Sunday, May 12, 2013

The sine qua mom post

Today, in case you didn't know, is Mothers' Day (feel free to move the apostrophe, but be quick and quiet about it). This is a day on which we recognize the importance of mothers et cetera, et cetera. We give flowers (dead, dead flowers), we send cards (dead trees and prepackaged sentimentality), make breakfast in bed (when she would rather be asleep) and we celebrate her in meaningless and often intrusive ways.

Yay, I guess.

But what is Mothers' Day all about? I have been doing some thinking about this (always a dangerous practice) and I have come to a realization -- that MD is actually a highly spiritually and philosophically important day. We gloss over this aspect of it because it gives people headaches. Fortunately, I have already taken something to stave off the headache so I will tackle the issue "head on" for all you sensitive folk out there.

Here is a true fact: I exist.

I won't tread out Descartes' logical exercise proving his own existence, or paraphrase it in some cutesy "I blog therefore I am." Instead I will take a different approach -- I exist because a whole bunch of years ago, my mom allowed me to exist. She carried me in her womb, birthed me and then chose not to leave me on a hilltop with a spike through my feet (this was NOT Sparta). I owe certain stuff to my 1st grade teacher. I owe some stuff to my dentist. But to my mom? I owe my own very presence here on the planet. To compound this, had I not been born, odds are, I would not have gotten married, nor had children of my own. Their existence -- their simple presence on the planet, is due directly to the actions of my mother. So to acknowledge her simply as my own source of being is not enough; I have to point out how she enabled my children (whom I, at least today, really do like) to come into being.

Mothers' Day is, then, a day of existential awareness. A day of recognizing the local creator and putting our own existence into a larger context. Even if I am in control of so much in my life, there is some stuff I just can't take credit for. I did not create me. I wasn't even there when it happened. The day forces me to consider what would have happened if the miracle of the womb had not happened all those years ago. I have to think about a world without me and there is nothing more profound, or inducing of humility and praise than that. Veteran's Day? Sure, I appreciate their sacrifice so that I could live AS AN AMERICAN, or Valentines Day where I might celebrate being loved. But these are not celebrations which call forth the basis of my being. In a sense, this taps into the rabbinic understanding of the precise wording of the commandment to honors one's parents. The talmud (Kiddushin 30b) places the parents on the level of god as partners in creation. Mothers' Day needs to be a day of elevating mom and remembering her position as a creator -- responsible for something larger than Band-Aids, carpools and PB+J sandwiches.

So what about Fathers' Day? Isn't that on the same level in terms of the absolute awareness of the tenuousness of my own existence? In that talmudic sense, surely, but on the more immediate level, I think not, and I speak as a father. Yes, we all must appreciate our fathers and acknowledge that they had some role in our existence but I think I speak for many men when I admit that, had my wife not chosen me, she could have snagged a whole bunch of different guys. Had I not hooked her, I'd still be fishing with an empty basket. My kids might not have been my kids and might be asking some other guy for $20 right now. It was her decision which let them exist and be related to me. So we can all say thanks to dad, but he knows in his heart that mom is the reason that the kids turned out the way they did -- as human beings and not as not-human-beings. At least in my case, I'd like to think.

So today, I look towards my mom and say not just "Happy Mothers' Day" but "thank you mom for allowing me to be alive. If I weren't alive right now, I certainly would not be enjoying being alive nearly as much. You are my favorite mom because you had me as your kid and you are my mom and if things were different, well, that'd just be not what it is now and I wouldn't be writing this." And to my wife, I really need to be saying "Thanks for giving ME children, and not some other guy because I like that my kids are my kids with you. You are the best mom in this family because you are the one who had babies and stuff and that's pretty righteous of you."

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