678 Is it time to rethink Mother’s Day?

Today’s story was written by essayist and playwright Margaret Dulaney. Her fresh idea about rethinking Mother’s Day will make you think! If you like what she has to say here, you’ll find two other important Web resources at the end of this story. You may not know the history of Mother’s Day, which approaching its centennial in 2012—so here’s a link to Stephanie Fenton’s column on this popular observance.

Why We Should Rethink Mother’s Day

By Margaret Dulaney

Several friends and I recently put on a benefit for a Haitian microfinance organization called Fonkoze. Much of Fonkoze’s work aids women, most mothers, who are considered “catastrophically poor,” a term which is sorrowfully fitting. We planned this event during the time when our own country was gearing up to spend nearly $15 billion dollars to celebrate its own mothers—many of whom might be considered by those outside our country to be “catatonically privileged.”

We should honor mothers. We need them, we need all of them, and this is why I would like to suggest we rethink the American Mother’s Day. Imagine if we were inspired to give the same amount that we give to our own mothers on Mother’s Day (more than $100 per household) to help other mothers, mothers who are watching their children slowly waste away from hunger (300 million), curable diseases (6 million), foul water (400 million), homelessness (600 million), no hope of education (121 million)—and in countless cases no hope at all.

Call it Reach Around the World Day, call it Mothers Everywhere Day. Call it Inter-Dependence Day. No, no, no, I have it! Call it Children’s Day! Oh dear, this just in… There is a Children’s Day. Who knew? It was established by the United Nations first in 1954 (my God, it’s been around longer than I have), reestablished in 1959 (then why haven’t I heard of it?), again in 1989 (good lord, this grows absurd), and reinstated for the fourth time in 2000, when it was connected to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals which aim to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty by half by the year 2015. Where have I been living? It’s on November 20. Did I just crawl out of some cave? November 20. I had no idea. November 20, let me think… Yes, November 20!

November 20 is when we’re counting the shopping days until Christmas, deciding on whether brussels sprouts will be one of the seven “sides” we’ll be serving at Thanksgiving! Reminding us of the plight of children in extreme poverty at such a time makes no sense—we’re already in the thick of it, the dreaded sprouts are piled high on the plate, we’re slipping them to the dog under the table. This is hardly the time!

But, hold on a minute, perhaps this is just the very best time. Thanksgiving has been an endangered holiday for decades, threatened by the tsunami of unbridled gluttony. Perhaps we could save it from going the way of the American Christmas, which has been drowning in the depths of unnecessary consumerism for years. If only we could think of a way to connect Children’s Day with Thanksgiving Day! We might just save the good old holiday and save ourselves as well. Why not? Why not celebrate our harvest by sharing it with the world?

Children’s Day. Think of it. I know the UN and I are not the only ones who fantasize about the prying open of the American heart. Enlightenment, I’ve noted, is most often a slow, seasonal sort of movement, like the halting journey from December to July. There are always a couple of days in mid-February when the light breaks through with the promise of summer, but we’ve still to plod through mud season around these parts. I used to think that enlightenment was a dreamy sort of otherworldly thing. Something one achieved by sitting under a bodhi tree for forty straight days. I thought it would arrive with skull-cracking brilliance and catapult me above the fray, above concern and sorrow. Instead, my few glimpses of enlightenment have most often been attended by piercing heartache.

I watched a movie several months ago that brought to light the human price of extreme poverty around the world (a price that is exacted from nearly 1 billion people) and how much the tiniest fraction of my country’s defense budget could help to alleviate this global anguish. When I tucked into bed that night, I felt a dull pain grow in my chest and spill down my arm. “Is this enlightenment?” I wondered. I cherished that night.

The fact is I don’t wish to be anesthetized by my country’s isolationism, to float happily above the world’s pain. I want to be able to feel, and I believe there are many like me. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world and yet, out of the top 22 developed nations in relation to our gross national product, we rank 21st in generosity (this includes private donations). We lag well behind most European countries, Japan, Canada and Australia. For a more personal look, the US gives 15 cents per person per day to foreign aid, compared to Norway’s $1.23. Much of the world views us as the stingiest people on earth.

I fear it’s still early March around these parts, the ground still crunches under our feet. Yet, there have been times when I have felt the promise of summer in my neighborhood, my event for Fonkoze attracted 300 willing donors. I know many in whose hearts the seeds of compassion have sprouted, even though those plants, like my own, are a bit spindly, due the partial shade of American isolationism. I suspect enlightenment, like grace, arrives. It waits for us to open just enough, to thaw slightly. I believe it’s waiting for us now, ready to melt away our obscured sense of separation, waiting to warm our souls in the full summer of compassion. I hope it arrives soon.

Care to read more?

Margaret Dulaney also has a new Spoken Word Site, www.listenwell.org

To learn more about Fonkoze’s work in Haiti, please visit www.fonkoze.org

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