My husband, sitting across the table at breakfast, pointed to a lovely photograph in today’s Wall Street Journal: under a heading, “In Detroit, Christmas Means Volunteering for Many Jews, Muslims” was an image of two women, one wearing hijab, working together in the kitchen of Congregation Beth Shalom, to feed the homeless on Christmas Day.
The press is so frequently negative about religion, particularly about relations between religions, and specifically about Muslims and Jews, that it’s really heartening to read such stories.
Having promised to remember several friends before the Christmas crèche at our altar after late-evening Mass, I stood pondering the scene. My attention was drawn to Mary and the Infant, and I felt powerfully compelled to pray in particular for some “mothers-and-sons” of my acquaintance: mothers of sons who are police officers and firefighters, and who wonder each day if they will see their little boys on the morrow; mothers who have lost their sons; mothers who deal with developmentally challenged sons for whom every day is a bittersweet question, “which mode will we see today, ‘meltdown’ or ‘mild’? Who will love this boy for me, and for himself, when I am not here? Who will see the sweetness of this boy-man, that is so obvious to me, but hidden to others?”
Praying for these mothers and sons by name, it was only later that I realized, I’d prayed for Muslim and Jewish mothers and sons, and agnostics and Evangelicals. I had placed them — all outside of time — before the Infant I call the One, the Word, the Wonder-Counselor, and before his Mother, who gave him her flesh and blood, and who would — forever and ever, science says — retain within her being (and within her very brain!) the microscopic bits of himself, and therefore his Divinity. As the mother of sons, I stood before this Mother-of-all-Mothers, and this Son-of-all-Sons and prayed for all-mothers, all-sons. And I didn’t even realize I’d made a multi-faith Mitzvah.
My husband made a point of mentioning that the story he read was illustrated with two women, and I shrugged and said, “well, that’s what women do, they go into the kitchen and make the tuna sandwiches for the hungry.”
“That’s sexist,” he teased.
I’m sure some wag would say so, but it’s still what women do. Men and women are equal but they are also different, and amid them parents — even spiritual parents — are more different, still. They live under a kind of Sword of Damocles, knowing that at some point, their hearts will experience the thrust of a spear-tipped sorrow that wounds us to our core, on behalf of our children. Even in shared parenting, shared joy, shared grief, men and women cannot help but be different, and some of that may well be because of the lifelong, atomic connection between a mother and her children. For women, our children’s lives are literally within our hearts and heads.
There is that old saying, “a daughter is a daughter all of her life, but a son is a son until he takes a wife.” It’s true. When a daughter marries and has children of her own, she is first a wife-and-mother, but some part of her comes back to her mother — they begin to share an understanding specific to the role. When a son marries, he is quite justly first a Bridegroom — and perhaps a father — and his sonship is subordinate to all of that.
Happily, a fine daughter-in-law helps bridge that separation. But between sons and daughters and mothers, it is still different.
Everything is equal, all the time. It’s just the weight that is differently distributed.
God’s blessings upon all parents, and especially upon all Mothers, and the children they carry within them, forever.