Excerpt from Act Here. Love Now. Written by Lindsay Blake
Kolkata is a place I hate to love, but I cannot help it. After just three weeks, it is inside of me, in my blood. Without permission, this city stole a piece of my heart.
My senses are bombarded the minute I step onto the crowded street to begin my morning trek to Kalighat, Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying. Though the sun is barely peeking through the morning haze, a myriad of distractions vies for my attention.
Women wrapped in vibrant saris, men bathing in loud crowds under street taps. Human horses, know as rickshaws, carry uniformed schoolchildren.
My ears ring; my head aches. The heat is suffocating. I walk past a family asleep on the sidewalk, a makeshift tent their shelter.
Trash lines the streets and open urinals trigger my gag reflex, although the aroma is quickly overpowered by the mouthwatering smell of chicken rolls. Aware of all my senses, I am reminded why I decided to spend my summer in this metropolis known as The City of Joy.
Many say Kolkata is a city of misery, poverty, disease and pollution. I came wanting to see the Jesus Mother Teresa saw in each person on these streets so many years ago - orphaned, sick and dying. Instead I found my own selfishness and pride.
My self-righteous pity for those whom the world defines as outcasts evaporated, replaced by solidarity and friendship. Pity implies a hierarchy; love recognizes that we are the same.
I end my journey on the doorstep of Kalighat. Established by Mother Teresa in 1952, the building was an abandoned Hindu temple, a tribute to the goddess of destruction.
I feel most connected with humanity among these marginalized friends. In a place where death desires to dictate, healing compassion and peace are felt. Sickness stares me in the eye, trying to scare me, but joy laughs back.
I sit down on a bed and hold the hand of a woman I am certain is dying. As we listen to music she takes my hands in her own and claps them together. Side by side, we laugh effortlessly, swaying our bodies as the melodies fill the air.
It is in this moment I am humbled, broken. Among the dying I see the greatest Life.
A volunteer needs help as one of the ladies soils herself and her bed mat. I walk over and pick up the bedpan. I help the decaying woman finish, whispering words of encouragement into her ear.
I touch, I see, I hear I smell - and in the end - I Love. For me, this is true beauty.
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