Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I’m grateful for mothers and all women for the important role they play here on earth. We are surrounded on this planet by mothers and by other women who have an incredibly significant impact on our lives. Forgetting for a minute the role of women in bringing spirits into this world, imagine what earth life would be like if there were no women.

Women truly are the salt of the earth. Years ago I spent six years in the U.S. Marines and had ample opportunity to watch men spend extended periods of time together without the civilizing influence of women. And men under those conditions can be rough and violent and crude. And then I’ve seen those same men in the company of their wives and girlfriends, and they seemed to me as if totally different people. Calmer, more courteous, more solicitous of the welfare of others, and far more civilized.

Now I realize that Mother’s Day is not necessarily a happy day for a lot of women. Not every woman who wants to be married is married, and not every one that is married has children. And some women have lost children and for them Mother’s Day is a reminder of a child they once loved and served and wished with all their heart would find happiness and success in life. And this is the case in our home. Three years ago we lost a 26 year old son, so we too look at Mother’s Day a little differently now. And finally, for mothers who have children, these indeed are very perilous times, and many mothers carry wounds of children who started out so brightly and then made serious mistakes along the way, every one of which was like a sword through their mother’s heart. And even Mary, the Mother of God, when she and Joseph came to present the Christ Child at the temple, was told by Simeon “yea, a sword shall pass through thy own soul also.” So we see, even with a perfect child, mothers are not spared.

But nevertheless, for all this, Mother’s Day is still a happy day. Because if it wasn’t for mothers and the ‘spirit of motherhood’ and the talent for caring and tenderness found in every woman, this world would have been destroyed a long time ago – if not by God then certainly by men.

M Russell Ballard, speaking about mothers and daughters said in an April 2010 speech: “All women have within their divine nature both the inherent talent and the stewardship to mother, and most of what I will say applies equally to grandmothers, aunts, sisters, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, leaders, and other mentors who sometimes fill the gaps for these significant mother-daughter relationships.”

I take those words to be that women should never under estimate the incredible influence their natural God given talent for caring and tenderness has on the children, the men, and the other women that God brings into their life’s circle.

Now, in regards mothers: Neal A. Maxwell said in a speech in May 1978: “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.”

No one in our life has ever served us with more self-sacrifice than our mothers. No one will ever come close. Not even our spouse if we are married. Because with our spouses, we generally have a partnership. We both serve each other. But the relationship between a mother and a child is not a partnership. It is a one way street. Your mother serves you and gets back very little in proportion to what she gives. Think of all the meals, all the washed clothes, all the dried tears, all the diapers, all the baths, all the sicknesses, all the patience and love.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear there is a line that has become a proverb. It goes: How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child. And so I say to all children including myself: Honor your mother. Never take for granted what she does for you. And remember, actions speak louder than words when it comes to expressing gratitude.

Throughout history, women have always been teachers of moral values. Where would we be today if it weren’t for our mothers and all the other women in our lives. How blessed we are to have them.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Zurich May 12, 2013

