Mother’s Day

May 10, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we close tonight with essayist Anne Taylor Fleming’s thoughts about why this one is different.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: This is what we think of when we think of Mother’s Day– certainly what we like to think of– moms, happy moms; moms a-swoon in brand new motherhood, dazzled by what they just put on the earth, the cord just cut. Moms pushing toddlers in strollers, or later, standing encouragingly beside sandbox slides or swimming pool edges; or later still, paling around in malls with their adolescent daughters or exhorting from the sidelines their sons’ soccer games. Moms smiling pridefully at graduations and weddings in their decorous “I’m not the star here” regalia. And finally, older moms, vital and handsome, faces marked by generous lives, arms around their midlife children, a grandchild or two crowding into the frame.

The arc of the maternal life. It is all of them we think about, all the mothers getting their Hallmark card due this day in early May, no less celebratory for its obvious commercial tinge. But how not, this Mother’s Day, think of them, the grieving moms of ground zero for whom this is forever hallowed ground– make that sorrowed ground– and for whom this day is another first in their calendar of reckonings — the first Mother’s Day without.

The mothers of the firemen and policemen who lost their lives here, so too many, taking the country’s heart with them. The mothers of the feisty, on- the-rise bond salesman and female executives. The mothers of the secretaries and service people, the waiters and waitresses; the mothers of the pilots of the planes and the passengers and the flight attendants. The mothers who have given birth in the months since September 11 to fatherless children, marking today as their very first Mother’s Day. Single moms, married moms, widowed moms losing their children– hundreds of children. The permutations of the loss can go on and on.

But where do we stop our Mother’s Day reckoning? Because it can be flipped and be just as painful the other way; the children in this city and in other cities whose mothers died here– babies, toddlers, girls and boys, young women and young men now motherless. And what dare we say, even in the next breath– not the same, but the next– what of the mothers of the terrorists or of the Taliban? What do we think of them today, say to them, the mothers of the men in those prisons in Guantanamo?

What an amazing, complicated, huge undertaking is motherhood, about as far in reality from the racks of syrupy greeting cards as anyone could imagine. We look stunned, we in this country, at the mothers of the Palestinian suicide bombers. We’ve seen all too many of them in the past months saying they are proud of their martyred sons– now daughters, too– and would happily see their other children follow in their self- immolating and murdering steps. How can they mean this? Do they mean this?

Mothers give birth to children who can hurt them or the world in ways no doubt unimaginable to the mother of the newborn. Who is this I have put on the earth? What will he or she become? Fireman, terrorist, bond salesman, waitress. See, I hold it all in my hands– the beginning, the sweet beginning. Check with me later, years down the road, to see how it all turns out.

Stand beside me, if you can, at my child’s graveside, death site. Say nothing. Offer no homilies, no sentiments, no remarks– banal or lofty. Nothing. Not today. Today is Mother’s Day.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.