There is no escaping them: At newsstands, in checkout lines, in advertisements… the “famous” ambush us with their non-ordinariness. Their fame and their exceptional lives are dangled in front of us as something to be envied and as something to be desired. As a result many of us live our ordinary lives as if the days that constitute them are simply some kind of interruption on our way to happiness. Since the day in which I find myself is actually the only occasion in which to be happy, is it any wonder that our disconnectedness from our daily living leaves us with little clue about how to “become” happy? When we view the life that we are living as interfering with our pursuit of happiness we guarantee that we will never find that happiness.
And then there’s Mother Theresa, that skinny little Albanian whose first priority was not “How can I be happy”, but rather how to put first the happiness and welfare of others. One day she realized “how” and left her safe convent life to live in the midst of the ordinary lives of ordinary others until her death on September 5th, 1997. Sharing a life in the gutters with those who had no other option, she enabled them to see and believe in the sacredness of the ordinary. She helped the ordinary person come to know that God… unlike the happiness that modern-day culture sells us… is not “out there”, not somewhere in future, and that it is not dependent on fame, money, or exceptional circumstances. By the example of her own life she proved that happiness is rooted in being present to wherever we are.
In the Fall of 1975 Mother Theresa came to the Catholic University in Washington, DC to give an address. That same Fall I was at the Carmelite Major Seminary in Washington DC, right off of Harwood Road, right down the street from Catholic University. The Carmelite house was set deep back into the property and had a very long driveway going out to Harwood, to the left of which sat a house for the Augustinian Nuns. After supper in the evening I developed the custom of taking a slow walk down that long drive, at the end of which I then turned around, slowly walked back, and then hit the books. One evening when I reached the end of the drive I turned around and was stunned into immobility to see Mother Theresa standing in the doorway of the Augustinian Nuns house talking with someone. What floored me was how tiny and thin she was, a little bird-of-a-woman seemingly held together by her blue and white sari. I stood there thinking, “How can such a tiny, ordinary person be such a moral hurricane in the world?!” Apparently, size doesn’t matter!
Does your life matter?