In striving to do better and meet our goals, we all often look to people who have achieved impressive things before us.
One Australian woman I have always admired is Catherine Hamlin. Catherine and her husband, Reginald, were doctors from Australia and New Zealand who co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia – the world’s only medical centre dedicated to provide free obstetric care and repair for women suffering from fistulas after childbirth. The Hamlin’s are a remarkable example of people who saw a suffering in the world and took it upon themselves to do what they could to relieve it.
The same could be said for Mother Teresa who looked into the face of a starving person and felt a call to do what she could to make their life even a little better.
The initiative that both these women showed in responding to a cry for help and charity has left a remarkable legacy in the world today. Catherine’s hospital continues to provide care for women and Mother Teresa’s order – the Missionaries of Charity – provide aid and care to communities all over the world.
The response by these women has also created an avenue for many other people to practically carry out a call to love. This had included doctors who have continued Catherine’s work, nuns who uphold Mother Teresa’s legacy and people who financially support these efforts.
But before they were Dr Catherine Hamlin and Mother Teresa, these two women were Catherine Nichols and Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. They were daughters, students, ordinary girls. The thing that made them extraordinary was the choice they made to do more. And this would have started in their own homes, making small sacrifices for the good of others, including their own family. If they were to be prepared to pursue such lives of service, these young women would have needed a lot of practice first. They didn’t wake up one day and decide to suddenly be modern day heroes.
The point here is that as people in our ordinary lives, we should not compare our daily efforts to the big, ground-breaking achievements of others. We only see the heroic lives of virtue that bring them to our attention, we don’t see the daily struggles and personal vices they have had to fight to get them to where they are.
An art student can aspire to paint as beautifully as Da Vinci, but their first time putting pencil to paper will not yield similar results. First, they must learn the characteristics of the pencil, the textures of the paint and the effect of mixing the different colours. They must train the movements of their hand, learn their strengths and weaknesses and notice things others don’t. They will also learn their own style and unique gifts they bring to their talent.
With this, they replicate and show the world the beauty in the ordinary, leaving a mark of themselves in it. And so a painting of a simple landscape can be breathtaking when we look at it and see the skill involved in creating it.
In this way, we must become masters of charity. Because charity isn’t about giving when others see it, it’s about giving and loving, even when others don’t. In the mundaneness of life, we are called to refine our skills of patience, recognising the needs of another, deciding when it’s worth to put up a fight about something and when to let things go. We must recognise the harshness in our voice, the inconsideration of our actions and the potential for so much more in every one of us.
This charity begins at home. Behind closed doors, we truly can all be as impactful as Mother Teresa and Dr Hamlin, even though we probably won’t be as famous.
So strive to refine the art of charity, start with little things and you will do big things.
Elise is a 4th Year Medical student from rural NSW who enjoys a variety of sports and being outdoors. She also loves food but when it comes to cooking – she claims to burn water.