In the mid-1990’s the movie ‘Baby’s Day Out’ was released. The comedy centered on a baby who is kidnapped, then escapes to climb out open windows, into gorilla cages, and across construction sites. Ha ha. So much funniness. My younger sister, who was busy defending her first-born infant daughter from the ravages of the world, (night drafts, mosquitoes, diaper rash, colic, etc) couldn’t even watch the trailers for this movie. She kept picturing her own precious little one a hundred feet off the ground, creeping along a steel beam. With no camera crew or special effects artists to rescue her.
I couldn’t laugh at her. As a little girl, the movies and books I liked least were the ones in which parents died. I grew up, but not out of my projection of my own loved ones’ faces into the heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scenes in books and movies. I ensured the safety of my fiancee during our courtship by avoiding romantic tragedies and books about star-crossed lovers. After we married and had babies, we installed child-proof locks, outlet covers, avoided allergens, and banned any portrayal of a child in peril. Even in fantasy stories. If a danger could be conceived of, it lurked outside my children’s door.
I’m in a mess of a time right now. My boys survived childhood without once falling from the top of a construction site, and made me a grandmother. I’m doing my bit to protect this next generation by once again boycotting baby-in-danger forms of ‘entertainment.’ But I’ve discovered that I also can’t watch battle scenes. Because the fathers of the babies I need to guard are now soldier age. When I look at the faces of the boys heading into the fray, whether Narnian Crusade, Middle Earth Battle or World Wars, I see my sons’ faces.
My wildly untamed imagination, my ridiculously hyper-extended sense of empathy and identification, sees the mothers behind these boys* who take up arms and prepare to do battle. The women who would gladly give their own lives for their sons—can’t.
“They also serve, who only stand and wait.” **
And pray. Pray for their child dressed up like a soldier. For strength and safety of body and mind, of purpose and spirit. Today, Memorial Day, I think of those boys and girls, men and women, who died too soon in crusades, battles, wars. And I honor the mothers, who watched and waited and prayed until the day came when they learned the answer to the prayer was “No.”
These mothers couldn’t turn off a television show, walk out of a movie or close a book to avoid their loss. It respects no refusal. My prayer is that great loss merits great Comfort. With them, I look for the day when He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
*I understand that countless daughters have served and died in battle. As a mother of only sons, theirs are the faces I superimpose on the warriors.
**John Milton, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”