In Better Hands

In Better Hands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

In Better Hands

On the way home from the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, I met with Mother Teresa. Not once but twice.

My friend Laurie and I had flown into Calcutta from Paro in the early afternoon. We had one day in the City of Joy before she would fly on to Bangkok and I would return to Canada via New Delhi, Bombay, and a brief stay with my father in London.

Over lunch, we toyed with the notion of visiting Mother Teresa’s orphanage. A taxi ride and a couple of hours later, we were touched by the sight of forty to fifty little kids playing in a small courtyard, half of them running around completely undressed, the others in blue and white striped outfits. As we were leaving, a sister informed us that Mother Teresa’s residence was in a building called Mother House, only a few blocks away.

Within minutes we were standing in front of a rather inconspicuous wooden door with a large cross on it. On a small wooden sign to the left of the door, in white lettering, were the modest words, MOTHER TERESA. When asked who we wished to see, we answered simply and in unison, “Mother Teresa.” The sister showed us in and, in a short while, informed us that Mother Teresa would meet with us.

We found ourselves waiting nervously on an old bench, trying to figure out what we were going to say. Suddenly, from behind two swinging doors, we saw a white-and-blue sari and two bare feet in open sandals. We gazed in awe as Mother Teresa moved briskly toward us. She sat next to Laurie, took her hand, and got right down to business.

She asked us where we were from and whether we were volunteers. She described the trip she had just taken to Montreal. She told us that she was in a hurry as she was leaving again the next day. With that, she got up, disappeared behind a screen partition and quickly returned with two cards bearing her picture and a small prayer. She signed both: “God bless you. Teresa M.C.” and left. Though neither of us was particularly religious, we just sat there, frozen in a state of reverence.

The next day Laurie left for Bangkok and I left for London. Checking in at the Air India counter in Delhi, I couldn’t help but hear a woman with jet black hair draped in flowing Indian fabrics shouting at the next counter. In her distinctly Greek accent, she was raging about not getting a particular bulkhead seat. Within seconds, boarding pass in hand, she brazenly marched away from the scene and through the terminal.

A few hours later, when it came time to board, I started towards the gate. As I approached security control, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a pair of sandals and a blue-and-white sari. I looked over and saw a sister of the Missionaries of Charity. And then another. And another—a gaggle of sisters scurrying straight through security. At the very end raced Mother Teresa, carrying nothing but a single book—her Bible. In a glance, she was out of sight.

At the gate, I looked around for a place to sit and spotted the Greek woman, anxiously staring at the departure board. I sat down, and sure enough, she sat right next to me.

We started talking and, when I mentioned meeting Mother Teresa, her mouth dropped. She reached for a cross around her neck and told me how much she had always wanted to meet Mother Teresa. I recounted how I had seen Mother Teresa again only minutes before. My Greek gate-mate struck my arm in disbelief. Oh, how she wanted the chance to meet this living saint!

When we arrived in the Bombay terminal, they told us that our connecting plane was going to be delayed for a “few hours.”

Thirty or forty very irate Italian tourists were grabbing their heads, motioning madly with their hands, and screaming at the poor airline attendants and each other. I wandered away from the chaos in search of a place to sleep.

I finally found one of those horrible plastic airport chairs on the other side of the airport, and using my daypack as a pillow, I fell fast asleep.

A couple of hours later, I felt a hand nudge me. Startled, I looked up. It was the Greek woman.

She wanted me to go with her, to follow her. She was very forceful and determined. She explained that Mother Teresa wanted to see me. Of course, I had no idea what this woman was talking about but, after more pleading, I went along. After all, what else did I have to do at four o’clock in the morning?

We got to the door of the business and first-class lounge. She mumbled to the guard that I was with her, and I followed behind.

The room was small and dark. All ten people were sprawled about on couches, fast asleep. The Greek woman motioned to the far corner near a dim light. Sitting there in a hard chair, hunched over, was Mother Teresa, reading. While every other much younger, mortal soul was sleeping, she was wide awake, praying in the middle of the night.

Whispering, the Greek woman prodded me, “You must go and talk to her.”

“I can’t, she’s praying,” I replied.

“Just go now!”

“I can’t, not until she’s finished,” I insisted.

We sat down, gazing as she prayed, noting her every movement.

My Hellenic messenger introduced herself as Jenny and related in a soft voice how she and Mother Teresa had talked for a short while earlier on. This was not the same crazy woman whom I had first encountered at the check-in counter in Delhi. She carefully and proudly showed me the necklace of the Virgin Mary that Mother Teresa had given her. She rubbed it and continued.

“She’s been praying the whole time,” she said, shaking her head in reverent disbelief.

Suddenly, Mother Teresa placed the prayer book down on her lap.

“Go over now!” the Greek woman beseeched.

I got up and inched my way towards the light.

“Mother Teresa, I’m sorry to disturb you but we met yesterday in Calcutta at Mother House.”

Her wrinkled face strained upwards to meet my puzzled eyes. “God works in mysterious ways,” she quipped. She invited me to sit next to her.

As I sat down, I couldn’t wait to ask her about the serendipitous nature of our two meetings. “What does this mean, meeting you again? Is there something I should be doing?”

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Traveling,” I replied impulsively.

She took my hand. “You must look for the truth, and guide others to look for the truth. Time is short. There is so much to do and so little time. You will know what to do.”

We talked for an hour, mostly about her missions around the world, before she excused herself to return to her prayers. I withdrew and sat next to Jenny. Together, we studied this winner of the Nobel Prize in the peace of her prayers.

Just after seven o’clock, we heard our flight being called for boarding. As we got up, so did Mother Teresa. She was on our flight.

As soon as the plane took off, I fell asleep. A few hours later, I awoke and went to freshen up.

Leaving the toilet cabin, I heard commotion from the section ahead. I turned the corner, looked up the aisle toward the front of the plane, and glimpsed Mother Teresa’s blue-and-white sari just as she was returning to the first-class section. In the brief time that I was in the restroom, she had gone through the whole plane and blessed all of its passengers.

In her wake, the large group of Italians, who only hours before were wound up in a frenzied state of frustration and anger, were now crying and praying, and very, very grateful. Many were down on their knees making the sign of the cross, while others couldn’t stop hugging and kissing one another.

Men and women queued from the left side of the plane into a makeshift first-class confessional, emerging moments later on the other side into the embrace of their fellow countrymen and passengers.

The plane stopped in Rome, where the Italians and Mother Teresa deplaned. I read the next day that she had an audience with the Pope.

On my arrival at Heathrow, my father met me, his face ashen. He recounted the morning’s news: A plane had crashed in Bombay, around the same time that mine had taken off. He was terrified that somehow I was on that ill-fated flight.

“Well, Dad,” I began my story, “if I were, I couldn’t have been in better hands.”

~Steve Zikman

Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul

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