Saturday, May 8, 2010


There it is–the symbol of Mother’s Day–a bouquet of pink and white roses, pink carnations and fern in a transparent pink vase sitting on the Creole table in the living room. The bouquet was sent to me by Daughter #2 and joined two pale green cards (and what prescience prompted both daughters to send the same color card?) from my daughters, Stephanie and Elizabeth. The cards carried messages like: “For a woman who is admired for so many reasons,” and “you helped me become the best person I can be,” and were acknowledgements of my mothering. Mawkish, no–heartwarming, yes!

Mothering, as most of us know, is a chancey thing. We often doubt that we’re doing the right thing for those entrusted to us to take care of and love. However, we love beyond the doubts, and most mothers I know do the best they can by their offspring. I once preached a sermon in which I talked about how we let moments that are important slip away and later regret it. Thornton Wilder made this point in his play, “Our Town,” through a character named Emily who has died and wants to go back to life for a day. Emily is granted her wish to go back and chooses her twelfth birthday. But that event is filled with pain, the pain of seeing that the daily meaning of life is important and that meaning is little realized while it is going on. Emily speaks into the past that cannot hear her. “Oh, Mother just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Oh, it goes too fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize…all that was going on and we never noticed.” She’s speaking, of course, of the small miracles of living everyday life–a life filled with faith, love, and hope. In Emily’s case, when she was alive she was unwilling to see and celebrate it. "You’ve got to catch it between the lines; you’ve got to over-hear it,” Wilder’s character says. And if we listen closely enough, what we over-hear is how much both children and mothers need and want sustaining love.

C. S. Lewis has said that to love…is to be vulnerable. “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung out and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you have to give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable.” Mothers seem to know all of that instinctively, and most of them embody the opposite of that security-loving person with a casket heart that Lewis describes. Instead, they model the word “kalos” which means loveliness, kindness and sympathy.

Anne Lindbergh, in her book, GIFT FROM THE SEA, describes contemporary mothers as tending more and more toward the state William James calls “Zerrisenheit” or torn-to-pieces hood, otherwise known as doing too many things. And these mothers often have to oppose the centrifugal forces of today by taking time for meditation, prayer, and reading, even a visit to the seashore, so they can become “as still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities, become pioneers in achieving stillness, not only for her own salvation but for the salvation of family, society, perhaps even of our civilization.”

In an anecdote about southern womanhood, the ferocity and protective qualities of mothers are described aptly. A friend of a certain Senator Williams was asked why the rebel army had continued to fight when they knew defeat was certain. And Williams replied that the Rebs were simply afraid to quit and go home because of the women…who weren’t quitters and would have been willing to die for their children.

So, today is the day to celebrate the good shepherdesses who guard the home for those who come in and go out, those who provide a reservoir of love and are the true centers of home life. I salute my daughters for remembering me with such caringness, and I celebrate and appreciate their “daughtering,” as well as their own mothering. Thanks for the pale green cards with the wonderful sentiments and Happy Mothers’ Day to two precious offspring!

Note: The child in the bathrobe is Stephanie, and the one in the sombrero is Elizabeth, ages three and two, respectively. Photo of bouquet by Victoria I. Sullivan.
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