Written by Contributor: Doug Wrenn
“…Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried with her name. Nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved. All the lonely people, ah, look at the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, ah, look at the lonely people. Where do they all belong?”
(“Eleanor Rigby,” from The Beatles)
Some years back, a priest told me that he long ago ceased wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas,” and instead wished them a “peaceful” Christmas because for many people, estranged from their loved ones, be they deceased, or even still alive, Christmas, for some, is not a joyful holiday, but a dreaded one, worsened by the constant reminders from every conceivable venue of communication from about Thanksgiving on.
I have adopted much the same practice, including with holidays like Mother’s Day, equally joyful in intent, yet also equally commercialized, and for those suffering the loss, of whatever reason of their mothers, the incessant reminders are like continually pouring lemon juice into a gaping and already painful wound.
As I write to you now, today’s brilliant and bountiful sun has now slipped into a slumber of darkness, and only but a few scant hours remain to this year’s Mother’s Day. My mother is still alive and I spent time with her today, but Father’s Day is just around the bend, and as both my father and only child are deceased, it’s hardly a holiday I rejoice in. But truth be known, I can’t wait for many of these commercially commandeered holidays to pass, more so because I just soon tire easily of hearing their names incessantly regurgitated no matter where I am.
Many if not most of us have images embedded in our heads since childhood of what Mother’s Day should look like: candy, flowers, presents, families, children, grand children, raucous jubilation, dinner or brunch out in a noisy, congested restaurant perhaps, etc…
During the course of Mother’s Day today I had to do some traveling and as I gazed out the car window, one image after another struck me in my gut and one message after another rang like a chime in my head, and each drove home Mother’s Day to me in a most unorthodox way, and yet, oddly enough, in most of these instances, “Mom” was no where to be found.
I passed a middle-aged, disheveled looking woman in dirty clothes under a highway overpass in an urban area, pushing a shopping carriage along the litter strewn sidewalk and bending down to pick up a bottle and can to add to this day’s “treasure.” Clearly, she was completely alone, despite being in the middle of a very densely populated and bustling area. In a former parish, every week in our prayers of intentions during Mass, one of the intentions listed was to pray for people for whom no one prays. Very possibly, this woman was one of them; the forgotten, the “unimportant.” Where was her Mom? Or was she a Mom? And if so, where are her kids? How did she wind up under this overpass, plying her feeble trade on what should be such a joyous occasion, while directly above her, hundreds of cars speed by, making a non-stop thunderous and intimidating racket, rushing off on their own personal missions, clueless and careless as to this lone, vulnerable woman so directly under them under the tons of violently vibrating steel and concrete.
I got off the highway there because I was detoured by a crash and subsequent traffic jam on the opposite side. I opted for a shore route, and made a quick detour to a little dead end street along the water. It had rained this morning, but much like on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination (and my wedding day), the rain subsided, and bright blue skies appeared, checkered with big, white puffy clouds, a warm, radiant sun, and a gentle, subtly cool breeze off the water. A metropolitan skyline magnificently loomed beyond, while closer to me was a father (presumably), with his young children, one in a wheel chair, contently feeding the ducks and swans. Where was Mom? Was Mom still with this world? Or perhaps, with boyfriend and his family, and she and (divorced) Dad will switch off the kids later as routinely exchanging cash register keys between clerks in a retail store at shift change. Then I gazed at more of God’s creations, the ducks and swans just below the pier. How many of them were Moms? Or have they flown the nest, or perhaps been killed off by predators, sickness, or man’s unknowing, if not callous or cruel, and never ending rape of our precious and fragile environment and ecology?
I sat there for a while, just taking in the whole scene. The only thing I like better than watching people is watching nature, and especially when animals and /or water is involved.
Then after my respite from driving, I continued further down the shore. I saw a father (again, presumably), walking, hand in hand along a sidewalk of a busy divided boulevard with his little girl, cute as a button. The little girl was holding a bag. Where was Mom? Did they buy Mom something special together, and were now bringing their surprise home? Or is Mom somehow out of the picture, and maybe Dad bought his little girl something special to help distract her from what was so unnatural and perhaps painful about this very famous and supposedly special day?
