Earlier this year, I had a very powerful experience that has stayed with me, and the story of which ties in beautifully with the focus of this year’s Passports With Purpose fundraiser.
It all happened in Calcutta, India, when I went to Mother Teresa’s Ashram. No words can describe the overwhelming emotional impact of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa. In her words, it is a refuge for…
“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
Before entering the orphanage, the nuns laid out one simple rule: “please don’t pick them up.”
I stepped into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes surrounded me, reaching their arms up to me, longing desperately to be held and carried. This was tough. I wanted to hold them, to touch them, to love them, to let them know they were loved. I wanted to smother them with affection and motherly care. I wanted to embrace them. But I could not pick them up!
How was I going to engage with them? What could I do to connect without attachment?
I stood dazed and numb for a moment, towering over them. Then, one child came forward with something in his hand. It was a book.
From his hand to mine, a book.
I looked over at the nuns were sitting on the only bench in the room. They did not move to make room for me; so, taking the book from the child’s hand, I sat down on the floor right where I stood. The kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and touched my hair and watched my face as I was able to engage and connect with them without ever picking one up. The nuns lost sight of me as I was engulfed in a sea of curious children, and there in my hand, a book.
This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. Because I was so moved by the emotional investment these children placed in me when I sat amongst them, I had to focus that love on one thing. The book.
Fortunately, it was a basic board book, with only one word on each page. BALL. CAR. BOY. GIRL. And so on.
I read each page as if I were reading a love letter. With each word, there was a little drawing to illustrate it, but when I read the word, there was only meaning. LOVE. Word by word, page by page, I read, and the children listened. I read, and the children watched. I read…and the children felt loved.
I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. These children just wanted to be loved. And read to.
So there I found my own little room to read on the floor of an orphanage in Calcutta. At that moment more than any other in my life, I realized the incredible power of the gift of reading.
By sharing my story, I hope that you will be inspired to share the gift of reading wherever you are, and wherever you go, in your travels and in life. To that end, please join me in the annual Passports With Purpose travel blogger fundraiser, kicking off on November 30. The goal is to build two libraries in Zambia.
Where to start? Keep reading! Check out these 2011 blogger participants who use their gift of writing so that others may know the gift of reading. Be inspired by words, and purposeful in action. Let’s do this!