In addition to catching up on This American Life the last few weeks, I’ve also been catching up on the Moth. Tonight, I listened to the Chicago Grand Slam and, at the end, Peter Sagal related this story about a friend of his and Mother Teresa:
… I just want to share one story with you in addition to trying to come up with stories to tell myself, and listening to them, like these 10 great stories you’ve heard tonight, I also collect ones. And this is perhaps my favorite and it also explains a little bit why I love The Moth and I love a lot of other things that I love like the theatre in particular. And it’s a story that happened to a friend of mine named, Morgan Jenness. When she told me this story she was a dramaturg, that’s somebody, if you don’t know, who works, that is sort of like an editor of plays, somebody who works with playwrights. Now she’s a literary agent in New York City.
And the story was that when Morgan was a young woman and living in New York City, she had trouble – she came from a difficult background and had trouble finding herself; and was very uncertain of herself. And for whatever reason she had become obsessed with Mother Theresa. For some reason, in her young mind at the time, this was around 1980, 81, Mother Theresa was the epitome of human beings. The best kind of human there was. And Morgan so much wanted to be like or with Mother Theresa. And one day she found out (she read in the paper) that Mother Theresa was coming to New York City to visit the UN or testify about something or other. And Morgan was such a Mother Theresa fan that she found out what hotel Mother Theresa was staying at. And stalked Mother Theresa.
So she’s there, at the curb, outside her hotel. And a car pulls up. And Mother Theresa gets out. (I remember one detail of the story that Morgan told me was that first all these little nuns got out – this little row of penguin like nuns getting out- and then finally here comes Mother Theresa).
And Morgan runs up to Mother Theresa who was an old woman even at that time and says, “Oh Mother Theresa, I’m so glad to meet you. Mother Theresa, oh the work you do is so wonderful”.
And Mother Theresa was very nice and took her hand and listened to her. And Morgan said, “the work you do is so important and its so wonderful and I so much..I just want to come to Calcutta and do that work with you…because I just think it’s so wonderful”.
And Mother Theresa kind of shook her head and said, “No no, you don’t do this work because you think it’s good – you do this work because you so love the people – the poor people of Calcutta with whom I work that you can’t be away from them. THAT’S when you come – and you do this work”.
And Morgan kind of realized she had been busted a little bit – in a nice way. And kind of nodded and understood. And Mother Theresa said, “Well, what do you do?”
And Morgan said, ” Well, what I do isn’t important. What I do is I work in a theatre. And I just help put on plays. I mean, what use is that?”.
And Mother Theresa said, to Morgan, who then told me the same story about 10 years later, Mother Theresa said, “There are so many different kinds of famine in this world. In my country there is a famine of the body. In this country, there is a famine of the spirit. Stay here and feed your people”.
Sometimes I feel like by pursuing a subject like poetry, I am somehow taking on something too small or too unimportant in the world. I see designers and professors at Carnegie Mellon tackling the so-called “wicked problems” of the world like sustainability, etc. I try to remind myself that even thought sometimes I fail to articulate why poetry matters (other people have done that, anyway), that it DOES matter. Maybe it’s not the only problem, but loss of interest in poetry could certainly be part of a famine of the spirit.
I think unwillingness to engage with arts like poetry that require some levels of stillness, concentration, and reflection are going by the wayside in (now I’ll sound like an old fart) in these overly-tech-obsessed & constantly connected world. I know I’m not alone in needing a break from it, most people do. And most people will even admit that. So, if nothing else, I hope whatever I design can be restorative for poetry, and the spirit.
Well, that’s as cheesy as I can be today.