July 8, 1999

Drilling Down

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What began as a retreat for rest and relaxation on September 10, 1946, ended up as a career in the slums of Calcutta. During a journey to the Darjeeling mountains in India Sister Teresa had a clear sense that she should leave her convent, and instead devote her life to living and working in the slums of Calcutta. Such a move would mean a career change. At the time she was principle of a large school, and in order to follow this new vision for the future she would have to leave both the school and the convent. She requested permission from church authorities, but had to wait until July of 1948 before she received permission. The archbishop gave her 12 months to show that her plan would work; otherwise she needed to come back to the convent.

On Aug. 16, 1948, Sister Teresa quietly slipped out of the convent. No one saw her go. And instead of wearing the clothes of her order, she was dressed in a blue and white Indian sari with a simple cross on her left shoulder. That was the day she looked into the compass of her heart and found the needle pointing a new direction. She chose to work in Motijhil, a slum of slums. She worked alone at first. She had no money, but began a school – and until some supplies were donated she simply taught by writing in the dirt.

Sister Teresa knew her mission; she planned her life journey. Her goal: to help others. She is the ultimate example of the Power of One. One woman who touched numerous lives—and left a legacy far larger. For Sister Teresa is the one who founded the Missionaries of Charity. Eventually other people joined her on her journey—individuals making a difference. She soon because known as Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa worked most of her life in the heat, filth, and misery of Calcutta. She was persistent; she wanted to help the poor and the terminally ill. She could have allowed the difficulties to stand in her way—or her selfishness to lead her to a better life.

But her faith and love of people who couldn’t help themselves spurred her to continue. Alone, she couldn’t save every person. Far from it. But her perseverance did touch the lives of many. And her example motivated far more people to follow in her footsteps.

Mother Teresa knew that she would never be repaid for her time and effort, at least not in a monetary way. But she probably wouldn’t have accepted the money even if the people she helped could have paid. Instead, she did it for the reward of helping others, for the love she gave and for the love she got in return.

In our culture, it’s not common to do something without expecting a favor in return. The phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is synonymous with America, at least for most. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are intangible rewards in following the Power of One: satisfaction of a job well done, a strong reputation, improving the lives of others, being loved and trusted, and so much more. Mother Teresa used the guidance system of the Power of One to take her to the finish line. And what a life well spent!

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