Ever since my childhood, I have always been interested in and awed by the concept of “heroes” and “heroines.” Naturally, it was easy to admire those heroes I read about in novels and comic books, or watched in the movies and on TV programs. But the real amazement came when I started contemplating the possibility that there have lived men and women who, by all appearances, have been as great as the ones we have read about or formed out of our own imagination.
I remembered, for example, reading about such people as George Washington, how he almost single-handedly held a new, ambitious nation together when it counted most; more recently, I marveled about such men as Gandhi, a man who seemed to devote his whole life to the advancement of the rights of Indians, while becoming a very self-less, caring and influential individual. Mother Teresa, though, seems to have carried the torch somewhat further than most, if not all, of them. She helped to re-define what a true “heroine” is.
I was, for example, surprised to find that Mother Teresa had helped to establish AIDS assistance shelters in Atlanta, GA, where I now live. Most people know that she, through her Missionaries of Charity, a charitable organization which she founded and headed until her death, helped to establish organizations for the “poorest of the poor” (in her own words) all over the world, but all this becomes even more meaningful if it touches people close to or around us.
It’s interesting how made-up heroines (like the Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, and Cat Woman) always have special powers, look especially attractive, and have the ability to forcefully overcome evil. Mother Teresa, it appears, did not subscribe to any of these stereotypes. She was not unusually strong, did not possess any extraordinary talents (like having X-ray vision), and most certainly did not look good in a leather outfit (though this was hard to tell, considering that she always wore loose-fitting, body-covering clothing). Why, then, though, did Michael Coren of the Financial Post call her “the most beautiful woman in the world?”
As for special powers, she did help to heal many people and, for those she could not help, she helped them die with dignity. Her most extraordinary “special power,” though, was perhaps her way of inspiring other people to look beyond themselves-to think of others’ needs and to make a difference. Because of her, millions of people have dedicated their lives to the welfare of others. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call “power!”
Mother Teresa is one of a few people to have been granted honourary American citizenship, she won multiple national awards (including the US’s Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize), met and was congratulated by some of the worlds’ most influential people, founded an order that now performs on-going, useful services throughout the world, and, in a short life time, achieved more than most people can even dream of. All that worldly recognition, though, is not what has convinced me of Mother Teresa’s prowess and of her worthy qualifications as a genuine “heroine.” Other people have been honoured by glitz and dazzle, elevated to fame and fortune despite not having earned the accolades.
As we look at the 100th anniversary of her birthday, an event that will be celebrated through the world, I am more impressed by the fact that she was a humble woman who did not cave in to all that attention. She was genuine-something I have great difficulty saying about many other celebrated people. To be a real “heroine,” in my opinion, you have to pass this very basic test. Mother Teresa was everything she was reputed to be when all the cameras were shut off, when public attention was taken away. For that awesome achievement (something that cannot be fabricated), I indeed salute her!
One final note: I find it interesting that the robes of the Missionaries of Charity, the colourful but modest garb of the nuns who continue the good work Mother Teresa started, bear two of the colours we Americans have always held in high esteem-indeed their saris are only missing the colour red. It is fitting that people in this country should celebrate the white and blue colours that now stand for her achievements. Can we say that such decorations fit within our “scheme” of things?
Happy Birthday, Mother Teresa! Although you resided elsewhere, I am glad to know that you (by virtue of your granted American citizenship) were another great American. You were someone I can sincerely hope other Americans-indeed, other people around the world-will imitate and take after.