When I met Mother Teresa I wept. I was with Catholic friends in 1988 in a small chapel in Washington D.C. She was tiny, calm, her face deeply seamed. Her bare feet were deformed, her hand bony and firm in mine. She seemed happy. Why my tears?
I was moved by her endless work to ease suffering. I saw Mother Teresa as a different species from myself. A superhuman, disguised in the humblest of small, bent bodies.
Later, after her death, I read in the newspaper that Mother Teresa had suffered from intense doubt and depression. She’d spent much of her life feeling separate and isolated from God, and struggled forward every day, regardless. Different from the cheerful superhuman she had appeared to be.
Fast forward to 2018. I learned that my friend Emily Lighthipe was going to donate a kidney to a woman, Liz Campbell, she’d read about in the community newspaper. Emily looked happy about this, unlike the typical person about to have their body cut into. She looked happy after the kidney transplant surgery, too, even though she’d struggled with pain. “Liz is doing great!” she told me.
“Emily the kidney donor is a different species from me,” I thought silently. “I really admire her, but . . . I’m not like her.”
Forward to February 4, 2019. I was sitting in prayer, trying as usual not to daydream instead. Emily and Liz had just celebrated their first Kidneyversary. Liz was thriving, in sharp contrast to before the transplant.
Emily crossed my mind, then stayed there. My physical health leapt out at me like an animal trying to tell me something. My respect for Emily took a more grounded shape.
“I could donate a kidney,” I thought, in a whisper.
Over the next month, I did research, and learned I meet the basic health qualifications. I met with Sherwin, another kidney donor, a joyful one, who has become a mentor. I think now that I can become a kidney donor, pulled along by the prospect of easing someone’s suffering and maybe saving their life. Though I’ll need a lot of support. Being cut into is not one of those childhood dreams like skydiving.
I no longer think that kidney donors and even people like Mother Teresa are a different species from me. They are vulnerable like me, and walk into giving, all the same. Seeing them as a different species had blocked me from moving towards a big give of my own. We all suffer from things like doubt, discouragement, relapses in our generosity, and feelings of anxiety. Those things aren’t allowed to imprison us.
Have you ever given in a big way? What helped you do it? What did you overcome?