linchpin/noun/ a pin passed through the end of an axle to keep a wheel in position/ a person or thing vital to an enterprise; a vitally important person; one that serves to hold together parts or elements that exist or function as a unit (Merriam Webster Dictionary); the most important member of a group or part of a system that holds together the other members or parts or makes it possible for them to operate as intended (Cambridge Dictionary)
In Anthony Doerr’s bestseller All the Light We Do Not See, seven-year-old Werner asks a lot of questions: “If the moon is so big, why does it look so little?” and “Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?” and “Can deaf people hear their heart beat?” Frau Elena, the house mother of the children’s home where the motherless Werner lives, has no answers for him. One question that Werner doesn’t ask is What is a mother? It’s an important question that is worth asking, one with many answers. In this month of May, with its special day dedicated to mothers, the question looms large, and the answer is multifaceted because we all have or have had mothers, and we each carry memories of our mothers that will color our answer. But whatever our answer may be, one thing is certain, a mother is the linchpin of a family. She is vital to the societal enterprise called a family. We often hear about her crucial role when individuals who successfully live through hard circumstances in their lives give her the credit. Abraham Lincoln has been famously quoted as saying, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
On Mother’s Day, speakers usually bring out the super mother. You know, the Proverbs 31 woman who leaves all others in the dust, but I’ll leave her for others to eulogize and point instead to Susanna Wesley, a woman of the 18th century with its strictures and limitations, yet one who triumphed as a mother estraordinaire. Historians have given us some interesting details of her life. She gave birth to 19 children (nine of whom, including twins, died in infancy), and, despite physical suffering, two major home fires, and family privation, she set aside time every day to “discourse,” as she said, with each child, giving each one his or her allotted time. She was the primary source of her children’s education. When her preacher husband went on an extyended mission to London and left a substitute preacher in charge of the Sunday services, Susanna became dissatisfied with the quality of the sermons and began holding a kind of service at home just for her cchildren on Sunday afternoons. After a while, word got out about the spiritual and enjoyable services. Nearly 200 people began attending her Sunday afternoon meetings, abandoning the morning fare that the substitute preacher provided. Susanna taught all her children the enduring virtues of self-discipline and perseverance, values needed then as well as now. She gave them a strong faith heritage and saw the results in her sons: John, who founded the Methodist denomination, and Charles, the prolific hymnwriter whose hymns are sung weekly in churches worldwide. Historians call Susanna Wesley “the Mother of Methodism.”
But we don’t have to go back to the seventeen hundreds to find a fitting example of a linchpin mother. Anastasia Kanovalova had to flee Ukraine when the Russians invaded her country. The men stayed behind to fight. Anastasia ended up in Romania. When she was interviewed by NPR’s Michel Martin, she said, “I have a child. I wasn’t thinking about anything but my child,” so this mother said she fled her country with “one sweater and a box of books–math books.” She knew her daughter needed to be taught. A former math teacher in Ukraine, she began teaching her daughter, but before long, she was teaching other children and had enlisted the aid of othe displaced mothers in her little project. With a mother’s drive and persistence, Anastasia established something of a school where her daughter and about 600 other children are learning.
Susanna and Anastasia are two of the best versions of motherhood, but whatever the version, a mother is the linchpin that keeps the family’s wheels from falling off. She is determined, enterprising, resilient, fearless, devoted, caring, selfless, wise, daring, loving–all in the service of her family.
We each have our own private set of memories of our mother. This Mother’s Day, May 8, whether our mother is still alive or has passed on, let us dust off the memories and relive the moments that highlight our fortunate gift of the family’s linchpin and pay a well-deserved tribute to her.
“Mother is the one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.” Enily Dickinson
“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?” Milton Berle
“Motherhood is the exquisite inconvenience of being another person’s everything.” Anonymous