Thursday, May 05, 2005

Chasing the Monsters Away

In a heart-rending scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan, a young medic lies mortally wounded following an intense fire fight. As his fellow soldiers cradle him in their arms, administering dose after dose of morphine, knowing there is nothing they can do for him except lessen the pain, he utters his final words: “Momma. I don’t wanna die. Momma, Momma...”

When I was going through summer training in the Marine Corps during college the drill instructors ridiculed us about everything: our religion, our college, our hometown, our hobbies, our habits, our appearance. Nothing was off limits except … our mothers.

Bob Greene, in an ode to his mother entitled “The Woman in the Photograph,” reflects on the power and depth of the role: “I once knew a homicide detective in Chicago, a man who saw the absolute grisliest, meanest parts of humanity every day. You would expect a man like that to be tough beyond redemption, but I always sensed a soft center to him; a part of him that didn’t jibe with his job. One day I sat down with him and asked him about it, and he told me that no matter where he went in his life, part of him remained a small boy – and that inside the small boy there was the memory of his mother. He told me, “Even when I was in the service, when I’d be out on a pass at four in the morning, I could hear my mother’s voice saying, ‘Joe, get home,’ and I’d go back to the barracks.”

Greene acknowledges, “I know exactly what he meant. I am not the best person in the world; there are things about me that I would change if I could, and that I would not particularly respect if I found them in other people. But I know this: whenever I am doing something I sense might be wrong, I can check myself out by asking myself whether I would be ashamed if my mother knew about it.”

It’s hard not to fall into platitudes when speaking about motherhood. And it has become a delicate subject these days because it is so often linked to politically explosive issues women and families face regarding work and childcare choices. But through it all the terms “mother” and “motherhood” retain their intrinsic nobility.

A final memory from Greene: “My mother tells me, and I vaguely remember, that as a small child I thought there were monsters in my closet. Before I could sleep, I would need for her to make the monsters leave my room. So every night she would say the words – she remembers them even now – “Ruley and duck and goose and wolf, car, airplane, hoo-hoo, and the one who burps – get out of here!” And I would sleep.

“I cringe a little, typing that. But it seems that only by recounting the specific can I say what I mean: that in many ways there is nothing that affects a man so strongly as those childhood years spent with his mother; and that I doubt that children have changed so much by now that they are less needful of what their mothers can give them. For most of our lives it is our own responsibility to chase the monsters away; for a few brief years at the beginning, our mothers are there to do it for us.” (Cheeseburgers: The Best of Bob Greene, 1985).

Abraham Lincoln once said, “No one is poor who has had a godly mother.” So simple. So true. So easy to take for granted. May God bless our mothers to fulfill their noble role, and may God bless us as we honor them. On Mother’s Day, and every day.

– Matt Soper (first printed 5/13/01)


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