I cannot think of compassion and unconditional love without thinking of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa.
It’s hard to imagine that the world has been without the presence of this most selfless of individuals for 13-years this month.
In 1928, at the age of 18, Agnes left her home in Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia to join the Sisters of Loreto, a Catholic order based in Ireland. Twenty-two years later, Mother Teresa, as she became known, founded the Missionaries of Charity to which she devoted a lifetime of effort for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India.
In December 2008, I spoke to composer Bradley James about his first meeting with the individual who changed his life forever in 1987.
“In India they have a word; it’s called Darśana (Darr-shon). It’s the presence – the instance of seeing – a person. Whatever that presence was that entered that room, I immediately had tears in my eyes.
“She walked right up to me, took her thumbs and wiped the tears from my cheeks and said, ‘Your tears are tears of love that you’ve never expressed.’ She said, ‘I’m coming back with four sisters and I want you to help me open my house.’
“The archbishop had given her house down in Linwood, California. It was a former convent and they were going to open a mission house for women and children.
“She was here for a week and during that week, there were just dozens helping and fixing and doing and then we took her to the airport. When we got her to the airport, she said goodbye to everybody and then she came over to me, put her hand on my heart, and whispered in my ear, ‘They are your sisters and you are their brother and God is your father.’
“At that moment, I thought… ‘What the hell does that mean? What am I going to do with that information?’
“And then she left.
“We went back to the house and it was completely empty. And I said to the sisters,
‘Where is everybody?
“‘Oh, they left. People only come to see Mother.’
“What?’ And it was at that moment that I made a conscious decision. ‘Bradley, do not miss this opportunity, because you’ll never get this again in your life.’ All the time, I kept saying, ‘Where are they going to get all the things the house needs? How is this going to happen? How is that going to happen?’ And the answer the nuns gave was the same as Mother’s: ‘God will provide.’
“So, I just accepted it.
“Every day I would come back to the nuns and I drove them crazy because I would ask questions. I wanted to know about their lives, their vow of poverty, Mother Teresa, her story, everything! The sisters would say, ‘You have a car. Would you take us to the store or to the passport office?’
“I would pack my car full of sandwiches and I’d take them to the store and the passport office, but then I’d take them to the beach. And they’d say, ‘Bradley, we don’t do this. We’re nuns.’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, sisters, you gotta go to the beach. You’re in California!’
“But on these drives, I would always be asking them questions. And then we’d be back at the house, the bell would ring and they would say, ‘Come with us.’ And we’d pray… for hours…. and hours… … and HOURS!
“I would ask them questions. They would answer, and then I’d sit with them and think about the things they told me. This went on for a long time.
“One day, I asked them about the house for the women and children. I’d say, ‘Well, when are these women going to come? When are these babies going to come’
“‘God will provide.’
“Well, how are they going to find you?
“‘God will provide.’
“We’d be in the house and the doorbell would ring. And there’d be a guy out there with a truck and he’d say, ‘Hey, sisters, I got two beds out here. You want ‘em?”
“‘Hey, sisters, we got a little furniture out here. Can you use it?’
“Or someone would come and drop off some groceries, or someone would come and do this and that.
“So, I began to get into the rhythm of it.
“Several months later, I had a friend in L.A. She was a very wealthy socialite and I used to play the piano for her. She loved to have me over and meet all her movie-star friends and politicians.
“One night, after one of her parties, I watched as a waiter took a basket and placed it at the end of a table of leftover food. I watched, as he brushed the food into a basket. Normally, I wouldn’t think about this. But that night, I went to my friend and said, ‘I have these four nuns that I know down in south-central L.A., would you mind if I took some of that food?’
“Not only did she say, yes, but she went to the kitchen and started helping me wrap everything up.
“I took all this unbelievable food, caviar, cheese, you name it. I put it in my car and I drove down to the house. Now, it was late, and the nuns usually go to bed quite early because they get up at four or five in the morning. So, I thought, well I’ll knock on the door, drop the food off and leave.
“When I got there, it was a hot, summer night. The door was open, but the screen door was locked and the lights were on in the chapel. I knocked on the door and rang the bell. And the sisters, all dressed, came to the door and I thought, well that’s kind of strange. I was excited, I said, ‘Hey, come on out. Help me open my car and get all this food out.’ And they just stared at me.
“You can’t believe it, sister,” I said, “I’ve got this and you’re gonna love that…” and nothing.
“Now, I knew these women. I was with them most every day for months, but something was different. I said, ‘Sisters, did something happen?’
“The one sister took the key and she opened the door and took all this food in and nobody said a word, and they set it on the table and she locked the door again.
“I said, ‘Sisters, please, tell me what happened.’ I was concerned.
“And they said, ‘Bradley, we haven’t eaten in three days and we were in the chapel praying for those that are hungry tonight.’
“And that was my conversion moment. At that moment, I understood what Mother Teresa meant when she said, ‘God will provide.’
“God provides through my hands, at that moment.
“God wanted me at that woman’s house at that time to be able to ask for that leftover food. He didn’t want me in the streets of Calcutta. He wanted me there, at that moment to play the piano for my socialite friend, to think of that food for those women, to be His hands and feet.
“It was just a matter of asking, putting it in my car and taking it there.
“And I said, ‘Now, I get it!’ I’m not supposed to go anywhere; I’m not supposed to do anything; I’m just supposed to constantly think of the other person.”