Letter #29, 2018: Ireland’s freedom

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

13 So Boaz took Ruth [Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi; Ruth was a Moabitess, not an Israelite, but still after her husband died, accompanied her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel out of loyalty to her], and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son.
14 And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15 And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.
16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.
17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David. —Ruth 4, 13-17. This passage is the description of the marriage of Ruth the Moabitess to Boaz, and of the conception of Obed, who was the grandfather of King David, who was the ancestor of Jesus Christ

Ireland’s Freedom

As I write this, I am in America, in my parents’ home. My father has become 91, my mother, 84.

Her name is Ruth. She told me in January that she always liked the name Ruth because Ruth in the Bible was “so loyal to Naomi.”

Those were the last words my mother spoke to me.

Since three weeks, she can no longer speak.

Yet she hears, and understands. She lifts her thumb up for “good, yes” and moves them sideways and a little down for “no, not that.” She cannot move them further. They say she has ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — so that her nerves are not responding to her mind. They say that she will never speak again.

As I write this, my mother lies sleeping on the first floor. She can no longer climb the stairs.

She can still stand, for a moment, a bit unsteadily. And each night she stands by the kitchen table, and my father leans back his white head, and opens his eyes wide, and she, carefully, intently, drops one eyedrop into each of his eyes so they do not become too dry.

She has entered a narrow world, of self-silence, after a lifetime of speech.

Speech, lectures — she was a professor of history — singing, calling us to supper, waking us in the morning with a shout, and sending us off to school.

I watched her hair turn from bright black to half black, to half grey, to all grey.

And as I look at her, in her silence, I see all of us.

The Psalmist, King David — Ruth’s great-grandson — sang:

3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

—Psalm 8

And now I have this brief word to say: this Ruth, this silent Ruth, my mother, bore me… or rather, chose to bear me…

Out of all space and time, this “me” that I am came to be at one moment, and this woman, who was 19 at the time, and a sophomore in college, chose to bear me.

I am saying it was her choice.

There were those who advised her not to. Including her own mother. But she said “no.”

And from her “no” came my life.

So this evening, as I meditate on human life, and reflect on my own life, I see it all as a gift, as a hard-won gift — hard-won by her — for which I am grateful… for which I am grateful to her, for receiving me, though perhaps it was a rough gift, one she was not fully ready to receive. And yet she received me, and I am now here, with all that I am and have done, and have written, and have thought, and hoped, here, by her side, as she lies dying.

What does it all mean?

It means that life is a great mystery and a great gift.

It means that mothers are to be honored, honored always, by each of us, who depend on them for our very being.

Fathers should be honored, too, but mothers more.

And it means that mothers should be treasured, and helped, always.

And so I come around, as I always do, to Ireland… land of poets and scholars… beautiful, emerald isle… land of writers and saints…

The eyes of the world may or may not be upon Ireland on Friday, when Ireland votes whether or not to lift the protection it has up until now granted in its Constitution to the unborn child. But I will turn my eyes toward the island.

I think it should keep that protection.

Of course I do.

I say that, though not a woman, only the son of a woman, a son who wishes to honor and protect the woman who chose to bear me, and every such woman, not only in Ireland, but everywhere.

Is this chauvinism? Sexism? Narcissism? No. It is the natural love of a child, of a son who is grateful to have been able to draw breath, to have been able to swim in freezing oceans, climb frozen mountains, gasp at the beauty of the dawn and dusk and high noon desert sun.

Always there will be difficulty, and uncertainty, and sometimes great suffering.

But the greatest work of a mother comes in gazing into her infant’s eyes, soul to soul, burning her love into him.

And this is the reason I hope the Irish remember their dearest, deepest things when they vote on Friday, and give to all of us a sign that the Irish are still free, and will honor motherhood and childhood above any other calculation or argument.

In life there is hope, there is love, there is a future, even if difficult, and an old age, and a posterity.

This is the true freedom of every people and race, and it is the true freedom of Ireland, to place life first, and do all that is necessary to protect and defend the most innocent, the little ones, and their mothers, for the honor of the nation, and of the eternal goodness that lies hidden in the background of the universe, and is glimpsed in an infant’s eyes.

I hope Pope Francis will take a moment today, before the vote, to say as much, to the people to whom I belong, in part, through the choice of my now-dying mother, Ruth.

What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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By |2018-06-05T19:43:02+00:00May 23rd, 2018|Categories: The Moynihan Letters|