By Heriberto Escamilla
May is the month for Mothers. Just south of the border in Mexico, people celebrate Mother’s Day on the same day every year, on the 10th. Here in the United States, children set aside the second Sunday of the month to honor that unique person from whom we drew our very life. Like most modern holidays, the formal or public celebration of our mother and what she stands for can be traced back to the dawn of civilized existence; to those times when spiritual and religious beliefs were at the forefront of human consciousness; when people looked for meaning beyond the immediate. The pre-Christian Greeks for example, held a springtime celebration of Rhea, the wife of Cronus and mother of all the other gods and goddesses. Some 2300 years ago, the Romans dedicated a three-day period in mid March to the mother goddess Cybele. In medieval times, the people used the fourth Sunday of Lent to celebrate Mothering Day, a day when English servants and workers were encouraged to spend time with their mothers.
In the United States, Mother’s Day began with the efforts of Anne Jarvis, an Appalachian woman that worked tirelessly to heal the battle wounds inflicted by men on their own brothers. Moved by the carnage of the Civil War and the poor living conditions for children, “Mother Jarvis” as she was affectionately known called for a “Mother’s Work Day”, a time when mothers, the people most suited for the job could advocate for peace and compassion. Her cries reached far into the West Virginia countryside, not far enough for the right influential people to hear, but loud enough for her daughter to remember.
A few years later, Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic organized another attempt to celebrate mother. Stirred by the senseless loss of human life during the Franco-Prussian war, she called for Mothers of the world, the people who suffer most when blood is spilled to unite against the war. The yearly call for peace did not spread beyond the Boston area, gradually lost momentum and eventually disappeared from the public’s consciousness.
In 1905, when Anne Jarvis died, the cries for peace and compassion were still echoing in her daughter’s ears. Three years after her death, the younger Jarvis commemorated her mother by passing out white carnations at church services. Two years after that, through lobbying and letter writing campaigns, federal employees wore Mother Jarvis’ favorite flower on their lapels. In 1912, people from all over, each with ears and hearts also burning, formed the Mother’s Day International Association. And in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the bill officially setting aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
And as we reflect on how best to honor mother, let’s also listen to the voices that we almost forgot. Our world is really not complete without them. To the Nahuatl speaking people of pre-Columbian America, our mothers were the tangible expressions of Cuatlique (the one with skirt of serpents). As one of the 5 main poderios, or natural forces through which the creator manifests, Cuatlique loves and nurtures us. According to Victor Sanchez, author of The Toltec Oracle, “it does not matter to (Cuatlique) if we keep using the matter of her body to make canons and weapons, she insists on taking the matter of her physical body to make more flowers, rivers and animals. Her capacity to be on our side, always supporting us, makes her the greatest teacher we could ever have for learning the mysteries and the magic of love”. Simply stated Sanchez, expressing his understanding of Toltec knowledge, reminds us that our mothers’ love for us knows no boundaries. She gives it unconditionally.
We know the Toltecs held motherhood in high esteem through the temples they built, their attitudes toward nature and other customs or creations. But, it’s impossible to know how this attitude toward Cuatlique, toward motherhood manifested itself in daily life; how Tolteca men and women honored their own mothers on a daily basis. We can only draw conclusions from what we read, and what we experience as we actively learn their ways. But uncovering what they actually did with their lives is not the point is it? History and customs are important to us to the extent that we can use them to make sense of today and project our dreams into the future.
It is clear to me that we have always known that our mother is special, our connection to something mysterious and enduring and that we have rightfully looked for the most profound ways of expressing our gratitude. History and the practices our elders teach us provide direction, but ultimately it’s our own hearts that interpret and move us.
Hermanos y hermanas have you left your mother’s side? Have you turned your back to her? Have your resentments sent you looking for unfulfilled love? According to Sanchez, The men of knowledge, the Toltecs taught us that longing for love this way is neurotic, it’s sick. Think about it. Can you really control how much someone loves you? And when you feel loved, don’t you always want more? Can we really meet our need for love and acceptance from others? The mystery of love, my mother tried to teach me reveals itself not in how much love I receive, but that there are no limits to how much I can give others. That’s what the mothers in our lives, all of them, including your wife, and your sisters teach us. When you embrace your mother, listen to what her warmth says to you, but listen carefully, give her your complete attention.
Viejitos y viejitas, the fact that you are standing or sitting reading these words means that your mother kept her promise to the Creator. She took that primordial spark of life that was entrusted in her loving hands, brought us close to her bosom away from the harsh winds and storms that could have extinguished you and me. She carried us until we were ready to take our first breath of air and severing the umbilical cord merely changed how she carried us. All along we cried for more. Yes, some mothers abandon their children and others nourish that spark with drugs or alcohol. Others busy themselves with worldly matters a little too much. The world is not perfect; but it is a perfect mystery. With so much life to embrace, tell me what good can come out of holding resentments?
So on May 10th, or the second Sunday of May, whichever custom you prefer, buy your cards and flowers. Meditate a little on Mother Jarvis, her daughter and Cuatlique. Take mom to lunch or dinner. It’s good for the economy and that ultimately keeps us comfortable. But also remember that nothing, absolutely nothing will touch your mother more than a few words expressed directly from your own heart. You know which ones I mean. And whether you are fortunate enough to have your mother still with you or not, honor and remember what she taught you. There is no limit to how much love YOU can love. Ask the creator for the courage to give it. El es dios.
Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego Campus.