14 November 2015

For the Mothers

"The mother bears the troubles and anxieties of rearing the child,
undergoes the ordeal of its birth and training.
Therefore, it is most difficult for mothers to send to the battlefield those
upon whom they have lavished such love and care.
Consider a son reared and trained twenty years by a devoted mother.
What sleepless nights and restless, anxious days she has spent
Having brought him through dangers and difficulties to the age of maturity,
how agonizing then to sacrifice him upon the battlefield!
Therefore, the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it.
So it will come to pass that
when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world,
when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics,
war will cease; 
for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it." 

20 May 1912
From a Talk at Woman’s Suffrage Meeting at the Metropolitan Temple,
Seventh Avenue and Fourteenth Street, New York
 (Emphasis added)

I have been thinking so much about the suffering in the world.  Our transition last year from cozy Bloomington, Indiana to sprawling New York, New York was full of turmoil, and I have noticed that my levels of anxiety are much higher than they have ever been.  Concern for my children, my spouse, and myself increased simply by living and moving in this City - and, once that subsided, due to familiarity and routine, a series of life-related issues periodically cropped up, just to keep me on my toes (downstairs smoking neighbor, trouble with the landlord, mice, roaches, leaking ceilings, dwindling dollars - you know, the usual).

All of these are triggers for my anxiety, and sometimes full-fledged panic attacks, and all are rooted in the primal fear of death.

Now - I'm not against death.  I understand that it's a natural part of life, and I've been with those who were transitioning out of this life and, I believe, into the next.  And I get that people do it every day, and mostly for completely normal and natural reasons.  So that's cool.  Only not for me.  And not right now.

And not for the scores of those who die at the hands of others.


I've been reading a lot of L. M. Montgomery, not just her Anne books, but others as well.  She lived in Canada during the turn of the last century, and through the first Great War.  And she iterates time and again that "war is a thing of the past."  It is so interesting for me to see this sentiment raised - and raised again in her books written after that First World War - that this had been a war about justice, and, once it had been fought, there would be no need for further wars.

I don't want to get into the politics of war.  I don't profess to be a scholar in this area by any means, and this is not the platform for discussing strategies and pontificating about why this or the other thing happened.  I support and respect those who choose to serve in the armed forces, and even more those who serve because they feel as though they have no other choice, because that is an entirely different kind of bravery.

What I do want to talk about are these words - written by a woman, almost a century ago - who BELIEVED that there would be no more wars.  That the horrors of that Great War would have sobered the conscience of the world that humanity would grow through it's turbulent adolescence and deal with future problems with the calmness that comes with maturity.

Granted, there was a lot of work yet to be done.  The fundamental recognition of the oneness of humanity - which I believe is essential to the establishment of peace - wasn't even close to being accepted.  There are lots of references In Montgomery's works to what I will delicately call "other people" (read: not of European descent), and this of course arose out of that old manifest destiny clap-trap, which we are still hanging onto in bits and pieces today.  But that's another lecture for another time, and several anthropology courses as well.

But she wished for peace.  And I know why.


As a mother - or, really, as any compassionate human who appreciates the value and fragility of life, but I'm stating specifically as a mother, because that's what I am, and that identity is central to my current argument.  (However, I'm not excluding you, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers, surrogates, and any other title you wish for yourself.  Just to be clear.) - I have enough to worry about.  I don't have time to add "fear of imminent death" to my list.  My primal instinct is to protect my children and allow them to grow.  Added to that is my learned desire to raise children who will contribute to human society in a meaningful way.

You know, no big deal.

That is a tall order, to which any parent may attest.  And it is often complicated by the trials of life:  worries over money, change in housing, normal developmental growth, health concerns, family stress - I could go on and on.  These are expected hurdles that arise throughout life.  The way that I teach my children to meet these challenges will shape they way they move in the world as adults.  And I put a lot of thought into these seemingly trivial concerns.  But then, what if we add the fear of death into the mix - add the stress and anxiety that go along with concern for survival?

That humans in this day are currently struggling with this - and at the hands of other humans - is simply not acceptable.

It is not acceptable.

It.  Is.  Not.  Acceptable.

(I'm totally serious about this, but am imagining Supernanny Jo Frost saying this, whilst gently putting humanity in the naughty chair.)

I'm writing this several times, in case you might think that it could be acceptable.  But it's not.  At all.

