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I should explain, in the first place, that Mother Teresa has requested that nothing in the nature of a biography or biographical study of her should be attempted. 'Christ's life', she wrote to me, was not written duringhis lifetime, yet he did the greatest work on earth he redeemed the world and taught mankind to love his Father. The Work is his Work and to remain so, all of us are but his instruments, who do our little bit and pass by.' I respect her wishes in this, as in all other matters. What we are expressly concerned with here is the work she and her Missionaries of Charity an order she founded do together, and the life they live together, in the service of Christ, in Calcutta and elsewhere. Their special dedication is to the poorest of the poor; a wide field indeed.
Already they have houses in other Indian towns, in Australia and Latin America and Rome. There are also houses in Tanzania, Ceylon and Jordan. They are springing up all the time, almost of themselves, wherever the chain of affliction and destitution bites. In that Mother Teresa is the inspirer and mainspring of this work, the one to whom all the others turn, she has to be picked out for special attention. Pretty well everyone who has met her would agree, I think, that she is a unique person in the world today; not in our vulgar celebrity sense of having neon lighting about her head. Rather in the opposite sense of someone who has merged herself in the common face of mankind, and identified herself with human suffering and privation.
It is, ofcourse, true that the wholly dedicated like Mother Teresa do not have biographies. Biographically speaking, nothing happens to them. To live for, and in, others, as she and the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity do, is to eliminate happenings, which are a factor of the ego and the will. 'Yet not l, but Christ liveth in me,'is one of her favourite sayings. I once put a few desultory questions to her about herself, her childhood, her parents, her home, when she first decided to become a nun. She responded with one of her characteristic smiles, at once quizzical and enchanting; a kind of half smile that she summons up whenever something specifically human is at issue, expressive of her own incorrigible humanity. Her home, she said, had been an exceptionally happy one. So, when her vocation came to her as a schoolgirl, the only impediment was precisely this loving, happy home which she did not wish to leave. Of course the vocation won, and for ever. She gave herself to Christ, and through him to her neighbour. This was the end of her biography and the beginning of her life; in abolishing herself she found herself, by virtue of that unique Christian transformation, manifested in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, whereby we die in order to live.
There is much talk today about discovering an identity, as though it were something to be looked for, like a winning number in a lottery; then, once found, to be hoarded and treasured. Actually, on a sort of Keyneslan principle, the more it is spent the richer it becomes. So, with Mother Teresa, in effacing herself, she becomes herself. I never met anyone more memorable. Just meeting her for a fleeting moment makes an ineffaceable impression. I have known people burst into tears when she goes, though it was only from a tea party where their acquaintance with her amounted to no more than receiving her smile. Once I had occasion to see her off, with one of the Sisters, at Calcutta railway station. It was the very early morning, and the streets were full of sleeping figures; sleeping with that strange, poignant abandon of India's homeless poor. We drove up to the station, absurdly enough, in a large American limousine which happened to be at my disposal. The porters rushed expectantly forward, and then fell back disappointed when I got out followed by two nuns wearing the white saris of their order, made of the cheapest possible cloth, and carrying for luggage only a basket of provisions, most of which, I well knew, would be distributed along the way. I saw them to the train, and settled them in a third-class compartment. Mother Teresa has a pass on the Indian railways given her by the Government. She has tried very hard to get a similar pass for air travel, and at one point offered to work as an air hostess on her air journeys in return for one; a prospect that I find delectable. Unfortunately, her offer was not accepted.
When the train began to move, and I walked away, I felt as though I were leaving behind me all the beauty and all the joy in the universe. Something of God's universal love has rubbed off on Mother Teresa, giving her homely features a noticeable luminosity; a shining quality. She has lived so closely with her Lord that the same enchantment clings about her that sent the crowds chasing after him in Jerusalem and Galilee, and made his mere presence seem a harbinger of healing. Outside, the streets were beginning to stir; sleepers awakening, stretching and yawning; some raking over the piles of garbage in search of something edible. It was a scene of desolation, yet it, too, seemed somehow irradiated. This love, this Christian love, which shines down on the misery we make, and into our dark hearts that make it; irradiating all, uniting all, making of all one stupendous harmony. Momentarily I understood; then, leaning back in my American limousine, was carried off to breakfast, to pick over my own particular garbage-heap.Something Beautiful for God. Copyright © by Malcolm Muggeridge. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.