A Mother’s Day Desire for Peace

I had been meaning to read Claude Thomas’ book ever since I heard him speak in Cincinnati last February, but his memoir, "At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace," was a jarring choice of material to accompany the nursing of a newborn. My 6-week-old son lay sleeping serenely on my lap, his eyes and lips closed in perfect miniature curves.

With the baby nestled in the curve of my arm, I picked up Thomas’ book and found myself carried to the Vietnam of 1966, where Thomas was a door gunner with an assault helicopter unit. He completed 625 hours of combat before he was discharged, decorated with numerous medals, including a Purple Heart. He can still taste and smell the reality of war, he writes. Combat is "like being in a surreal horror movie."

As Thomas wrote of wounded and dying American soldiers lying in agony and calling for their mothers, I instinctively pulled my son tightly against me.
Before I had a child, I had known that there was a connection between the historical origins of Mother’s Day and the desire for a world without war, but I had not felt this knowledge is such a visceral way.

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a mother of six and an active abolitionist who lived through the Civil War and witnessed its devastation. In 1870 she issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation, calling upon women of all nationalities to gather for a congress that would promote peace: "Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace …. Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God." Howe influenced Anna Jarvis, who organized a memorial day for women in West Virginia in 1907, and the custom of Mother’s Day spread from there and was declared a national observance by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

This Mother’s Day, I have a new appreciation for all that my own mother did to birth and nurture me, but I will forgo the usual gifts. Instead, I have made a contribution in her honor to September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of family members of the victims of 9/11 who are working through nonviolent means to end terrorism and war.

Thomas’ book, I notice, is dedicated to his son. Meanwhile, the child in my arms is waking up, and I look with wonder into his blue eyes.

Elizabeth Groppe is an assistant professor of theology at Xavier University.

Filed in: Media Coverage

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