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Justin Frank Headshot

Mother's Day Musings, 2008

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Each of us, even identical twins, has his own unique mother. So the relationship each child in a family has to his mother is different from that of every other child in that family - even though the mother is the mother to every one of her children.

Each of us also has a unique relationship to the same mother - a mother we share worldwide: Mother Earth. The day before Mother's Day was Pangaea Day - a day where for four hours people around the globe could watch the same short movies and listen to the same world music simultaneously. For us in Washington DC, our four hours were 2-6 PM - for the people in London it was 7-11 PM (there was a live feed from the Somerset House there), etc. People in African deserts watched the event projected onto sheets. It was an exhilarating yet sobering experience. You can find more about it by going to and watch the proceedings.

But that is not the only thing I want to share in these Mother's Day Musings. Mother Earth is different for each of us, but two things are becoming certain - her resources are not infinite, and we have to improve how we treat her. Whether one is an active environmentalist, which I am not, or someone who doesn't accept the fact of global warming, which I am also not - we must do better. We must be mindful.

Newborn babies don't have to think about whether or not their mother's breasts will run out of milk. To them, her bounty is without limits - especially during nursing. Only if they are hungry or have colic do babies link their image of the breast with something not so good, something absent. But then it appears, hopefully - the actual breast or a bottle - and the baby feels all is right with the world. If it doesn't appear soon enough, the breast can be experienced as "bad".

At first the baby needs have no concerns about whether it is sucking too hard, whether it is biting too hard, or whether it is taking the mother's breast for granted. It is only when the mother reacts with an "ouch" or begins the weaning process that the baby develops feelings of love AND hate for that self-same source of nurture. Then the baby feels concern, realizing that it values its mother and doesn't want to hurt her - even when enraged at her for one thing or another.

We mostly treat our earth like the boundless good breast - as typified by our second National Anthem "America the Beautiful". We may love our earth but for years have been draining it of its black liquid milk; we may love our earth but we foul it with waste - from things nuclear to a cigarette pack thrown from a car window. We may love our earth, but we continue to spew carbon and other poisons into its atmosphere. And what is amazing is that we all know it but continue to do it anyway - even those of us who recycle.

Yet we have had books like The Population Bomb, which has its 40th Anniversary this year. We have had The Silent Spring as well. All best sellers. We have had "Earth Day" every April. And now we have An Inconvenient Truth - also a best seller. But linking what we know with what we don't want to know is a life long struggle starting from earliest infancy, when our world was pretty simple, mostly warm, and obviously limited (though experienced by the baby as limitless).

We have that baby part alive in all of us, hopefully the capacity to love and feel love being at the forefront. Babies assume the good breast will always be there, but as they grow up they realize that mother has other children, adult relationships, her own worries, and that she even gets angry. As the child feels love and hate together, he becomes able to have concern for his mother, and gets anxious even about her wellbeing - especially when he thinks he may have hurt her.

But at the same time, the child tries to ignore what it knows - that the mother's goodness is not limitless - in order to feel that the good breast will always be there. As adults, parts of us still have the capacity to deny what we also know, despite our knowledge of the life cycle and the inevitability of maternal death, of our own death. One way we facilitate that denial, interestingly, is to try to insure that our children and grandchildren will thrive, and that the earth will abide and provide. This all gives us some sense of connection, of hope.

Yet now we are at a danger point - just remember the Tsunami and Katrina - along with a look at the weather over the past few days with its storms and cyclones and floods and tornadoes worldwide. Just look at the melting Polar Ice Cap. We cannot simply "crown thy good" any more "from sea to shining sea", while asking God to "bestow his grace" upon us. Just as the child develops the capacity for concern upon discovering that it can hurt the mother it also loves, so must we develop that awareness of hurting - perhaps irrevocably - Mother Earth.

Our mother is becoming the bad breast, not retaliating against us for "gay parades" as McCain's favorite minister Hagee warns. But our mother is retaliating because of the harm we have mindlessly caused over the years to Nature, to the now disappearing species of plants and animals. Maybe it is the spate of recent natural disasters or my having visited an exhibit about frogs that led to this sense of danger - that a "bad" earth - replete with poison oceans and contaminated lands - is starting to replace the "good" earth which has served us well. It is not so long ago that Reagan's minions uttered the term "tree-hugger" with contempt. Now it is becoming a term of endearment. Mothers need and deserve our hugs, and so do trees.

Today is a day for honoring and remembering our mothers, whether they are still alive or remain living solely in our hearts. But acknowledging our mothers on Earth Day and Mother's Day are not enough. Acknowledging our mothers means extra work, something akin to that phone call or card or whatever. Mother Earth - the mother who has hitherto been the silent ever-present breast for so many of us - is silent no more. So hugging trees is not enough. Mother Earth needs to be put into "assisted living" - and we all must become her caretakers.