Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Little Story, Big Message

Common Dreams published an expanded version of this article on Monday: Saving the World

What follows here, is the article I submitted, which is different, and more accurate, than the two The Tidings published today.

By Debi Smith
For the Tidings

The origin of Mother's Day, as it is celebrated in the United States, has far less to do with cards, chocolates, and flower arrangements than many people realize. There are conflicting accounts regarding who the original inspiration for Mother's Day was, however, three of the women most widely regarded as having influenced the holiday are Julia Ward Howe, Anna Reeves Jarvis, and her daughter--also named Anna.

Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist, poet, and the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and in 1870--with memories of the Civil War fresh, and thoughts of the Franco-Prussian war heavy on her mind--she wrote in her journal: "As I was revolving these matters in my mind...I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, 'Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters...?' I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed."

Her appeal, which would become known as The Mother's Day Proclamation, reads, in part: "...Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. ...But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard...."

Julia would spend the rest of her days working tirelessly for peace, including suggesting a national festival, "a day which should be called Mother's Day, and be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines."

At around the same time, Anna Reeves Jarvis, living in West Virginia, was organizing clubs to care for the poor, the sick, and the young--calling them "Mothers' Work Day Clubs." When the Civil War ensued she encouraged the clubs to nurse and care for the wounded of both sides, and following the war, organized "Mothers' Friendship Days." Following her death in 1905, her daughter Anna, inspired by her mother's efforts, worked tirelessly for the establishment of a national holiday honoring mothers and service. She succeeded with this mission in 1914 (though would later come to regret it when the holiday became commercialized) when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May, Mother's Day.

Now we come to the Ashlander part--part one--of the Mother's Day story.

One morning, three years ago, local author Sharon Mehdi went to the coffeehouse above Bloomsbury Books to write. She was trying to write a serious non-fiction book about buried scrolls, but having a bad case of writer's block, picked up a newspaper instead. It was all war, violence, and economic woes. Thinking of her new granddaughter, she decided to pen her a little story--The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering; A story for anyone who thinks she can't save the world.

Sharon shared the story with a few friends, "Here's this little story I wrote for my granddaughter, what do you think?" They liked it. One of the friends took it to two United Nations conferences in New York and an International Peace and Reconciliation Conference in South Africa. Another friend took it to Bloomsbury Books asking them to consider offering it for sale. Jeff Golden happened upon the story and invited Sharon to be a guest on his morning radio program. One thing led to another and another, and the story was soon published by Viking Penguin in 2005.

Not long after, in the summer of 2006, a group of women in Ohio were contemplating the state of the world. One of the women, Deborah Ballam--a Professor at Ohio State University, and the Associate Provost for Women's Policy Initiatives--tells the story:

"Over the last year, we encountered women everywhere who were weary about where the world was moving. And more importantly, we found women who were ready to stand up and do something about it. Men as well. And then we came across the origins of Mother's Day--as it is celebrated in the US--in Jean Shinoda Bolen's book, Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World. In it we read Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation, and realized we wanted to do something for this coming Mother's Day, May 13, 2007. What, however, we didn't know. In October 2006, Bolen spoke at Ohio State and we shared our thoughts with her. After listening, she pulled out a little book--the original version of The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering. After reading it, and talking to Jean, we knew what we had to do."

And so was born the Standing Women project. As of this writing, the website,, has registered 2009 events, in 65 nations, for this coming Mother's Day.

When pressed to talk about the effect her small story has had, Sharon says, "I never wrote a book, I wrote a story for my granddaughter. I wanted her to know that one person can make a difference." To emphasize the power of each person doing what they can do, Sharon shares one of her favorite quotes: "I am only one, but I am still one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." Sharon says that if just one person had been missing from the scenario, hadn't done what they could do, the story wouldn't have gone anywhere.

The quote Sharon shares was written by Edward Everett Hale in, "Ten Times One is Ten." Originally published in 1870, it became the inspiration for the Lend-A-Hand clubs that rapidly grew to include 100,000 members. In a preface to the 1917 edition of the book, Hale writes: "I was simply trying, in an 'invented example,' to show to young people the extent and the rapidity by which the effort of one man extends itself in larger and larger circles...but some who read were more ready than I had supposed anyone would be to try the experiment."

Sharon and the women of Ohio--like Howe, Jarvis, and Hale before them--are surprised that some were more ready than either supposed anyone would be, to try the experiment.

One way to celebrate Mother's Day the way it was originally intended, is to join the Mother's Day Stand to Save the World. Locals will be gathering in Lithia Park, May 13, at 1:00 p.m.--joining thousands of others who will be standing around the world.

In part two of the story, we will learn more about local artist Jean Bakewell, and how she was inspired, in part after reading Sharon's story, to create--with the help of other artists, poets, writers, and organizations--"The Peace Fence," an art installation that will be installed this coming weekend as a Mother's Day surprise for Ashland


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