“Wisdom preacheth abroad, she uttereth her voice in the streets:
At the head of multitudes she crieth out, in the entrance of the gates of the city she uttereth her words…”
- Proverbs 1:20-21 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition Bible (DRA)
A mother might flinch here in Paris on May 13. I certainly felt my maternal soul shudder on seeing the image on a huge advertising billboard of a little boy aiming a bow and arrow directly at the viewer. Dressed in chainmail armour, the kid couldn’t have been more than eight years old. Behind him the turrets of a castle in Brittany could be seen. The sign was promoting tourism, and in my humble opinion, aggression. This disappointing sight brought to mind a chilling moment from my adventures these past years in France.
One afternoon walking in the peaceful Montsouris park, I came upon a little boy blithely firing a toy gun at swans gliding on the lake. Then, in some kind of giddy victory jig, he whirled around shooting at his father, me and all the passersby. I stood dead still as the boy’s father looking a bit embarrassed, told him to be careful.
Boys will be boys it might once have been said. But now that boys and girls aren’t even sure whether they are going to be men or women, perhaps the question of what “pretend violence” can lead to is one that we might consider…. What do our games get us ready for? What other play could that little boy have been engaged in? I know one of my former students told me he was always tremendously embarrassed at a kid when his mother insisted he use a plastic dolphin to spray his friends with water instead of the fake guns they used to spray water back at him. This insistence on a peaceable way to play by a wise mother echoes the very serious proclamation for peace written in 1870 by Julia War Howe when Mother’s Day in the United States began.
Every year I have reiterated the peace that first Mother’s Day initiative was based on. After one of the many shooting rampages during his tenure, Barak Obama said he was going to keep talking about gun control. With our own Canadian tragedies like Justin Bourque’s rampage shooting in Moncton, we have just as much reason to remember the real reason for Mother’s day.
After losing their children to ‘gunplay,’ mothers of civil war soldiers pleaded for a day of peace. It was observed for some years until lobbyists for the floral and greeting card industries convinced Woodrow Wilson’s government to remove references to peace. The day has become one of commercialized patronizing of women.
“You don’t want peace.” the advertisers say. “You want chocolates and flowers and cards.” But the mother in me, I can tell you Hallmark, Tele-flora and Godiva, really does want peace. Anne Simpson, another Nova Scotia mother wrote a poem bravely titled “!” some years ago. It inspired a short film depicting a mother’s agony over the lust for conquest that seems to drive warfare and advertising….
So this year, as a Mother’s Day gift, I offer you the short cinema poem. It was produced for the big screen, but today, because of advertisers like Apple computers, it is likely you will only be able to see it on a small screen. I hope its sentiment reminds you that there is an overreaching everyday peace we must strive for far beyond the tiny commercial goals that drive the short sighted “Mother’s Day” marketing machine. Here, instead of pre-movie ads, is an excerpt from Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation, followed by a link to the film.
Mother’s Day for Peace Proclamation for Peace 1870
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
You can see the film Mothers’ Day inspired by the poem “!” by Nova Scotia writer Anne Simpson, here: https://vimeo.com/261804307
Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia artist and filmmaker currently studying in Paris.