Think about all of the other stuff we've got going against us.  I'll help you with some ideas in a handy list form:

1.  Hurricanes!
2.  Tornadoes!
3.  Earthquakes!
4.  Droughts!
5.  Floods!
6.  Volcanic Eruptions (don't think that only people who live in Hawai'i are prone to this - if the Yellowstone Supervolcano goes, we're all in big trouble)!
7.  Environmental and other Natural concerns (I'm leaving that vague enough for you to use your imagination about it)!
8.  Germs!
9.  Clumsy Accidents!
10.  Getting lost in the woods (just ask Elsie about this)!
11.  Bad driving!
12.  Glaciers!

Well, maybe not glaciers.  Depends on whom you ask.

And we are really quite puny and defenseless, when it comes down to it.  We don't even have any real functional fur.  (Also depends on whom you ask.)

So, you can imagine that mothers have a lot to worry about.  We are hardwired to be completely invested in our children's survival.  Even to the point of our own detriment.  We've got a lot to think about, and many "survival plans" to work out in our heads.  I have several "Plan A/B/C" for every option listed above.  And my heart and my head can't add any more - but I have to.  Because I see these in the news every day.  In Kenya, in Beirut, in France, in the United States - everywhere - people are making poor decisions and harming themselves and others.

I don't have time for that.  Nobody's got time for that.  Just in case you thought it was a good idea. 

It's not.

And I always think of the mothers.  Mothers weeping.  Mothers worrying.  Mothers separated from their children.  Mothers whose hearts are aching, whose hearts are breaking.

And for me, this is so beyond politics and religion and countries and money and power.  Because this is fundamental.  This is the root of humanity.  The mother is the heart of humanity.  Every mother who loses a child, in any way, can attest to the depth of this ache.  And when I see these things in the news, I become those mothers.  No, really.  That's how human brains work.  We see things happening, and our brain, on a primal level, thinks that those things are happening to us.  We can reason that they aren't, but I've watched enough Brain Games with my kids to know this.  It takes all of my energy to convince myself that it's not happening.  But still the ache remains.  Because it IS happening, to some mother somewhere.  And I'm not okay with that.  Because I'm not here to let life happen.  I'm here to be a helper.


What if we used all of our brain-power for the benefit of humanity?  I mean, let's just imagine that every human who is born into this world has access to education.  And that no differentiation is made based on any external and unchangeable characteristics - i.e. each person is seen as a noble human being.  And that each person was able to pursue those innate gifts and talents with which s/he is endowed.  Not that there wouldn't be ANY challenges - we grow from challenges, as we can see in the natural world as well, where plants need wind to strengthen their stalks - but those challenges wouldn't be such massive and unmanageable things like war or famine or fear of imminent death.  Just think about the advances we all would enjoy!  Mozart would have nothing on the prodigies of today, nor Shakespeare, nor even Einstein.  Our collective thoughts and passions for our respective arts and sciences would cause humanity to be able to bravely and gracefully address those things that we can't control in the natural world, like diseases and natural disasters.  

Like cancer.  

Guys (again, also gals, but I don't want to detract from the drama).  

We could cure cancer.


So mamas, I'm thinking of you.  All of you.  In our seven billion selves, how many are mothers?  I'm thinking of all of you.

And I know.  It hasn't all happened to me, but I've felt as if it has.  I've imagined it, and, in doing so, I've experienced it.  I've heard about your suffering, and I have felt some of it.  A fraction, maybe a drop, but I've felt it.  I've cried for you and your children.  I've stayed awake all night worrying with you.  And I've been doubled over in pain over you.  I know.

And this beautiful world - this mother - is in labor - she is in the throes of those searing and intense pains - and little by little, these old ideas that divide us are being shed, and we are coming closer with every contraction to bring forth new ideas and beliefs that unify us.  Because we really are all one.


I wanted to close with this (rather lengthy) passage from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, who - if you aren't familiar with the Baha'i Faith, is the son of Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith.  It was written around one hundred years ago, but many of the themes shared are applicable especially today.  

There are also several grammatical and historical references which find their roots in that it was originally written in a language other than English, which has no gender-neutral pronouns, particularly when referring to the Divine.  So, there's that.

