A few days ago I had the pleasure to watch a tired mother with her two young daughters riding on the local city transit. The oldest of the two children was probably 6 or 7, the younger maybe 2 or 3. What a sight; what a mother! Never have I seen children share their mother's love so generously with each other. The older sister helped her young sibling stand to see out the window more clearly, pointing out items that she guessed the younger might find entertaining. "look, a bird! see that bird over there..?" and so on. She went one step further, encouraging the younger sister to improve her english: "can you say pigeon?" The mother sat nearby, frequently offering the hug or kiss requested of the youngest child. The older daughter would eagerly help steady her sister to be better able to be on the receiving end of the mother's love.
And the thought occured to me: how abundant and endless must that mother's love be, for an older sister to be so undemanding of attention, so willing to share that attention with someone else, comforted by the knowledge that no limit existed for that kindness; there was plenty to go around, so why make a fuss and try to grab a "lion's share" for herself. One gesture of love did not come at the expense of another, it came in addition to another.
I couldn't tell whose behavior impressed me most; the oldest sister, generous, protective and encouraging of discovery, the youngest sister, who gratefully repaid each generous act with a cute kiss, hug or smile, who, despite the avalanche of love on display, never took it for granted, always demonstrating her appreciation for all she was being given; or the mother, who by God knows how much effort and patient instruction has emerged with such awesome angels for daughters. I feel I witnessed more kindness in fifteen minutes than I see in most full days, admiring this close, giving family from my bird's eye seat.
I had forgotten the wonderful scene, until, coming home from the meeting, I read this story, of a different kind of motherly love, courtesy of the Middle East Times....
Mother axes daughter to death in Jordan 'honor killing'
July 31, 2006
A Jordanian woman hacked her 26-year-old daughter to death in her sleep with an axe for giving birth out of wedlock, the Jordan Times reported Sunday.
The 69-year-old mother and another daughter turned themselves in to police after Saturday's killing, claiming they had acted to cleanse the "family honor," the paper said, quoting official sources. They were charged with premeditated murder, the sources said.
The victim had been divorced for the past seven years and had given birth to a boy on the day she was murdered. Hours later "her enraged mother decided to kill her to cleanse the family honor," one official told the newspaper.
"The mother and daughter waited until the victim went to sleep, took an axe and hacked her repeatedly until they made sure she was dead," the official said.
What am I to make of this story?
What I am to think of a system that, when dutifully learned and lived, results in this kind of conclusion? A mother kills her daughter on the very day that daughter brings a grandchild into the world. Kills her with an ax, no less. An ax... so that their "honor" can be "cleansed". Like pruning the garden, one supposes: trim the dead branches and twigs, pull out the weeds, so that the front yard may look respectable to the neighbors... how am I doing, readers of the koran, am I "getting it"? Is this what you mean when you say you are "humiliated" by the west? That you need to tidy up the room for when company comes over?
What about all those years together, the gentle hugs, the delicate pats on the head, teaching the daughter the joys of learning itself? Don't those memories add up to anything in islam? Does islam sever our natural connections to each other so successfully that a mother could even imagine taking an ax to her daughter's head, for bringing an additional life into this world? Was there so little of a bond created by the teachings of their religious faith, that it could result in not just this "isolated incident" (the media's ongoing cover story for such common acts of butchery) but a sadly regular supply of these incidents. The weapons and means may change, but not the end: dead women, killed in the name of allah.
I try, I really try, to find kinship with all my fellow human beings, hoping against hope that I may learn good from all. What possible good am I to learn from a family fulfilling the dictates of this culture, if such fulfillment results in this animal savagery? Does there really exist a relativist who can equate the mother and daughters I eavesdropped upon my bus, with the mother and daugters we just read about in Jordan?
Is not one unequivocally better than another?
Is not one form of "love" worth spreading, while another in desperate need to be reduced?
Or would a relativist really feel comfortable seeing both approaches co-exist in equal measure?
We need to read and spread these stories of evil, and compare and contrast them with the stories of good that surround our own lives each and every day. There is a right and wrong, there are better and worse, there exists judgments that can and should be made about How To Live. Not all options are equally valid. Some are horrible. Some teach that there actually exists a limit to a mother's love. And as this story teaches us, some mother's are good students of pure, fundamentalist islam.
We met again tonight, in Vancouver, Canada, surviving the repeated dirty looks and glares, hardly "humiliated" for our minority views, since it's a badge of honor to be hated by those who cannot condemn an ax murderer. We meet every week, to try and find common cause with each other, learn from each other, test each other's ideas, in order to arrive at positive moves in positive directions, for our nation and our civilization. It's good to do so, to witness good being done.
At the pro-Israel rally I attended earlier in the week, I felt a connection so deep to the strangers around me that I still ponder its long-term meaning for my life. I felt at home there, despite being in a room full of total strangers. In ways I don't have the vocabulary yet to define, they were "family". There was a connection.
One value system inspires connections between strangers, another inspires taking an ax to the head of your daughter.
We talked about both.
And we'll do the same next week.