What is the purpose of Mother’s Day? Are we to do what most Americans do and spend on average $172.22?1 Are we supposed to go to a special brunch? Are we to buy some flowers?
In 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and author of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," proclaimed a day for women I’m not sure if today’s observance is what she had in mind. She wrote of the day this poem and proclamation:
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."
This proclamation I believe was intended to remind us that we need to come together to create peace and harmony, and that it is mothers, daughters and wives who suffer when violence and tyranny are allowed to run rampant.
I think perhaps that we often take the relationship that we have with our mothers for granted. For those of us like myself who were blessed to have a mother with whom I was extremely close, the pain of Mother’s Day this year is all the more palpable. But for those who do not or did not experience that kind of closeness, Mother’s Day can be challenging in a different way.
Rabbi Honan shared the wisdom with me that it was me who made my mom a mom. Before my birth she was a wife and a daughter and a friend, but then I came and made her a mom. I realized that truth is fundamental, yet it is the case that I made her a mom and she made me a daughter. It was our existence which made each other’s reality possible. It was our treatment of each other which made that reality a beautiful place to live in. And now it is the absence of her which leaves a hole in my heart.
Mother’s Day should be a day when we contemplate, in the words of Julia Ward Howe, the need for peace and the value of life. It should be a day when we recognize that we are not individuals existing in a vacuum; rather our existence and identity depends on others around us. It was Miriam whose existence provided water through her traveling well to nourish the Israelitein the desert.
“One glorious chain of love, of giving and receiving, unites all living things. All things existing continuous reciprocal activity - one for all, all for one. None has power, or means, for itself; each gives in order to receive, and receives in order to give, and finds there in the fulfillment of the purpose of its existence.” 2
2“Third Letter” Nineteen Letters about Judaism by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. P. 26 of spirit in nature teaching Judaism in ecology