According to a study released by the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent upwards of $14 billion on gifts and other sorts of love offerings for Sunday’s festivities. The same study says that 67 percent of us bought flowers and at least 55 percent took our mothers out to eat. Mother’s Day is the third-highest holiday sales day for card purchases, behind only Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It’s also the busiest day of the year for telephone usage in the United States.
We in this country have celebrated our mothers every second Sunday in May for nearly a century. The holiday’s roots go as far back as 1858, where it originated as a protest against the lack of sanitation in rural Appalachia. It later became known as “Mother’s Days for Peace” and was a nationwide series of protests against all warfare, on the heels of the bloody carnage of the American Civil War.
The women who spearheaded the movement for a day to celebrate mothers were doing so based upon the premise that the moral superiority of womanhood was inextricably bound to the experience of motherhood. Of course, once the noble idea became an official precedent in 1914, it didn’t take long for good old-fashioned American commercialism to wrest control. It very soon became the overly sentimental and saccharine affair we now behold.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the heart behind making setting aside a day to honor mothers. I adore my own mother and do everything within my capabilities to give her an extra bit of veneration on Mother’s Day. At the same time, if I have strewn her path with fragrant rose petals it is because of the battles she has fought for, against, and with me.
I think of my mother, my wife, and other women who ably bear the shield and sword of motherhood with the same admiration as I consider the great military commanders of human history. Battle-scarred in body as well as soul through the pains of birth, the slings and arrows of childhood, the “Pyrrhic” victories of adolescence, and the unending anxiety of departure.
When I think of the best mothers I’ve ever met, I think of some of the strongest women I’ve ever known. The stories. The precious few victories underneath great cascades of defeats. The hidden lonely tears, shed in late evenings. The greatest joys and the most severe aches. To all this, a bouquet of flowers or a mass-printed card with some poetic pleasantries seems far too trite a thing to call an exchange.
But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps it’s not meant to consist of a single exchange, or even a single day, but as a single humble reminder for our wayward and easily distracted minds.
As we, prodigal sons and daughters all, return to the welcome bosom of our mother’s love, we remember she who nourished us even in the shadow of her innermost self from the very point of conception … whose body was rent and distended by our emergence. In the Scriptures, a worthy mother is prized “far more precious than jewels” and King Solomon the Wise writes:
“Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her before others.”
So I too will join the chorus, and lift my voice to those mothers who find, in this, their life’s work and masterpiece.