Roy Exum: Mother Teresa’s Advice

Monday, January 7, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Today has always been one of my favorite days. I’ll admit I have other special days, for reasons known to no one but myself, but this is the day we get back to normal. Other than awaiting tonight’s Alabama-Clemson game, today is the day we start out fresh, finally throwing some “real lift” into 2019 and I’m already excited about satisfying my own personal curiosity about the best solution to the sewer tragedy in Ooltewah.

I don’t know when I’ve been as bothered over an issue. While I do not have a dog in the hunt, I am openly mystified how two different sides, while quite decided, each contain some of the finest people in our community.  I find I have dear friends in both camps and many who I don’t know (yet) I certainly admire by reputation. How in the world this problem has been allowed to fester … we have more decent and good people on different sides since the Civil War!

Don’t worry, as I try to separate the outlandish accusations, the misinformation accelerated by ‘he said-she said,’ and the ridiculous diatribe of inviting anyone who disagrees with you to come to the dock for “drinks,” I can promise there are some good solutions in the works. Further, I can absolutely assure everyone involved what everybody wants is the same thing, and that’s the right thing.

As I waited on the ‘sleep fairy’ just this past Saturday night, I was nestled among my pillows and covers when I recalled one of my favorite stories of all-time. In the mid-1990s one of my favorite people was involved in a top-secret mission of sneaking a stooped woman from Albania into the United States, to Philadelphia to be more precise.

I can guarantee you no one in Philly could give the slightest care that Agnes Bojaxhiu was coming to visit. But let anyone get the first glimpse of “Mother Teresa” and it was easy to predict soon the whole city would stop. There was an ultra-exclusive reception planned, very secret with no publicity whatsoever, where she would take tens of millions back to the famed Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, and then a clandestine meeting with the President, the General Secretary of the UN, and less than 10 other world leaders to discuss “private matters.”

This is a great story and my deepest regret is no earthly being can match my pal Compolo making it come alive. Now 83 and more beloved than ever, Tony told this story over 25 years ago at a swanky lunch table in New York one day as we had lunch with a couple of other giants. (No, I am not a giant … maybe I’ll explain my presence in my memoirs someday but it is of little matter.) I have printed the story several times and, rather than rewrite it, allow me to reprint the incident as it was first written:

* * *


So the Holy Mother, who was well into her 80s when she slipped into Philadelphia, arrived on a charter jet on the extreme ‘down low’ and, as the unmarked white van, curiously accompanied fore and aft by nearly a dozen swarthy cops on motorcycles, eased through one suburb towards downtown Philly, the inconspicuous yet very curious motorcade just happened to pass group of protesters were seen hurling shouts and vulgar insults outside of a building.

“What are those men?” she asked Campolo, one of the most noted Christian and renowned teachers in the world. Tony, suddenly uncomfortable, told her they were protesting a large half-way house being allowed in the township. “A what?” she asked.

After he further explained a half-way house is where people who have fallen prey to crime, mental disorders and drug abuse are eased back into society. Mother Teresa smiled at such goodness until Tony, shaking his head, added the Inquirer and other newspapers were predicted it would be unanimously turned away. To which Mother Teresa instantly countered, “Let’s stop and go there!”

Campolo tried to tell her not to stop, that they had a tight time table, but any words would be useless. Already she leaned forward to instruct the driver to turn back. Get this: former UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar once declared of her, “She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world.” Who did Campolo dare think he was, he would later admit with a chuckle, to stop Mother Teresa from doing anything?

So the van stopped at the curb and a police dept. captain, riding on the front seat with the driver, opened the rear door so that Campolo could get out, then assist the shriveled nun with her exit. She never needed an introduction anywhere, in her plain white habit, more of a nursing uniform with its French-blue trim, more famous and recognizable than Santa’s red suit. As she was helped down the step, the protesters were instantly frozen and became mute, standing in near reverence, and, with the cop on one side and Tony the other, into the building they went.

There was lively banter in the Commission chamber as the three stepped through in the door. At the very sight of the Holy Mother, there was instantly a complete and stunning silence as “the” Mother Teresa approached the seemingly paralyzed group. “My name is Teresa of Calcutta. By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, a Catholic nun. As my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

She paused to smile at each of the totally shocked commissioners, purposefully one by one, on the dais.

She then kneeled and prayed in English ‘In the name of Jesus, please do not abandon His children …. In the name of Jesus, please do not abandon His children.” One commissioner, his faced locked on the Holy Mother, quietly but quickly changed his vote. In very short order, all of the others did the same.  Mother Teresa stood, gave a short blessing and then, in a gesture to last a lifetime for every soul in that room, silently made the sign of the cross before the assembled.

Tony said his whole body was shaking and that he whispered in awe, “Oh, baby! … I just witnessed an actual miracle.” The veteran police captain, hardened by the dregs of society his entire life, had tears on his cheeks, and the Holy Mother was already walking to the door.

Campolo, who has told the tale many times, uses it to separate the difference between power and authority. The commissioners had the power, you see, but Mother Teresa, by virtue of living her entire life serving the poorest of the poor in the wretched Calcutta slums, had such authority that it trumps power every time. That is how churches should be. Christians too.

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order had nearly 4,000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics in over 200 of the world’s countries. She had witnessed so much misfortune, squalor and pain that sometimes even she questioned the presence of the God she so fiercely and unfailingly followed. Yet her faith never waived.

* * *

So there I lie in bed, this actually around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I wondered what if we could have taken Sister Teresa to that meeting between the WWTA and its opponents at Central High School? What if we could take the stooped nun to the EPA hearing later this month?

We cannot. Mother Teresa died in September of 1997 as an 87-year-old nun soon to be canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church. None of us can no longer take this saint anywhere we go.

But any of us can act like her.

* * *


“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

* * *

Did you catch that last line … “It was never between you and them anyway…”

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