Mom, in addition to the flowers you should get today, I thought I would write you a quick note to tell you how special you have been to me now for 60 years.
You have been my teacher for all those years and I thought today I would tell you something I bet you didn’t know.
Today’s celebration is about more than just being a mom. It is about mothers as peacekeepers — those gentle souls who have from time immemorial always tried to place love and peace above hate and war.
Mom, this special day of celebration can be traced back to a woman named Julia Ward Howe.
Born on May 27, 1819, Howe was a Unitarian and Transcendentalist.
She wrote poetry and plays and was really instrumental in the early woman’s movement. I suppose her real claim to fame was the fact she wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Her words also inspired Mother’s Day. I could tell you about the feeling she put into this day but let’s let her speak for herself:
“Arise then … women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will 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, the 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 voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
Blood does not wipe our dishonour,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough 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 solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.”
So you can see, mom, you are part of that elite group of the human species who continually remind us of the goodness of humankind and tell us of the futility of war and violence.
It is women who continually insist all of humanity is linked through evolution; that all of humanity is common in character and temperament, and most importantly, that the real work to be done is work that is above politics.
For women have that special ear tuned first to God and then to Caesar.
And, mom you can see in Howe’s words the depth of her conviction to place women at the centre of the decision-making process.
Well, as you now know, Howe’s plea to have a general congress of women throughout the world to promote the “general interests of peace” has not come to fruition.
But don’t despair. Ideas move like molasses.
I believe it’s just a matter of time before Howe’s words are turned into action.
Everywhere I go I am continually impressed with the power and earnestness of women willing to rein in the violence that is shaking the world.
Mom, when it came time for your two son’s to march off to war, I remember to this day your wise counsel. I have kept the note you gave to us back in 1967:
“If you boys go off to Vietnam you will be of little or no service to your country. Your greatest contribution will be to object, as a matter of conscious, to the endless cycle of hatred this particular war is spinning. To stay here at home, dig in your heals and resist the call to war will require real courage. Do not be ashamed to resist, do not resist calling out, but do resist the temptation to be silent. By refusing to take sides, you win God’s favour. And that is the victory we need.”
You were right, of course.
And, as you know, my brother and I stayed here at home and fought in the streets of Chicago and on the campus of Ohio State University.
We resisted, we survived, and we are still on the case.
So Happy Mother’s Day, mom. You gave us life, you told us stories about great hardship, you told us what it means to be dutiful.
And like you said the other day, you can only imagine how terrible, deep down inside, President Bush’s mother must be feeling on this day.
But I pray there is still time for her to work her magic as a mother.