Mother’s Day. Second Sunday in May, set aside to honor the person who may be the most important influence in anyone’s life: their mother.
This is true regardless of the mother-situation in a person’s life. Even if there is not, or never was, a mother in our lives, that absence itself shapes who we are. The women who have helped mother us, the grandmothers and aunts and older women who were there when we were learning how to be a woman or how to live with and around women, are all honored for their mothering.
Ministers will preach about mothers, children will paint their palms and make starfish-shaped hand prints on construction paper, breakfast in bed, pots of flowers, half-price buffet at Sizzler.
This Mother’s Day will be the first I have spent with no one to honor with a card and a box of candy. It will be strange, but it is life. My own mother had her first Mother’s Day without her mother, as my children eventually will have theirs.
Of course, the gifts and cards are great, especially the heartfelt ones, breakfast cooked with our own children’s hands, cards with crayon stick mommies and children. But, as the old corny cliche goes, what mothers really want is for their children to be happy. To grow to be well adjusted, productive people who are happy with their lot in life, their jobs and their families and who are good parents to their own children. It sounds cheesy, and it is, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
This sentiment is behind the original Mother’s Day. The inspiration for Mother’s Day is actually a cry from mothers for their children, specifically their sons. It was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870 after the Civil War, a particular bloody war in which 700,000 mothers’ sons died on battlefields and in other horrible conditions. Most were killed by other mothers’ sons.
The proclamation is not a sweet tribute to their children, it is not a noble ode to the men and boys who died for their country, who killed for what they believed in. It does not pay respect to soldiers and thank them for their sacrifice.
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
The woman who wrote this poem was angry. She was mad as hell at the waste of life, at the senselessness of war. She knew the sacrifice those sons had made, and understood the sacrifice those mothers were being forced to make, and she was not prepared to do that. She knew it wasn’t fair that mothers carried and gave birth to these children, loved them with their heart and soul, worked and sacrificed to turn them into men, only to have their sons taken from them.
While I cannot fathom the loss women who lose their children to war live with, many millions of women live with it every day, and have since the beginning of time. The women give what is most precious to them, their children.
In today’s world, of course, the circumstances of the loss are different. It is not just sons but daughters, it is not only biological mothers but mothers created by loving a child, regardless of how that child came into their lives. But the sacrifice is the same. These mothers give their heart. And are angry, and call for it to stop.
Which, of course, has not happened yet, ever, and so is likely to continue. Howe could not stop war, just as the United Nations has not, the World Peace Prayer Society hasn’t, nor has Yoko Ono.
But what we can do, as mothers, as women and as human beings, is to begin to defuse the animosity our children feel toward those who would one day become their enemies. There is much to divide people today, just as there has always been. Each person feels they are on the side of right, each child is raised with their parents’ point of view and belief system.
As parents, it is our job to teach our children what we know to be right and true. As this happens, children come into adulthood with different sets of values, each adamant in the certainty they are right. As mothers, we need to meet, if not literally as Julia Howe pleaded, then meet with our hearts and minds with the purpose of ensuring our children do not ever cultivate the hate that makes war not only possible, but often inevitable.
Mothers can teach tolerance, respect and empathy. During a time in which our country, as well as the world, is becoming more and more splintered and animosity is growing exponentially, mothers, perhaps only mothers, can plant the seeds of peace in the hearts of our children. We can teach what we feel is right, along with acceptance for what we don’t agree with or don’t understand. Mothers can raise children who can co-exist peacefully with those to whom they do not relate.
We mothers will certainly never eliminate war. But while we cannot bring peace to the killing fields of the earth, let us create peace in the hearts of our children.
Here’s to a happy and peaceful Mother’s Day for all.