With Mother's Day upon us, the actress Meryl Streep comes to mind. With such films as "Kramer vs. Kramer," Sophie's Choice," "Cries in the Dark," "One True Thing," and most recently, "Mama Mia" and "Doubt," this two-time Oscar winner has played moms who are litigating, dying, morally conflicted, Dancing Queens and finally, Mother Superiors.
She serves as the perfect metaphor for today's column.
"Ma'am, would you two like to sit down?" Simple, polite words, spoken by a nice young man on the Metro Link, coming home from the Cardinals game late one night. Such would hardly be the substance of insult, but such was it taken. For you see, the mannered young gentleman assumed his offer was tendered to a bona fide pair of senior citizens, weary from being up so past their bed time at 10:30 p.m. that they could not stand the entire journey, and needed, were entitled, to take the seat already acquired by youth.
Foolish lad. Little could he know his offer of relief would fall not only upon non responsive, but indeed hostile ears. As the poet says, we are "raging against the dying of the light," and accepting not the ravages of the impositions of time. Some assumptions about gray hair are most decidedly in error.
But while the role, the status and the perception of aging has changed over the years, one thing that has not is status of the bond between mother and child. Old as creation itself, shaped and forged by the sometimes bitter, oft times glorious, experiences of life itself, it changes with the times yet remains clear in its fundamental strength and focus.
As I grow older, I have been enlightened by my observations of my wife, and her relationships with our three now grown children. The child says, "I am not a child!" The mother responds, "You are still my child." It bespeaks a bond that neither time nor distance can break. No matter how old they become, the mother still worries. No matter how far away from the nest, the mama bird still hopes, still prays for her absent chicks. Seeing positives where all others see negatives, light where all else see only darkness, they influence in ways only the gift of age permits the child to see.
Established by an Act of Congress in May of 1914 and signed into law by President Wilson, "Mother's Day" has been a perpetual gift to florists ever since. Supported as well by overtime shifts at Hallmarks cards, it sets a standard for gifts rivaled only by Christmas.
One of only a handful of international holidays, it is celebrated at various times virtually throughout the entire world. Whether motivated by love or by guilt, children feel the compulsion to honor Mom for at least this one day. The means may be flowers, cards, brunch or even a trip to Fast Eddie's, but the spirit is the same - to send some measure of appreciation her way, if only for a little while.
Mankind's most famous mother saw her son rise from obscurity, spend three years in spectacular pilgrimage, only to witness first hand his gruesome death. Knowing the purpose behind the deeds could but only ease but not eliminate her sorrow as she watched her baby boy suffer. If there be any doubt about the very human toll her son's death took from Mary ye need only gaze upon her tortured face in Michelangelo's "Pieta."
The strength of the maternal influence on the past three Presidents is undeniable, with both No. 42 and the current No. 44 essentially raised by a single parent.
The men they became, the story that has been written and lies ahead to be written, can be traced to characters shaped by the hand rocking the cradle alone. In addition to the influence of his father - Bush 41- Bush 43 is the product of the strong guidance of the woman who as wife of one president and mother to another, instilling the values of modest introversion, even to the extent mistaken for the flaws of pedestrian communication.
The uncertain judgment of history lies ahead for all three. But a mother's pride, beamed live or from above, is a shared absolute.
No matter if in person or electronically, with flesh and blood to comfort or only memories to sustain, this Sunday is a special time to refresh, rekindle or if needed, restore that which cannot be totally broken. As the hairs gray and muscles give to gravity, age gives the insight to see that which was hidden in youth.
Gratitude for sacrifices largely unknown and unrecorded, recognition of the role played in the transformations from child to adult, and acknowledgment of the precious gift of time, are summarized with familiar words spoken by those with tiny hands and still others with big bellies - Happy Mother's Day...Love ya' Mom.