Also, there are some triggers for those with anxiety, so don't go there if you've having a rough day.  I just want to be gentle for the mamas.  <3 p="">

And it's also "Lord"y and "God"y and, if you aren't a big fan of that, just look at the social aspects.  For all my atheist/agnostic friends out there.  There's enough in it for everyone.  :)


"O ye lovers of truth, ye servants of humankind! Out of the flowering of your thoughts and hopes, fragrant emanations have come my way, wherefore an inner sense of obligation compelleth me to pen these words.
"Ye observe how the world is divided against itself, how many a land is red with blood and its very dust is caked with human gore. The fires of conflict have blazed so high that never in early times, not in the Middle Ages, not in recent centuries hath there ever been such a hideous war, a war that is even as millstones, taking for grain the skulls of men. Nay, even worse, for flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been levelled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin. Fathers have lost their sons, and sons their fathers. Mothers have wept away their hearts over dead children. Children have been orphaned, women left to wander, vagrants without a home. From every aspect, humankind hath sunken low. Loud are the piercing cries of fatherless children; loud the mothers’ anguished voices, reaching to the skies.
"And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past—imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril.
"Now, in such an illumined age as ours, when realities previously unknown to man have been laid bare, and the secrets of created things have been disclosed, and the Morn of Truth hath broken and lit up the world—is it admissible that men should be waging a frightful war that is bringing humanity down to ruin? No, by the Lord God!
"Christ Jesus summoned all mankind to amity and peace. Unto Peter He said: ‘Put up thy sword into the sheath.’ 1  Such was the bidding and counsel of the Lord Christ; and yet today the Christians one and all have drawn their swords from out the scabbard. How wide is the discrepancy between such acts and the clear Gospel text!
"Sixty years ago Bahá’u’lláh rose up, even as the Day-Star, over Persia. He declared that the skies of the world were dark, that this darkness boded evil, and that terrible wars would come. From the prison at ‘Akká, He addressed the German Emperor in the clearest of terms, telling him that a great war was on the way and that his city of Berlin would break forth in lamentation and wailing. Likewise did He write to the Turkish sovereign, although He was that Sulṭán’s victim and a captive in his prison—that is, He was being held prisoner in the Fortress at ‘Akká—and clearly stated that Constantinople would be overtaken by a sudden and radical change, so great that the women and children of that city would mourn and cry aloud. In brief, He addressed such words to all the monarchs and the presidents, and everything came to pass, exactly as He had foretold.
"There have issued, from His mighty Pen, various teachings for the prevention of war, and these have been scattered far and wide.
"The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt the mind. But once every soul inquireth into truth, society will be freed from the darkness of continually repeating the past.
"His second principle is the oneness of mankind: that all men are the sheep of God, and God is their loving Shepherd, caring most tenderly for all without favouring one or another. ‘No difference canst thou see in the creation of the God of mercy’; 2 all are His servants, all implore His grace.
"His third teaching is that religion is a mighty stronghold, but that it must engender love, not malevolence and hate. Should it lead to malice, spite, and hate, it is of no value at all. For religion is a remedy, and if the remedy bring on disease, then put it aside. Again, as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world. So long as these prejudices survive, there will be continuous and fearsome wars.
"To remedy this condition there must be universal peace. To bring this about, a Supreme Tribunal must be established, representative of all governments and peoples; questions both national and international must be referred thereto, and all must carry out the decrees of this Tribunal. Should any government or people disobey, let the whole world arise against that government or people.
"Yet another of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the equality of men and women and their equal sharing in all rights. And there are many similar principles. It hath now become evident that these teachings are the very life and soul of the world.
"Ye who are servants of the human race, strive ye with all your heart to deliver mankind out of this darkness and these prejudices that belong to the human condition and the world of nature, so that humanity may find its way into the light of the world of God.
"Praise be to Him, ye are acquainted with the various laws, institutions and principles of the world; today nothing short of these divine teachings can assure peace and tranquillity to mankind. But for these teachings, this darkness shall never vanish, these chronic diseases shall never be healed; nay, they shall grow fiercer from day to day. The Balkans will remain discontented. Its restlessness will increase. The vanquished Powers will continue to agitate. They will resort to every measure that may rekindle the flame of war. Movements, newly-born and world-wide in their range, will exert their utmost effort for the advancement of their designs. The Movement of the Left will acquire great importance. Its influence will spread.
"Strive ye, therefore, with the help of God, with illumined minds and hearts 
and a strength born of heaven, to become a bestowal from God to man, 
and to call into being for all humankind, comfort and peace." 
- Abdu'l-Baha