Yesudas: The Christmas of Covid among lepers, the mentally ill and ex-prisoners
A Missionary of Charity, the male branch of the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, recounts his experience during the lockdown, in paying attention to little things, in spending time with the poorest of the poor. The discovery of inner beauty and goodness in the leper and in the mentally ill. And this is Christmas.
Parganas (AsiaNews) - Dear friends, in January I was transferred from Dum Dum [the area of the Kolkata airport] to a community 70 km from Calcutta. All around there are agricultural villages surrounded by many trees, clean air and immense greenery. In this beautiful and silent ambience, we have a Mercy Home for the leprosy patients who have no home of their own. We also have a rehabilitation centre for leprosy patient’s families and a home for lunatic patients from the Jail and a mental health centre for patients from very poor families. It is a place of silence and peace. The pandemic has affected our work yet it was a time to do small things, in our Mercy Home, Shanti Nivas for lunatic patients from the prison and in the out-door for mental health.
Doing small things, such as organizing files of each patient’s, their record and their case history was a discovery of the beauty and joy of each of them in the midst of their suffering. I also realized during-this days of lockdown that we live in a world where we don't have any control over the pandemic which has infected millions and impacted both lives and livelihood. At the beginning of the pandemic our P.M. Narendra Modi asked us to ring the bells, clap hands and burn the lamps. He had his own purpose in asking us to do. But I was reflecting and saying to myself that is what I have to do when I am facing enormous problems on which I have no control over. I always believed, those things that hurt us, humiliate us, or the problems that are difficult to face, are things that teach us and lead us to light. Crisis has a way of bringing out the extraordinary direction in our lives and see the beauty in the midst of crisis.
During lockdown, some of the people who have hectic schedule, who have no time for family found lockdown an opportunity to spend quality time with the family. They also had the beautiful experience of doing small things such as cooking together, sharing all the household chores, painting, drawing and gardening etc. Every crisis can lead us to do beautiful things for oneself and for others and bring immense joy in life.
In our Mercy Home, Kokhan Haider has no beauty in appearance. His is like the Scripture say –
"He has no form or comeliness,
And when we see him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him." (Isa:53:2).
Leprosy has inflicted on Kokhan Halder a sagging, face and depressed nose due to the destruction of the nasal septum. All his finger bones are eaten away. His palms are without fingers. He can hardy hold anything with his hands. His both legs below the knee is amputated. He wears a protective cushioned rubber strapped below knees and move around by kneeling. It is so beautiful to see how he holds the broom to sweep the floor, and hold the spoon to eat. He is full of life and his beautiful movement on the knee to do little things for others in the midst of his deformities is something to contemplate. He says - "since I have life, I should do something to help others, I can't simply sit idle". In him we can recognize the birth of God in his inner beauty and goodness. Looking at him is Christmas because God is beauty and goodness.
Beauty and Goodness are a kind of Spiral relationship. When our inner beauty is expressed, the deeper we go in relating to others and to all creation setting all in the context of the divine. Our inner beauty is to love, to give, to share to bear with one another and bring unity. This is what Kokhan Haldar is doing in the midst of his deformities and suffering. A contemplative gaze at his deformed face will reveal his inner joy - that joy is Christmas.
As I look at our mentally ill friends from the prison, some of them had been in prison for 12 to 25 years and some them are very old. They were considered to be difficult and unbearable by their families. Their families have falsely accused them and put them in correctional home. They had been treated only in negative terms as idiots, pagalas and deficient. What they needed was respect, value and a sense of belonging. Lockdown helped us to create in them little more respect, value and sense of belonging by our more availability and presence. Even though some of them have chronic mental illness, yet they are all busy in keeping their home and surroundings very clean. They know that Shanti Nivas is their home. It is so beautiful to see how they help each other and going on doing all kind of house work every day without any complain. It is impossible for three of us in the Community to take care of this centre without the generous help and support of these 45. Every day in silence contemplating their beauty and goodness is Christmas for me.
Christmas of this Pandemic year invite us to ring the bells, clap the hands and burn the lamps in the midst of the crisis in our family, in our religious community and in our service to the poorest of the poor by appreciating the inner beauty and goodness of people with whom we live and work. Thus dropping our ego and allowing the divine to be borne in us as beauty and goodness and let that light shins.
May' this Christmas and the New Year be a blessing of beauty and goodness to you and to your dear ones.
With Love and Light