(Thinking about Easter 5 and Mother's Day…)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone
who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God,
for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, NRSV)
first day, was to visit a woman in the hospital, a woman who was dying. I sat
with her family, the people who loved her, and I felt, as I always do, what a
privilege it is to be with people at such moments. We talked about the future
and how, very soon, this woman, this mother, this wife would be in God's
embrace. It sounded personal, because an embrace, by its very nature, is
intimate. Children spoke of the people gone on before, now awaiting Mother's
arrival. And the room filled with love.
away, but our love can serve as a conduit for God's, making that feeling of
warmth and comfort palpable to those who need it most. And that can be any one
of us, at crucial moments in our lives: a birth, a death, a disappointment or an
purpose but hijacked by florists and greeting card companies. Whether or not it
should matter to us, Mother's Day can make us feel euphoric or lonely, delighted
or disappointed. Perhaps we had a difficult relationship with our mother, or we
wanted to have children and couldn't, or our relationship with the children we
did have is strained; there are many reasons to feel left out on Mother's Day.
In churches, we sometimes make it worse by recognizing mothers in a way that leaves "non-mothers" feeling devalued. I began thinking about this long before becoming a pastor, when my brother got married on Mother's Day weekend. His godmother, Aunt P., a treasured childhood friend of my mother's, had never married, although she fostered many children over the years from a Navajo reservation where she taught as a young woman, and she godmothered perhaps a dozen of her friends' children. On the morning after the wedding, we went out to brunch at the Historic Billsburg Lodge, known for its "omelet bar." As we stood in line to enter, my mother saw the flowers on the hostess's podium, carnations in a range of hues meant to denote various categories of motherhood. She whispered to me, "We are getting a flower for Aunt P. Don't tell anyone she is not a mother."
Of course, my mother was the mother of other people's children, too. She had struggled through years of infertility in the less scientific decade of the 1950s, watched her peers give birth to large families while she waited and waited and waited for nothing to happen. Having left her career early in her marriage, she found enjoyment in going places with my political father, then a state senator, but she knew other people watched and wondered.
And of course, in those days, you didn't talk about it.
She knew Aunt P's whole story, which included a man she wanted to marry whose background did not pass muster with privileged parents. She knew Aunt P's failed attempts to make her own life at a time when young women of her social standing and economic status stayed home until they wed. She knew, my mother, about not being a mother in other people's eyes, even when you really were in all the ways that mattered.
She knew about not being a mother in your own eyes, and having to adjust the frame around your life to make things fit.
And so my mother–my mother–reached out to the vase of loose carnations and handed one to her friend, with love.