Mother’s day has always, since its institution as a day in honor of mothers who have passed on, included a hefty dose of melancholy. Motherhood as an abstract represents a Great Good Thing–an idea of self-sacrifice that is constant and unnoticed rather than large and famous, a nostalgia for maternal warmth and acceptance that may or may not accord with the reality of messy lived lives and experiences.
In a lot of ways, Motherhood is an ideal which few of us can embody to our own satisfaction. And yet we recognize the good of it, and we celebrate that good even as we strive to more fully realize it in ourselves.
Mother’s day inspires a lot of angst in women. Women who cannot be mothers, women whose children are not living, those whose mothers are not living, those who feel like failures as mothers or like failures as children, or whose mother-child relationships are plagued by dysfunction. For those individuals, this commemoration and celebration of Motherhood can inspire grief.
But so it should–and that is not so much a reason to avoid celebrating as it is a mark of how Great a Good it is that we desire, mourn, strive for, and commemorate.
Yesterday I watched coverage of the 70th anniversary celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian forces in Apeldoorn. There were equal measures tears and joy in the faces of the old men feted and lauded as they drove through the crowds in their uniforms, gazing at the faces of those generations largely born since the day they marched their exhausted, battle-worn, shell-shocked selves into a beaten, broken, starving nation and brought with them hope and provision and found there welcome and gratitude. How could they fail to remember the soldiers who didn’t make it? Had the Dutch people not lost so many to the war and the Hunger Winter, would they remember with such faithfulness the soldiers from a far-away land who likewise fought and died so that they could move and live freely?
There are no Great Good Things in this world, whether Motherhood or Liberty, that do not cost us tears in remembering their costs and our experiences of privation of the Great Good. There is no celebration worth having that is untinged by melancholy for all that should be, but is not.
Today, let’s celebrate the good we do find, mourn the good that has passed on, pray for the good that is not yet manifest in ourselves, and honor the role mothers play in the propagation and preservation of our lives with both our joy and our sorrow.