Mother loved the old-fashioned iris. We had them in our garden patch at home when I was young, and when I see them today my thoughts inevitably turn to her and the lessons she taught me about the beauty of the earth, respect for all, the importance of life-long learning, the need to stand up for the marginalized, and the value of an empathetic approach to living.
My sister Carol wrote a lovely remembrance of Mom for this Mother’s Day. In it she notes that “If each of my four siblings compared notes to what we loved and remembered about our mother, we would have five completely different perspectives,” as we each perceive her through the lens of “birth order, years of life, school and church activities, marriage partners, and even vacations.” She’s right, and I would only add that major events in the world as one grows up also have a huge impact on our personal and family perspectives.
Turning the corner near the Koiner Urban Farm on one of my recent walks, I saw my first irises of the year. That sighting came during what has been a tough week for anyone who cares about rights and democracy in America. With all that front of mind, my thoughts of Mom went to how she dealt with similar challenges. *
Mom passed away on New Year’s Day in 1998, but her life and the lessons she taught me still provide a helping hand here in 2022. Lessons such as:
- Women are to be respected and valued as people. Mom was the first woman elected as a deacon at First Baptist Church. She worked most of her career under Briley Adcock, a woman who ran our municipal library system. Helen Brown was no radical feminist, but she also did not buy any of the “woman’s place” on a pedestal nonsense we hear so often from right-wing zealots today. Mom was a quiet but effective leader and she valued other women who were leaders. Two of the best bosses in my career were women, and I worked easily in that environment thanks to Mom’s example.
- Books are meant to be read, not banned and burned. Mom was a lifelong reader and learner. She loved books and as both a mother and a librarian she loved teaching young children about books. I am appalled at the push by right-wing zealots to ban books today, as if we learned nothing from the fight against the fascist in World War II. Our country is filled with problems. Reading too many books isn’t one of them.
- Vote in every election. Mom and Dad were informed citizens who voted in every election. They both had a strong BS detector when it came to politicians and pundits. Oh, and they were independent. I know of more than one occasion when Mom cancelled out my father’s vote. I’ve followed Mom’s lead and voted in every election held since my first, the 1976 presidential contest.
- Treat everyone with respect. And that means everyone. We simply were not permitted to be rude to others, no matter how different they were or how marginalized by society. I haven’t always followed Mom’s guidance, but as the country and its leaders have become more intolerant, I frequently remind myself not to fall into that trap.
- Be the person you are meant to be. When I look at my four siblings, I think that Mom and Dad probably succeeded with this life principle beyond their wildest dreams. Even when it was tough, they stood by their belief that each person has to figure out what is in store for them in this world. I have tried, generally with success, to follow their example with our children.
- You have no right to complain if you don’t do the service. Mom did not like cynics who complained without making a serious effort to work towards a solution. She took her turn as PTA president, even though it was the year our local schools were being desegregated following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. She did it because she felt it was the right thing to do, and I know in this day and time, I must follow her example. Mom was always “in the arena” as Teddy Roosevelt would say. **
When I see the patch of iris, I am reminded that Mom is still here, helping me see that we are facing another moment in America where we can change our narrative and our future for the better. It will not be easy, but we need to see everyone — even the marginalized — as humans of value with the same rights we have. We need to educate ourselves so we don’t blindly follow the tribe. We need to do our duty as citizens in a democracy.
It will not be easy, but we have to continue to try, for ourselves, and for our children and grandchildren. Our mothers are calling us.
Happy Mother’s Day.
More to come…
*As historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote, the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision overturning a woman’s right to control her own body — based on right-wing talking points, shoddy history, and the writings of a 17th century English jurist who, it should be noted, had at least two women executed for witchcraft and wrote a treatise supporting marital rape — is “an alarm like the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision.” Dred Scott declared that “Black Americans had no rights that a white man was bound to respect,” and also “that Congress had no power to prohibit human enslavement in the territories.”
The “reasoning” (and I use that term loosely) in the draft opinion, opens up other rights to question, such as the right to use contraceptives, the right to marry the person you please, and the right for interracial couples to live without government interference. Already, Republican state legislatures are preparing laws that would allow law enforcement to cross state lines to pursue citizens seeking abortions in states where it remains legal. What is the difference in those bills and the pre-Civil War fugitive slave acts that allowed Southern slaveowners to cross state lines and “retrieve” their property? Same concept, different property.
**In his famous Citizenship in a Republic speech, Roosevelt railed against cynics who looked down at those who were trying to make the world a better place. “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” he said. “A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities — all these are marks, not … of superiority but of weakness.” It is the person (man in Roosevelt’s day) who is actually in the arena, who comes up short but keeps striving, who counts.