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Lesson From the Dying

Canadian volunteer Leslie Davies set out to make a difference to the lives of the poor in Calcutta.

When Canadian volunteer Leslie Davies set out to make a difference to the lives of the poor in Calcutta, she was surprised at the difference they made in her own.

A former high school teacher in Calgary, Alberta, Davies now works as a human rights advocate in southern Mexico. In 1996 she spent four months helping out at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta.

Among those being cared for at the home was a woman, unable to speak, who was suffering from the high fever, chills and delirium of malaria. On this particular hot, humid day, she was incontinent.

As Davies walked past her bed, she thought to herself, 'Oh man, not again!' She even hoped that, if she kept going, someone else might clean up the mess. But in spite of this, she stopped.

'I went up to the head of the bed and I looked into that poor woman's eyes and what I saw there stunned me,' says Davies. 'I saw shame. In the midst of her fever and the chills that wracked her body, this woman was ashamed that she could not control her bowels.

'I wanted to fall on my knees in the face of her suffering and my own selfishness, I who in the riches of my health and skills, was petty enough to pity myself for having to clean up her mess. And I stroked her face and held her hand, and from my own shame I did my best to convey to her that she had no reason--no reason at all-- to feel shame.

'A poor, dying street woman in Calcutta, in her humility, taught me a great lesson that day,' she says. She captured that lesson in a poem:

The mute appeal in your eyes
as they meet mine
tears me in two.
I bend over you, caress
your face, so sorrowful,
and my heart aches for you
in your humiliation.
How to let you know that
there is no shame?
Your body wracked with
chills shaking you,
life-force draining an
almost empty cup.
Yet not empty.
Your eyes tell me you have
not succumbed;
your soul, though weary,
struggles feebly
within your ravaged body.
Who can know the anguish
of your life,
your sojourn here on earth?
Feel loved, touched, cared
But please
feel no shame.
(Leslie Davies)

Davies adds, 'One of the greatest gifts we can give one another is to be present; that is, to truly bend our heart and spirit towards others, to take time to listen and to care.'

By Warren Harbeck

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