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My Wife’s Expressions

    My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend in Strasbourg, France in the oft-disputed Alsace region on the German border. You could tell the area had been owned over the years by both the Germans and French – many streets signs were in German, the language was French, the cathedral architecture and much of the food was German, but the palace, pastries and chocolates were French. It was a nice combination: German rigor and order coupled with French warmth and chocolates! But I digress.
      My wife is South African British and I am American. In the early months of our marriage she surprised me almost every day with some new idiomatic British expression, to the point where I was soon able to understand the humor in Rowan Atkinson’s riotously funny Black Adder series. For example, when Hugh Laurie talked about discussing ‘LBW rules’ with his date, I was able, after only a few months of blissful matrimony, to laugh along with everyone else. By the way, LBW stands for ‘Leg Before Wicket’ – a cricket expression. 
     Now, after nine years of marriage I know just when to say ‘Bob’s your uncle’ and in exactly what kind of rainstorm to exclaim ‘it’s a regular monkey’s wedding out there, darling!’ But two of her expressions in particular have become favorites of mine: the first is, ‘there’s a lid for every pot’ and the second is ‘you must cut your cloth accordingly.’ Both have resulted in long philosophical discussions between us.
     The first expression is usually said when discussing someone’s marriage prospects – the point being that the world is full of God’s children, each unique and amazing in their own right. For everyone who tries to live a basically good life, there is surely someone of the opposite sex who would appreciate him or her for their innate qualities – there is a lid for every pot. The second expression is very apropos to this age of the world because it speaks to living within your budget – to cut your cloth according to how much cloth you have. Don’t spend above your means. Don’t put on airs. You have to make lifestyle choices in line with the reality of your situation.
     Finally, my wife has taught me many things about life and love, and in so doing has caused me to appreciate stories in ways I never have before. For example, there are scenes in Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms that when I was younger, I wondered why they were in there. They were boring. Frederick and Catherine going for a walk in the snow and sitting on a bench, talking about nothing, then going back to their apartment. Why did Hemingway waste pen and paper to write that scene? It did nothing. Said nothing. But later I recognized that that scene accurately captured many of my wife’s and my favorite times together. Not doing anything exciting. Not saying anything profound. Just being together, sharing the mundanities of life, feeling peaceful in the quiet of a softly falling snow. A somewhat timeless feeling. What could be better? Oh, except on the way back to our apartment maybe stopping off at a local café to have a hot chocolate – one of those hot 4-blend chocolates so thick it could float a horseshoe, with a little wafer and a chocolate square on the side. With Kimmy, of course.
Best regards,
Zurich, July 5th 2012
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     I’ve taken a rather long sabbatical from blog writing – mainly due to my father’s passing. He lived in a clean and comfortable veteran’s home in Florence, Colorado, about an hour south of Colorado Springs. We all ask ourselves sometimes how effectively our tax dollars are being spent. I must say whenever I visited my father in the rest home, it made me very proud of his service to our country during World War Two, but also proud that our country took such good care of its veterans. The rest home was extremely well run and the staff were friendly and kind to the residents. Also, the medical care was top notch. If my father had any medical issues, they were immediately taken care of even if the tests or treatments were expensive. Further, the home’s policy was to respect the agency of the residents. The veterans were well treated, and I’m especially grateful to my country for that.
     In my father’s case, the rest home was a blessing. He’d been in other rest homes that cost $thousands per month where the service wasn’t half as good as he had in the Veteran’s Home. The price for admission into the home was to turn over his social security and pension checks – about $1500 per month. I’ve done a little checking and I’m convinced that in the free market, the price for the services he received would have been $6-8,000 per month. Who could afford that except the rich?  
     My father was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1924. His father had served in World War One, suffering permanent injuries as a result of being gassed during a battle in France. Nevertheless, my father’s father was a steady worker at Con Edison even during the Depression, until one day he and 5,000 other men were laid off. For my dad’s family, the Depression began then. My father enlisted during World War Two and fought in the Pacific as a U.S. Navy SeaBee – the Navy’s construction battalion. He saw plenty of action, including surviving 3 banzai charges one night on a small island named Los Negros. He later also saw action on Saipan when Japanese soldiers overran an airstrip he was working on. He told the story of how, prior to that fight, General MacArthur came to inspect the airstrip and though there were Japanese in the jungle all around, when MacArthur walked the length and breadth of the strip not a single shot was fired. He said that even the Japanese recognized MacArthur’s special aura.
    My father worked hard all his life. If he ever missed a day of work, I’m not aware of it. We used to live in Brooklyn, New York back in the ‘60s and during the occasional transit strike there, he would walk the 90 minutes each way to his job at the New York Journal American – the Hearst newspaper that folded in 1966. He worked in the Reference Room, where he was one of half a dozen people who every day read every major magazine and newspaper in the country. The newsworthy articles were then cut out and filed in uncounted numbers of cabinets that filled the floor of his office. Needless to say my father was the best Trivial Pursuit player I ever knew. He loved his job at the newspaper. Because he sometimes used the reference room for research, Hemingway used to come by at Christmas and leave a bottle for the boys. Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe came by several times, and Mickey Mantle once slept off a night of heavy drinking on one of the office cots. My father carried these memories with him all his life.
     In 1966, after the Journal American went out of business after a pointless 140 day strike, my father took his severance pay (I believe around $2,000 after almost 20 years of working at the paper) and the family moved to San Francisco. Moving there changed my life and I’ll always be grateful to my parents for making what must have been at the time a terrifying move. My father didn’t have a job to go to. Eventually he found one and we settled down. However, my father always thought of himself as a New Yorker.
     My father died peacefully and without pain on May 31st. My mother passed away in 2001. They are both greatly missed.
Zurich, Switzerland
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