Good Will Mandate – (or How to have a Pleasant Christmas)



The family begins to gather.  First, the child from out-of-town, then the children who live close by, the older grandkids, the aunt, the babies, a neighbor, a few friends, a dog or two (couldn’t find a keeper) and suddenly,  it’s Christmas!  And the festivities begin.

Let there be armfuls of packages, overstuffed bellies, crackling fires, joyful singing, lots of laughter, game playing and couch napping.  Let there be peace on earth, re-runs of It’s a wonderful life, and harmony in our home.  That’s the plan.  That’s my goal.  There may be a grandchild or two that has to spend a little bit of time-out on the stairs or a dog that may need to be put in his kennel to get us there, but we will have tranquility in this house.  I am declaring a temporary nix on all unintended little jabs that quickly escalate into hurt feelings or wounded pride.  I’m also tabling the myriad of discussions that could arouse a little too much passion from an incredibly passionate family.  Why? Because I’m the mom and it’s Christmas.  We can get back to those inflammatory subjects another day.  My mother mandate for Christmas 2016 is: GOOD WILL WILL FLOW

Taking a cue from the way certain political figures field challenging questions, our family now has a brilliant strategy – don’t respond at all to something you’d rather avoid, just simply change subject.  We invoke state capitals as our diversion tactic.  For example:

Auntie, “Have you thought of giving your child less sugar?”

Son, “What’s the capital of Vermont?”

Someone, “Lansing?”

Someone else, “No, Montpelier.”

The rest of us pick up the game, dropping the potentially toxic conversation. Voila, crisis avoided!  

We actually tried this at our last family gathering.  One would think that our Thanksgiving was a scene straight out of Pleasantville.  Perhaps it was a bit too nice and a tad less colorful than previous holidays so I briefly consider lifting the good will mandate. Quickly evaluating probable conversations that might occur over eggnog, I envision,  “Can you believe the President Elects choice for Secretary of State?”

My knee-jerk reaction, “what’s the capitol of North Dakota?”









Kolkata 4 – The Mother House



The Mother House is our next stop and it is where Mother Teresa slept.  Her tiny room is up a narrow stairway and has a bed and a small stack of cubicles used as mail slots for the other sisters.  There is a small chapel in the center of the compound.  Mother Teresa’s body is entombed here.  Her monument is a simple, large stone slab covering her casket with the words, “Jesus, you know I love” in the center of the floor.  There is an alter to Jesus in the front of the room.  A small stream of people enters to pay tribute, to pray or to sing.  There is a row of benches against the wall and some people are sitting;  a few are writing in their journals or reading from their bibles.

There are other rooms on this first floor and a large area in the middle blocked off by curtains and marked “private” where the sisters bathe.  Most of the bedrooms are upstairs around the perimeter and one can see the whole bottom level from upstairs.  It is very open and lovely.  There is a soft breeze blowing and some of the sisters are moving about.  There is a woman from the village sitting on a bench outside one of the rooms with her son.  She has a twisted hand which she is trying to hide.  She must be waiting for one of the sisters.

We meet Sister Nirmala.  She is the new Mother Superior, but she doesn’t want to be called Mother.  The Sisters are only comfortable calling Mother Teresa, Mother.  She is a quiet woman and she asks us about our family.  She blesses us and gives us a charm and some literature about Mother Teresa.  She turns to go about other tasks and we are taken to meet Sister Margaret Mary.  We are in her open office that is in front of her little bedroom.  Here we have the luxury of sitting under the only electric ceiling fan.  We listen to her story.

When Mother Teresa came to Kolkata to start the Sisters of Charity she needed twelve women to devote themselves to the work in order to become an official order of the church.  Margaret Mary was and is number 12.  There are only four of the original twelve left.  Sister Bernadette was number 7 and passed away just 2 days before our visit.  Sister Margaret Mary was grieving her loss saying that they had been together for 51 years.   She told us that Sister Bernadette had showered and looked lovely when she lay down and went to be with Jesus.

Margaret Mary was 17 when she left Bangladesh for Kolkata.  She was studying to be a nun and had heard of the new order called to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her heart was thrilled and she set out.  The boat she was traveling on sank and she was rescued by fishermen.  It took her 5 days to get to Kolkata.  She survived off of watermelon, a fruit that she did not care for but was all they could get because it grew along the shore and supplied both water and food.  Her father was working in Kolkata at the time and Mother Teresa asked him to come every Sunday to visit because she was certain that Margaret Mary would not be able to survive and would have to be taken home.  She told us of a time when she was so tired that her legs would not move.  Mother put her arms around her and asked her if she could just take one small step with Jesus.  She did.  Then Mother said, ” how about one more step with Jesus”.  In this way, they both walked the distance to their rooms.

 We could hear singing in the chapel as we looked back one last time before we stepped outside and got into a waiting car.  I looked at the literature that Sister Nirmala gave to us.  There was a card signed by Mother Teresa that said.

The fruit of SILENCE is Prayer

The fruit of PRAYER is Faith

The fruit of FAITH is Love

The fruit of LOVE is Service

The fruit of SERVICE  is Peace


(artists rendering of Dove)