Mother's Day—which was today, May 10th in Australia—is for so many people a day of slight discomfort, as we resist the commercialization, yet feel a little guilty, too. We all have a mother, to thank for the gift of life. For some this is a day of grief, and for others who longed to able to have a child, a day of quiet sadness. Usually in my family, this is a day of special gifts, and a meal prepared for my wife, and her mother.
This year, we did something really different. We took part in the Mother's Day Classic, a walk to raise money for breast cancer research. Approximately 40,000 people gathered to run or walk around the Domain gardens, a circuit of 4 kilometres. The event included two rounds, so in all we did just over 8 kms.
Merilyn and I walked with our son Lachy and his friend Julia. She was doing this to continue a family tradition, which an aunt of hers had established some years ago; but she is now too ill to do it, and so Julia is committed to maintain the tradition.
The crowd included large numbers of women with children, babies in prams, and obviously many groups were made up of several generations of the family.
One feature of the event included the invitation to participants to wear a 'tribute' to someone for whom they were walking. Some simply said, 'I am walking for all women.' Others names specific persons, such as 'I'm walking for my aunty Bronwyn', and sometimes these includes a date when that person had passed away. One I noticed, worn by two siblings, referred to their mother who has fought cancer for 8 years and is still living. These were very moving to read.
Each of us wore a number to indicate that we had paid the entry fee. I was entrant number 35,233.
Wearing a number can in some circumstances be a sign of humiliation, as if one has been reduced to a number. Here it was the opposite. The crowd which moved around the Domain was like a huge community. It was a lovely day, and people were all happy. There was a positive, life-affirming feel to this entire experience. We felt good, doing something inherently healthy and life-affirming.
Another interesting aspect of the event was the liberty to engage with the process at one's own level. The first participants, approximately 15,000 of them, ran around the circuit. The rest of us came later and walked. For some, this was a race. Times were recorded, if you wished. Interestingly, our second circuit took much less time than the first. That was because a lot of the family groups, especially many of those with prams, dropped out after the first circuit. It's not a clear photo, but it proves we made it!
As we walked, one thing we remarked upon was the optical illusion that the people ahead were always more bunched up, as if a more intense crowd than those around us. It looked as if we were following 'a great cloud of witnesses', those who had gone before us. In reality, we were just going the same pace and the same way as them, but a little later. So it is with life, I believe.
Mother's Day can be a very difficult time. It was in fact on Mother's Day that I said 'Goodbye' to my mother, and she to me, for the last time. Only a few days later she died. For many, a day such as this can be a day of deep regrets or sadness. These experiences are made so much more difficult if everyone pretends that everything is sweet, life is happy and wonderful between them and their mums. It is rarely so simple.
How much more healthy, honest and constructive to go out and join this event, and contribute energy and funds to help defeat breast cancer, and in the process to reach out for a more positive sense of community.
How challenging, too, that in all my work in the church, to date, I never so much as heard of this event!