Gardenia was a tool to help others, as Silvia had to travel lying down because she had 2 slipped discs that wouldn’t allow her to move. The Sister waited warmly for us at the Home, very grateful and avid for news from the doctor, and she let us be spoiled with a delicious lunch when we arrived after 3 hours of waiting. We couldn’t talk everything we wanted to discuss with her, but knowing the engine that drove Mother Teresa and having experienced what we lived there, was enough to wish to transmit it.
Like always, we wonder: “What moves them to do all this?” They have the answer hanging right there on the wall, like in every Home of the Sisters, with the sole reason for existence of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, something that she would always emphasize to the Sisters: “It is the bleeding Christ from the cross, who says ‘I thirst’”. It is that same Christ who is present in every old lady or kid, asking for help because they are thirsty, hungry or need special care. It is this simple and easy. They don’t do it once a year, a weekend or for Christmas. They do it every day, with an immense Love, losing themselves in the service of others, playing with kids and with the old ladies in a merry go round or the swings, praying with them, preparing their food, removing the spines form the fish, changing diapers, cleaning them and even understanding those who have difficulty in communicating. In one word, dignifying them, making them feel the Love of the Father, giving them happiness and sense to their lives, especially to the poorest among the poor.***
Is there anything more gratifying than to move our gaze from oneself to look at another person? With this look I might be able to discover what they need or in what way I can help them, and make them happier. So many times a hug is enough, or fifteen minutes of our precious time to cheer them up. These senior citizens didn’t have any family, they were left behind, or they simply didn’t know them. With an afternoon of being there and making jokes, their appearances had changed. It is incredible the power that a handshake has for an old person. Many of the old ladies were unable to hear and speak, blind or just very old, and just the simple gesture of caressing their hands, showing them that we were there, would transform their faces. Who knows what they were thinking, while they would hold and cuddle our hands, being transported with their thoughts.
I don’t know if anybody can do it; I’m far from being able to spread such kindness and generosity; my heart is still very selfish, but I do believe that we can at least try it; we could have so much love to share like they have, if we are only filled with it. Each one of us is called to do something different, we are singular and unique, but inevitably all of us are called to listen to the: “I thirst”, that shows up so frequently in our lives. It’s our job to listen well.
*: “Añatuya Ayuda / Helps Part 1 ” : https://sharingamerica.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/anatuya-help-part-1/ **: “Always a Yes”: https://sharingamerica.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/always-a-yes/ ***: “Come, be my light”, private letters from the ‘Saint of Calcutta’, Brian Kolodiejchuk.