A Fierce Leader and Guide
This weekend is Mothers' Day. The holiday began in 1907 in the community of Grafton, West Virginia. Anna Jarvis held a memorial service at her mother's church on that day. Her mother had been well known in her life as an advocate for women's health and for the support of gatherings of women for support, community and organizing. The day quickly gained momentum, with states enacting days of commemoration and celebration of mothers in quick succession. The date and intent of celebrating mothers and their roles in life and home gained so much momentum that by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson had signed a bill creating it as a national holiday.
Use of the holiday varies across culture, and the way that mothers have been honored and remembered has evolved over the years. Anna Jarvis started a tradition of people wearing white carnations as a sign of memorial affection, which then grew to people wearing red or pink carnations celebrating living mothers and white for remembering mothers who had passed to glory.
It didn't take long for the holiday to become "monetized" and for a culture of gift giving, greeting cards and other gestures to become the norm for the day. Anna Jarvis herself was not happy with this trend, and actively campaigned for an end to the holiday's observance. What is interesting is how the observance is kept and held today across the many cultures that have embraced it over the decades.
<History lesson is done!>
Mothers' Day has entered my awareness on a number of levels this year. I am aware of the many blessings my own mother, and the mothering I have received in my life from her and others. That is something I am always thankful for as I grow older...and perhaps a bit wiser. Moving to the forefront, though, has been a realization of just how important Mothers' Day is for other people and their story and culture.
I have a friend, a woman of color, who is a child of the South. She grew up in the midst of the hard echoes of Jim Crow and her grandmother was a witness to the disassembly of the Reconstruction after the Civil War. The women in her life were the vanguard of defense for family, for work and life, for opportunity and hope...and for protection.
As we were talking about the importance of Mothers' Day in her family, Church and community, she told me a story about how her grandmother carried a pistol in her apron. She kept that gun there for a grim purpose. She was the last line of defense for the family against people riding up onto their land in an attempt to intimidate, oppress or drive them off their land. She was the one who set the standard, kept the peace and made sure the family kept its integrity and honor.
Dispel any attempt at romanticizing this image. It is a reminder that women in my friend's community of color had to be that center of life for their families. Too often, men were absent because they were off working and sending money home from a distance. Men were the easy targets of violence. Women were the lynchpin of hope.
Mothers' Day was and is for her and her community a chance to openly lift up and claim the grace, respect and authority for a community that too often is pushed down and held apart from peace and safety, from opportunity and freedom. It is not just a day for brunch and filial affection, it is a celebration of justice and blessing.
My own mother, and my grandmothers before her and all their hosts, fought their own unique battles. One was the first female principle in a school system that did not accept women in chief administrative roles. Another was a partner in a family funeral business who managed a community's journey through grief and loss. One fought with others for equal rights to pay and employment in a system biased against spouses whose qualifications were of equal weight to their male partners.
We too often cloak with lighter sentiment the hard fought battles for justice, education, evolution of the self and advantage to those underserved that these women who are the authors of our walk in this life have created for us.
I grew up making cards and gifts for my mother, grandmothers and mother-guides in my life....my friend grew up mindful that it was because of these figures in hers that she and her siblings were safe and could claim a future from which her ancestors were cut off.
When we celebrate Mothers' Day this year, take some time to realize that beneath the veneer of that white or red carnation is a relationship that has been a rampart for all of us in our lives. For my friend, it is the image of a grandmother with a pistol in her apron. For me, it is of a woman with two small children defending her dissertation. For you....well....that is a picture you are painting in your heart today.
For all who have been a mentor in motherhood to us in this life. For all whom we are sought to provide for because that model is lacking. For all who fill the gap of justice and hope....let us give thanks.
Let us pray for all the mothers among us today; for our own mothers, those living and those who have passed away; for the mothers who loved us and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers some day and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children; for all women and men who have mothered others in any way—those who have been our substitute mothers and we who have done so for those in need; for the earth that bore us and provides our sustenance. We pray this all in the name of God, our great and loving Mother. Amen.– from Women’s Common Prayers: Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured, Celebrated (Morehouse Publishing, 2000)