Nonfiction Essay

The Agony of Not Being Able

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The man had not eaten for two days. He came to Prem Dam a week ago. Skinny, with a swollen stomach, green face, lost gaze, fixed on nothing, his words, only moans, screams of anger and pain. I saw him motionless and could not bear it. The doctor, a thirty-something Maltese, told me -almost shouting- that I had to feed him. “He is unconscious, but he has to eat.”

I asked one of the sisters about the food, they brought me the food (a glass of hot milk) and a spoon. I got closer, moved him a little… and nothing. I asked a volunteer, and he was taking care of two others who were also dying, I asked the sisters and they said, “Feed him” while they were going to pray. I froze, I didn’t know what to do. Immediately a collaborator approached me and said: Munh kholo that sounded like “Mukala”, which means in Hindi: “Open your mouth.” I grabbed the spoon, I put it in his mouth I said “Mukala…” and nothing. A Spaniard, who was next to me, went to get a syringe to feed him. He gave it to me.

We moved him a little and he opened his eyes. I started yelling at him: Mukala, mukala, mukala…, but he wouldn’t open his mouth. I thought: “Today you are not going to die, not today.” So I kept yelling mukala at him. Others of the sick -who wanted to sleep- shouted mukala at him, so every time I screamed, they screamed louder. Finally, he opened his mouth, and I was able to feed him.

Then I had to go. I don’t know if it’s going to be tomorrow. He obviously wants to die.

I arrived in Calcutta three days ago, but only now Calcutta is coming to me. If I told you that I never cried, surely you would not believe me. But if I tell you that I cry at every step, on every corner of every street, at Mass or praying, in my room or at Prem Dam, in the shower, on the train, writing this email or curled up in the corner of the chapel, maybe you wouldn’t believe me either. This distracted heart is filled with love, it wants to burst, it has the need to shout an eternal Why!?, but it restrains itself because God knows why. I don’t know and never will. By asking why I am proud wanting to understand God and I will never understand. I am a donkey to carry things, hands to wash, a syringe with milk in one mouth, I am nothing at all, but… but… as this tiny, enormous lady from Calcutta used to say: We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.+

I see that the sisters are human beings who give their best, Jesus is their all in everything, but they are not machines to heal or save human bodies, they are instruments of love and that, only that, was enough for me to get up and serve. I see them in their joy and they surprise me. I think they should spend more time with the sick because they spend a lot of time in prayer. I see, I see that they know that the true service is there; that no matter how much medical care they give them, they know that it is by praying for them and taking care of their souls that they are going to save them.

How difficult to live every day like this! Marthas and Marys integrating the efficiency and effectiveness and the unknown of a prayer, apparently unproductive and useless, but mysteriously fertile and fruitful, more than anything on Earth.

Excerpts of the email I sent from Calcutta (India) in 2005.

+ Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta



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