Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

One wonders how Mother's Day became an occasion to buy flowers and patronize restaurants that deliver a long stemmed rose with a mimosa and quiche. I'm not complaining - of course - about a day set aside to be treated in a queenly way. I wouldn't trade one photo magnet or recipe card holder or burned-toast-breakfast in bed...or sweet card or phone call or big bear hug for any amount of money. It's nice to be loved and appreciated. But you have to wonder how Mother's Day for Peace became just plain Mother's Day. Julia Ward Howe was an activist during the Civil War. She was a determined abolitionist, but became involved in sanitation efforts in civil war prisoner of war and army camps - on both sides of the fight. (Apparently we were losing more men to disease in those camps than we were losing in battle.) Julia toured the filthy, death infested camps - so I call her qualified to speak on the horrors of war. She didn't like it. When conflict began to brew post Civil War in another part of the world (the Franco-Prussian war in 1870), Julia Ward Howe declared peace to be one of the two most important causes in the world. (The other was equality.) She wrote the words below, as a declaration of intolerance for war. She wrote in the voice of every woman who gives birth to a son or daughter. And with the words, she began a campaign for a Mother's Day for Peace.
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your 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 out 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 the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,

And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

Julia Ward Howe died in 1910. Mother's Day became a national holiday when Woodrow Wilson declared it so in 1914.

Mother's Day...not Mother's Day for Peace.

And so we have forgotten Julia Ward Howe.**

I can't help but wonder how the world might be different today if, "Disarm! Disarm!" had become the annual sentiment of the day. What if, for the last 95 years, instead of Hallmark cards and FTD orders, we'd been gathering together as mothers united with hopes and promises for peace on this earth?

A "great and earnest day of counsel" for women who love their children.

A day to imagine, together, "the great human family" living in peace.

Happy Mother's Day.

For peace.

**Julia Ward Howe is remembered as the poet who penned the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862.

No comments: