An Epitome of Service
In the peaceful picturesque island of Hawaii, life of the natives was simple, joyful and happy as ever. This was only till foreign sailors visited this beautiful islands a few hundred years ago. With their arrival came many epidemics that wiped away a significant portion of the inhabitants. It was in this context the dreaded disease called leprosy struck the locals.
Many views circulated amidst the locals about this disease including that it was a curse and one that affects sinners. No cure was in sight and worst of all, more and more people were afflicted by it. Not knowing how to control the spread the king passed an order that all leprosy patients would be banished to a certain area in the island where they could not access anyone else. Food and supplies were provided, but they were cut off from the rest of the world. To put it shortly, the leprosy patients were let off to die a silent death.
During this time, a noble soul arrived there in the mid 1800s wanting to serve the leprosy patients, as if God had sent him directly. His name was father Damien. He was a Roman Catholic and wanted specifically to be assigned to this islands. Such was his selflessness and affinity towards service.
He was not just a priest, but played the role of a doctor, a nurse and an attendant cleaning the ulcers and helping leprosy patients with everything they wanted. He was their closest friend, philosopher and guide. Father Damien transformed the society in the island into a very law-abiding, peaceful place. Despite warnings that he might contract the disease, he continued his selfless service to the affected.
Father Damien truly represented the highest meaning of religion. He saw God in all. Not just the healthy, but in the leprosy patients who were rotting away forsaken in the lonely island. Service to them was the highest form of worship for him. Every moment of his day was about serving them.
Early in the morning he would help them out of bed and help with their morning ablutions. He would carefully help them bathe in water that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just the right warmth.
The nature of leprosy is to diminish one’s sense of appreciating heat and cold. So the affected would never know if his water is too hot or if his cup of tea was boiling and hence would end up with burns. With this in mind, Father Damien used to take special care with the temperature for the patients.
One day, as Father Damien was boiling water for the bath, the pot fell down accidentally. All the water fell on Father’s feet. But Father did not move a bit. He did not feel a thing. It was exactly that moment when he realized that he had developed leprosy too. How ironic? The one who had wanted to help was himself the affected one now. But he did not worry or regret even for a moment.
When asked, Father Damien would seem totally unperturbed and would laugh and say “this is the shortest route to God”. Till his very end, he served the leprosy patients and in the end succumbed to leprosy thus gaining immortality in the golden pages of history
Mahatma Gandhi himself drew great inspiration from Father Damien’s unparalleled service to humanity.