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Arise, Mother, Arise

May 8, 2012

Mother’s Day is fast approaching in many countries.  This will be my first Mother’s Day as a mother myself. Knowing how exhausting, challenging, and all-encompassing motherhood can be, I am all for a day that is about pampering all the mamas out there. Trust me, we need it. But, I am also very aware of how far the current version of Mother’s Day has drifted, like so many other holidays, (Christmas, anyone?) from its original intent and meaning. Alas, like so many things, it has fallen prey to the greedy hands of commercialization and consumerism, allowing us to express our love and gratitude through jewelry and other gifts, rather than through heartfelt expression. Granted, the Mother’s Day of today went through a few reincarnations at the hands of different women before settling on the one we have today, involving lots of flowers and syrupy-sweet Hallmark cards.

The seed of what would become American Mother’s Day was originally a day calling all mothers to encourage an end to war and aggression, and to celebrate peace. It was the brainchild of Julia Ward Howe who, following the carnage of the Civil War, rightly saw war as sons of mothers killing other sons of mothers. Her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of 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 out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have of ten 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 his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and 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.

Reading this I am struck by the fact that it is just as relevant today as it was then. I am especially moved by her suggestion to “leave all that may be left of home” to gather as women and mothers, with the same urgency with which men “have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war” , to pursue peace.

I think it is safe to say that all mamas want to provide their children with a safe and comfortable home. (This is true of all parents, not just mothers, but as today’s post is about mothers specifically, I am focusing on them) We lay awake at night wondering how to teach them kindness and fairness, how to be both gentle and brave. We invest so much of our energy into our children. Isn’t it only right that we protect that investment by doing everything we can to ensure that these values that we instill in them are not replaced by aggression, anger, and hatred?

It is my opinion that it is not enough to be peaceful in our own lives. The power of example is great, to be sure, but to truly make an impact we must be actively pursuing peace. We must be activists, questioning those who would so readily send our children to war to protect economic interests. And we need to gather, irrespective of political, religious, or cultural differences, and work tirelessly to put an end to that which makes childless mothers out of so many.  Mother’s Day was originally intended to be a day, not of rest and pampering, but of action for mothers.  A day where we left behind all of our duties, not because we deserved a break, but because there were much more important things to be doing. Like bringing about world peace.

And so on this, my first Mother’s Day, and all those that follow, I am making a pledge to myself to, yes, enjoy the macaroni art and clumsily made breakfasts in bed, and the IOU coupons or hugs and foot rubs (hint, hint) that surely await me in the future, but to also remember the very important role that I have both in my family and in the world in creating peace. Mothers are not the only ones who need to work towards world peace, but perhaps we’re a start.

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