Further down the road, I was still in a busy traffic area and as I rounded a dangerous and blind bend, I saw an elderly man to my right, also dressed quite shabbily, standing at the side of the road, looking forlorn and leaning on his walker, hoping for traffic to cross so that he could pass from the elderly housing complex on the hill above, where he probably lived, to the shopping area across the street. I stopped, blocking traffic in my lane, hoping that I would not get rear ended and also that this poor old timer, now frantically and awkwardly trying to hobble with his walker across this busy road, bereft of crosswalks, would not get mowed down by rapid and menacing on-coming traffic opposite the median. It was rather apparent that he most likely did not have a Mom any more, and very possibly, no one else, either. Purveyors of candy, flowers, and sugary, flowery, almost nauseating greeting cards would all like us to believe that today was Mother’s Day. But clearly, for this old, gent, who almost seemed to disappear, rather than blend into the surrounding scenery, it was just Sunday.
Shortly later, a friend of mine told me she was celebrating Mother’s Day with only her kids today. Dad wasn’t around. Dad was too busy. Dad had to work. But that’s OK. Because Dad was making sure that everybody else had a safe Mother’s Day. Dad is a firefighter, and fires, catastrophes, and medical emergencies very rudely lack the word “holiday” in their lexicon. Clearly, Dad had to sacrifice today. That’s what first responders do every day, because they’re first responders, and as every first responder’s family knows, the job infiltrates the home, like it or not. It’s just the nature of the beast. So Mom was around for the family, but Dad was not, because of his sacrifice, yet Mom made the best of it, because that is also what Mom’s do: they sacrifice, too, yes, even on Mother’s Day.
As I have lost my father and my son, I have friends and loved ones who have lost their mothers. As best I could see, they were holding up OK for the most part today, but contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. It just makes them a little more tolerable.
That priest opened my eyes, and kind of gave me my own sort of “Epiphany,” so to speak. Now I actually get kind of angry when I see and hear all the cheesy, shallow and tediously annoying commercials, ads, and signs, not just promoting Mother’s Day, but immersing us all into it, as if the joy is blindly and robotically painted upon everyone with the same broad brush. Yet at the end of the day, Mom is used as nothing more than a lure to reel in big bucks in a short amount of time. Next month, it will be Dads. In six months, the Savior of all mankind, and two months after that, romantic lovers.
Somewhere amidst all the glitz, sugar, vibrant flowers, fancy meals, loud babbling and laughter is a small dark, almost indistinguishable shadow lurking behind. And buried in that shadow is the collective anguish of the forgotten, the homeless, the elderly, a Dad, trying to be a Mom, a Mom, trying to carry on without Dad, a scared, hungry duckling in a vast, cold harbor, desperately seeking Mom and not finding her, or a little girl, trying not to let Daddy see the tear streaming silently down her cheek, because deep inside, she so yearns Mommy, especially on this day, that it hurts more than she can describe, yet she tries to be a big girl because she knows Daddy is hurting, too. He’s not fooling her.
Or maybe, Mom has departed this Earth. Or maybe, Mom is in a far away land, wearing a uniform, and protecting her country, as well as her family. Or maybe she just moved, or her loved ones did. Maybe Mom has to work, or we are, because lives depend on it while everyone else gets to party and relax. Or maybe Mom is still very much within the sweet sound of her dearly loved ones voices, yet separated for years now, and infinitely onward, because of very bitter words uttered in anger by those same sweet voices so long ago that the excuse (not the reason) has long since passed everyone’s memory. Yet the needless division remains and continues, as does the languishing from the bitterness, the emptiness, the loneliness, and the deep, gnawing stubborn hurt that refuses to let go of its grasp.
For that matter, maybe the unthinkable occurred: Mom is still around, but her child has left this Earth.
Yes, by all means, as one friend of mine said earlier today, “Squeeze ‘em if ya’ got ‘em.” She should know. She lost hers years ago. I know. I remember when she did. Moms touch our lives. That’s what Moms do. But look beyond the all the legitimate joy, and then beyond all the joy we’re told we’re supposed to have. And where you can’t wish a “Happy” Mother’s Day, simply offer a peaceful one.
Then both remember, and pray for those disconnected, abandoned, forgotten, those for whom no one prays, and those without mothers for whatever reason, be they human or animal. Because on our Mother’s Day, for these still all very dignified beings, deemed “unimportant,” either by design or by neglect in our so-called modern day society, it’s still just Sunday, and that’s just not right.
Because they are all far too important.
Wherever applicable, Happy Mother’s Day. But to all, I wish you peace.
Well…at least until Father’s Day.
“Humility is the mother of salvation.”