Monday, May 11, 2015

The Center of the Universe

"Woman (Oh Mama)," the first single from Joy Williams following the roller coaster crash that was the two-person, two-album event known as The Civil Wars, is about as subtle as a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal, as Foghorn Leghorn might say.

Let me show you where life begins
I am the universe wrapped in skin

Although the song is an assertive listing of all the things "Woman" is -- many of them contradictory yet accurate -- it is above all else a song about motherhood, the center of our mammal universe, the acknowledgement that without females, there is no life. God may well be a He, but without renting out space in a woman's body, "He" would never have been able to take human form.

Men have spent much of history demanding that we look upon their works with shock and awe, admiration and fear. My sister's favorite memory of me is when she was trying to potty train me, and she insists that once she convinced me that I was making something by dropping a turd into the toilet, I was good to go. Practically every time she sees me, she mocks my proud announcement, "I MADE ONE!" (Personally, I don't think it's nice to mock how one behaved when one was 12.)

Many men manage to move from making poop to making other things -- buildings, motorcycles, essays, nuclear weapons -- but men still tend to measure their lives by what they have built. Look upon my works...

For all that talk and fixation, however, we know where life begins, what must exist for life to continue. And the only part we play in furthering the species is the matchbox igniter.

We have enough sperm in banks that two generations of men could disappear in a "Left Behind" instant, and the human race would survive just fine. If the wombs disappear, however, we're done as a species.

When we celebrate Father's Day, most of us celebrate a priceless choice, the willful act of a man to engage meaningfully in the life or lives of his offspring (or in the lives of those he takes under a metaphorical wing).

When we celebrate Mother's Day, we celebrate a choice, yes, but also a non-negotiable necessity. We celebrate the single thing that moves, and has always moved, our species down the river of time.

Women are no longer defined by, or valued predominately for, their child-bearing abilities, thank God. The more advanced we become, the more bearing children is a choice that can be undertaken with certitude. The farther away we can get from the alternate universe of "The Handmaid's Tale," the better off we will be. If the consequence of this good evolution is to ruin all the hard work men have done to commodify our existence, most of us could live with that.

Over the weekend, the blogosphere -- or at least the version shared in my Facebook stream -- involved a lot of hemming and hawing about Mother's Day. Among the complaints and critiques are that celebrating mothers:
  • insults those who cannot bear children;
  • insults those who admirably choose not to bear children;
  • saddens those whose mothers have died;
  • saddens those whose mother is emotionally or physically abusive, neglectful, abandoned them, etc.
Lately, we can't seem to celebrate much of anything without being slapped in the face for our celebrations unintentionally slapping others in the face. The problem: celebration is a collective and unifying experience while sympathy far more effective when it involves a personal connection.

At our church Sunday during the Mother's Day service, a high school senior who hasn't attended much recently was there. I went out of my way to go over after the service and chat with him. His mother died in January. Something about this day called him back to our church, despite the fact that we would be, on some level or another, be celebrating mothers, despite the fact that the day would probably be made harder, possibly sadder, for being surrounded by so many mothers with their children in the pews.

I weep for that young man and what he has lost, and I hope for him. But to have that hinder our celebration of motherhood? Isn't that counterproductive, literally? Can't we celebrate, loudly and proudly as a culture if not a species, the one thing that we must have, indisputably, to be a culture and a species in the first dang place

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