It’s the evening in Kolkata 🇮🇳 while most of America 🇺🇸 sleeps. I’m trying to process another epic day on top of every other epic day serving the sickest of the poorest of the poor of the harsh streets of Kolkata.
Most of you know I can muster words for just about anything. However, this vexing yet holy place is different, far different than anything I could ever explain. The magnitude of physical and emotional suffering are hard to believe even though I am witnessing it firsthand on a daily basis
A splendid and heroic French nurse, probably in her early 60’s, gently approached me this morning while I was helping one of the several young heroic Indian doctors in the men’s infirmary. She said, “It’s quite difficult isn’t it?” I said, “Oui, Madame, it’s very difficult. I described this place as a ‘poverty war zone’ to my wife.” She replied, “I think it’s worse than a war zone.” (And, she surely knows because she has undoubtedly served in other hard places in this often cruel world.) She then placed her angelic hand with the greatest of care and strength on my left shoulder and looked kindly into my eyes. We both had tears welling up as she returned to her patient with the worm infested foot that was missing most of every toe.
Heartened and renewed by her truly Marian love, I redoubled my focus on “Saladine,” a handsome yet aged man of the streets. He looked my age which means he was probably 10 to 15 years younger because Kolkata laid bare does that to street people. Brutally short, my dear sweet new Indian friend had NO SKIN covering 98% of his emaciated left leg when the blood soaked bandages were removed. (Imagine Saint Bartholomew.) Saladine did not cry out in pain during this torturous treatment and everyone would have understood if he did. His physical pain and emotional anguish were exponentially pronounced because he looked up to me throughout with deep brotherly longing as manly tears quietly dripped from his eyes. So, I did my humble best as a newfound anesthesiologist of Jesus Christ to mitigate his suffering with brotherly love in my eyes, a manly hold of his left hand and the gentle yet strong caress of his weary head with my sometimes quivering right hand.
When the amazing young Indian doctor had cleaned Saladine’s entire left leg of the scourge he could and bandaged it fully for the X number of days straight, we helped this dear sweet broken brother sit up ever so gently as we tried to bestow dignity on him. Saladine made a deep and beautiful prayer gesture to me noting his warm gratitude. He then wrapped his weary arms around me and wept, and wept, and wept. It took every ounce of strength I had as a Kolkata-tested man to be strong for him then. Thankfully, tears are finally streaming down my face now thereby helping clear my heartbroken multi-hour daze.
I pray for you from Kolkata. Please, oh please, pray for these destitute yet majestic Indian people I am so privileged to serve.
God woke me early today, so I arrived early at the Missionaries of Charity Home of Nirmal Hriday (“Pure Heart”). The Sisters call it “Mother’s first love” since it was her very first home in Kolkata 🇮🇳. It’s the very home for the dying destitute that vaulted the 80 to 90 pound Saint to the world stage. Mother Teresa never sought world acclaim yet she still virtuously used it to promote God’s Absolute Truths, particularly the sanctity of life from womb to death. Thanks be to God. Thanks for her witness!!
After a brief visit that I’ll describe later, I went to the men’s infirmary and immediately beheld why God woke me early. On the lone medical procedure table was my new treasured friend from yesterday, dear Saladine. He was laying there. His skinless leg was in full horrific view. Of course, he was grimacing because even the small oscillating fan harshly agitated every exposed nerve on his left leg. When he saw me, he reached out to me and lovingly cried “Baba,” an Indian term of endearment.(Geez, I love this beautiful broken soul!!) I scurried over to him as his eyes teared anew as if my arrival had just answered his prayers. He called me “Baba” again, then made a reverent clasping off his hands in prayer. So I pulled out my Holy Rosary like yesterday, starting praying over him and he warmly smiled though his persistent grimaces. (Let’s pause for a second one. Look down at your left leg and picture it without skin. Let’s try to fathom how excruciatingly painful that must feel. 🤯🤬😭) Saladine, stud that he is, never cried out loud. He suffered with the most heroic heartbroken silence I have ever beheld. Every time he called me “Baba” I felt the total enormity and warmth of truly unconditional love and trust.
After we had tended to Saladine, my other wonderful friend Baakraan appeared to have his dressings changed. I cannot recall if I previously shared about Baakraan, my dear Muslim friend. In short, the multiple large leg gashes that he has on both his legs are incomprehensible. I can see his right calf muscle. I can see the tendons behind his right kneecap. The bottom of his left kneecap is slightly visible through his deep open wound quite similar to Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross. There’s more physical horro for Baakraan, but I’ll stop there. I have been blessed to help the doctors clean and redress Baakraan’s full length lower leg bandages a few days now. The beautiful Sisters and equally heroic medical staff know to have me involved when it’s Baakraan’s turn in the infirmary due to miraculous brotherly bond. Heck, even Baakraan called me “Baba” today and I had to hold back tears when he did. The TRUE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE of this vexing yet holy place is surely a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thank you, Saint Teresa of the Kolkata Gutters for calling me here!!!!!!!
After Baakraan was fully bandaged, the young staff rolled in “Mishnu.” That’s what I call my favorite Bengali. Surely Mishnu must know I don’t speak Bengali by now. But he still insists on saying the most amazing happy Bengali stuff to me that I will ever hear. My man Mishnu is pure joy in all his brokenness. The guy lights up when he sees me and starts jabbering with so much joy I’m tearing up as I type this. But Mishnu is from the unforgiving streets of Kolkata. He’s abjectly destitute. He’s riddled with infection. His right foot only has a big toe. The rest of his foot must have been chewed up and the fog by an Indian “land shark” 🦈. That’s how horrible it looks. Amazingly though (and I’m now chuckling with immense admiration), in between Mishnu’s rightful grimaces due to his ghastly mangled foot, he joyfully tells me what can only be his Bengali life story. I wish I could take video of these joyful outbursts, so you could see the miraculous nature of it. Geez, Kolkata is a such a conundrum.
Mishnu also called me “Baba” today which also welled tears in my eyes. A few of the other men I served today did so as well. It’s as if they collectively assessed me through the week to determine whether or not I warranted such respect and affection. It’s arguably one of the most humbling experiences of my life to be so trusted by broken men who for any number of years have probably not trusted anyone. Mind you, I’m not their only “Baba.” There are more and certainly more worthy: Igor from Siberia 🇷🇺 who teaches anthropology in Germany 🇩🇪; Javier from Spain 🇪🇸 who is wiry and 💪🏻 but gentle as they come; the amazing Christian ✝️ men from China 🇨🇳; and Craig from New Zealand 🇳🇿 who’s come for 11 years straight for three to 6 months at a time. #LegendaryMen #SaintJosephs
God not only woke me early today, He blessed me with His amazing and miraculous Peace. I had calm, serenity, and solace today that has been tough to find, let alone secure and embed my week here. When I walked into Mother’s original house today, I was warmly greeted by the legendary Sister Gina who now occupies Mother Teresa’s original desk. She was with the young Indian doctor that I have often assisted in the men’s infirmary, the MASH Unit for the Kolkata poverty war zone. We had a beautiful, heartwarming exchange that only lasted minutes but will be with me forever. It made seeing Saladine‘s raw left leg so manageable and his cry of “Baba” so much more wonderful. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to Saint Mother Teresa. Thanks to be all the heroes that serve at her 50 homes. Blessed are the poor for the Kingdom of God is rightfully and deservedly theirs.