Posted by: minnow | May 12, 2019

What Would My Mother Do?

I don’t know how well I knew my mother. She played her cards close to her chest and few strong emotions, or passions, ever escaped.  The phrase to describe my family: private…to a fault, originated with her. Most of what I understood about her was observed, or deducted through story telling (an activity I loved about my family). Mom was well liked, intelligent, well-read, kind, but also no nonsense. She enjoyed being with my father, socializing with her friends (most of whom were sorority sisters), reading, playing cards, going to the theatre–especially musicals, and (I think) interior decorating and party planning. (She had a talent for it at any rate). My mom was fiercely loyal, conservative, not particularly religious but a woman with a strong moral core. Professionally, she was stylish in her attire and well informed. I believe I would have liked her had I met her as an adult, though we may never have traveled in the same circles.

My mother and I were not particularly close. I allowed a heated exchange when I was in the fifth grade (the only time I ever remember my mother raising her voice to anyone) build a permanent wall between us. After that, as long as I did not demand attention via misbehavior, she left me alone and I told myself I preferred it that way.

This year I turned 60. At times that feels a whole lot older than at other times, especially these days when there’s trouble in the world and I feel helpless to do anything about it. “These days”–that phrase reminds me of the song from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me”. Tevye, the father figure in the story, asks his wife if she loves him. Their daughters have been carried away by feelings of love and he wants to know if her feelings for him have grown over the years. She avoids the question by talking about the “trouble in the town” and their “daughters getting married” but he persists. The first time I saw the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof was with my parents. I remember watching my dad gently reach over and take a hold of my mother’s hand  during that song and I’ve never been able to watch that scene since without thinking of my parents.

So, what’s with the sudden nostalgia?

I miss my mom. It’s that simple. More than I ever remember missing her before. And, with the trouble in our nation I want to know what she would think. I want to know if she would be angry about the direction McConnell and 45 have taken the Republican party. I want to know if she would see what is happening with a sense of urgent concern or if, like far too many other upper middle class Republicans, she would point to the stock market and the low unemployment numbers and try to assure herself that everything was going to be fine, that the ship will right itself.

You see, my mother was never particularly outspoken–certainly not in public–though I knew she had strong opinions, a formidable character trait with deep roots. She did not appreciate spectacle, self-righteousness, or hyperbole, so I know at least that part of 45 would disturb her. My mother’s views were anchored to concepts like, personal accountability, civic responsibility, and intellectual integrity. And now, I want to know what would win out, if what is happening in the world would have pushed her out of her silent observer modality and into an activism, or at the very least the encouragement of activism. I want to know if the feminist and humanitarian I always gave her credit for being, would rise up to be heard. I guess what I really want to know is if I would have her support, her guidance, her wise encouragement and if we would stand together.

At 60, I face a society that does not honor age, does not value women, and does not embrace personal change. These facts leave me vulnerable. I believe the systems that, in my mother’s lifetime, were the pillars of society and seemed indestructible–government, church, family, and education–are cracking and at risk of collapse. And I see that our society, which relies on these institutions, has become less secure because their power brokers have been willing to sacrifice their stability for personal, immediate, gain. Even though those in power have doubled down on their efforts to maintain control and those who do not yet feel in danger of falling may not want to hear that our structures are unstable, those of us who see the danger must rise up. We must sound the alarm. WE must right this ship.

We cannot simply go back to the way things were, for the way things were brought us to this point. We have reached the place in our journey where we must forge a new path if we are going to preserve the integrity of our principles. The only way to repair our foundations is to recognize the threat to their existence comes from within and then to remove the rot. I believe more Americans have anchored their lives to the principles my mother’s life exemplified–personal accountability, civic responsibility, and intellectual integrity–than have given in to blame, self aggrandizement, and intellectual fraud. I believe those voices–if they choose to be heard–can still make a difference, that it is not too late, that our destruction is not inevitable.

I believe the women in my family–my Mother, her Mother, and my Great Grandmother before her–would stand with me, if they could. I believe, as we look toward an uncertain future, these women would encourage me to embrace the challenge, to forge a better path forward for the whole, and to never give up hope that the greater good will prevail. So, that is what I choose to do. That is how I  honor my Mother on Mother’s Day.

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