It was a scheduled flight from Bombay to Rome, Paris and somewhere beyond. In the aisle seat in front of me was a petite woman in the familiar white and blue garb of the missionary order. In preparation for the weather in Europe, she wore a cream woolen coat over the loosely draped sari. A young man was travelling with her – possibly taking her to a donor’s meeting or a forum that she was due to address.

Before the mid-night flight took off, almost all of the flight crew came to her seat. Some bent low with folded hands; others knelt down. All of them asked for her blessings. On the first leg of the journey the flight touched down at New Delhi.  As the aircraft took off from the capital, there was a ‘bird hit’ and the jumbo returned to the airport. All the passengers filed out with their hand baggage. She did the same, but instead of staying in the hotel near the airport possibly went to join her sisters at work somewhere in the city.

Several hours later and after the usual manoeuvres of dismounting the bird-hit engine, waiting for another and remounting the new one, the aircraft was ready for take off. A fresh crew came on board and the passengers piled back anxious now to get to their various destinations. She was in the same seat in front of me.

Once again the crew came to seek her blessings. They belonged to different faiths but perhaps had the inner grace that enabled them to recognise basic goodliness in another.

I sat still in my seat behind her unable to do what the crew was doing. Visions of all the nuns who had supervised my very breathing in the early years of life flashed before me. Was this frail nun of the same tribe or was she different?

As the captain apologised for the delay and prepared for take off, I felt an urge to touch her. I leaned forward and through the gap between the seats touched her right hand. It was warm. Very warm. She felt my hand and turned slightly to acknowledge the touch. She pressed my fingers and then said: “Today, I have learnt another lesson. I feel amazed that this small bird that hit the plane has made such a difference to our lives. We all had to get down, we have all been delayed; it only shows that the most insignificant of God’s creatures can also make a difference to the world.”

That was Mother Teresa. And that was thirty years ago. I often wonder whether I should have also knelt down to get her blessing.  There are no regrets. The memory of her warm touch still lingers and the few words she spoke continue to inspire – “The most insignificant of God’s creatures can also make a difference to the world.” Those simple words now take on a whole new dimension!

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