THE TERESA PRINCIPLES
Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.
Ruma's Story: My love for Mother Teresa began when I was a little child living in a small town outside of Montreal. My mom told me bedtime stories about this saint living in Calcutta. Each story held a lesson on the importance of faith and gratitude, service and love. Every night I looked forward to hearing the continued adventures of this "super angel." One very cold evening, I saw an old man going through our garbage, and I didn't understand why. My mom explained that some people were not as fortunate as we were. I felt an overwhelming sense of unfairness, so I decided to write Mother Teresa a letter asking her what I could do. A few months later, I received a letter back. She told me the poor are wonderful people. She told me to pray for peace and love for the old man, and to smile at him. "The more you smile and love your neighbors, the more love will spread." That letter had a profound impact on me, a little Hindu girl.
Although my family was Hindu, I later graduated from the Sacred Heart School for Girls and studied at a Catholic college, all while living with two thousand nuns at the Mother House of the Grey Nuns in Montreal. Those sisters who truly loved and lived their faith inspired me and became true examples of living your passion. I kept quotes from Mother Teresa in my school agenda to inspire me daily, and she was often the topic of my high school and college essays. I was inspired by acts of service and helping others. They made me feel valued. At the time, I had a heart filled with love for others, yet very little for myself. I had my own personal struggles, and it seemed so much easier to channel the pain of growing up into doing charitable work and being idealistic. Life at nineteen, after a year of college, felt overwhelming. I was filled with both disillusionment and idealism. The desire to escape and the seduction of saving the world were calling me. So I did the only thing I knew how: I fled. I packed my bags and took a trip to India with an open heart and a rebellious mind to "find myself." I went to Calcutta to meet Mother Teresa.
After a thirty-hour journey halfway across the world, I made my way to 54A A.J.C. Bose Road to the Convent of the Missionaries of Charity. As I drove past the slums and poverty that defined the lives of so many in this city, I felt a sense of peace within it all. When I arrived at the motherhouse, I was summoned into a small room with a simple table in the middle. I could smell the humidity from the monsoons permeating the wood. As I heard footsteps in the corridor, butterflies began to stir within me.
The moment Mother entered the room, I realized why people described her presence as a life-changing experience. She may have been all of four feet eleven, but her incredible spiritual glow radiated through her being. I suddenly felt naked, with all my imperfections exposed. My vulnerability rendered me speechless. This is the closest I've ever come to an out-of-body experience. She felt like God. As she saw my overwhelmed expression, she smiled and said, "What is your name?" And there began my relationship with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
Fifteen years later, I found myself at a similar juncture-disillusioned by my experience with the corporate world, yet still believing in the idealism of my youth. I had done many interesting things, from international marketing to international banking. I was well educated, with an MBA. Most people would have said I was a successful professional. Yet I felt I was living an empty lie. So I started looking for my new recipe for success. As I began exploring and studying different theories and models and speaking to mentors to look for inspiration, I became introspective and looked into my past. As the searching got deeper, I gained a different perspective and developed a different lens through which to evaluate my life. This brought tremendous clarity on the impact of my year with Mother Teresa.
At the end of my time with her, she gave me her greatest personal gift. When I went to say good-bye, she enveloped my hand in hers and looked deeply at me with those luminous brown eyes. (She spoke softly and had a wonderful way of making you feel like the most important person in the world.) "We all have a purpose in life," she told me. "Some people are born to make a difference to their families, and some people are born to make a difference to their communities or to their countries." Then she pressed her hands more tightly onto mine. "You, Ruma, are meant to make a difference to the world. Go find your vehicle, and don't give up."