“A mother’s arms are strong when her child is in danger.” (Dream, Sr. Prejean, Dead Man Walking) I’m covering classes for a co-worker for the next few weeks and therefore I am exposed to a whole new curriculum. One of my adopted classes is studying the dignity of life. They are reading articles, watching movies, and studying the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, all in an effort to evaluate the ethical and cultural implications of the death penalty. This study will culminate in a socratic seminar next week.
I can’t wait. A socratic seminar is like a symposium where the students offer their own analysis and evidence on the death penalty, based on class resources, CST, and independent study. It’s a sensitive issue. Interestingly the students are as divided as our country. This is dangerous territory for an adolescent, taking a stand on an issue that might go against popular opinion, and by the way they are very interested in my opinion. I remain noticeably mute.
I want them to search their own hearts, inform their own conscious, and therefore develop their own opinions. Teachers have an incredible influence over their students, this is where the strong arms come in, as we turn them towards themselves.
In another adopted class I’m learning about virtue ethics. We are reading articles on deontology and consequentialism. It is a fascinating struggle. Deontology is duty based ethics; do unto others as you would have them do unto you, as in lying or stealing. I don’t want you to lie to me therefore I will not lie to you. But is it ever permissible to lie? Not if you are a deontologist. What if a Nazis is knocking on my door, he wants to know if I’m hiding anyone, and I’m harboring Anne Frank. A deontologist would tell the truth.
Now if you consider consequentialism, the morally right action in any given circumstance with the best overall consequences, then your choice is easy. Right? Not always.
We watched a clip from Grey’s Anatomy. The scene begins in the surgery room (I linked the clip below). A man is undergoing brain surgery, when a doctor barges into the room, and wants to stop the procedure. There is a child with a degenerative disease who will die if he doesn’t receive several organ transplants immediately. The doctor wants to harvest the man’s organs for the child. I’m stunned, this could be my husband, and I cannot fathom why she wants to sacrifice his life?
Then we learn about the extenuating circumstances. He is a serial killer. He is on death row and scheduled to be put to death in five days. His organs will not be usable if he is put to death by lethal injection. What do you do? The boy is dying, the man is dying, our morality is challenged. This is where the strong arms come in, holding ourselves accountable, for our own moral decisions.
“A mother’s arms are strong when her child is in danger.” (Dream, Sr. Prejean, Dead Man Walking) Of course I am forced to consider my own children and the decisions they are making as they carve out lives of their own choosing. I realize their choices will take them in directions I’m not comfortable with, or maybe I don’t approve of, but I have learned they will proceed, with or without my blessing.
My oldest child took a leap of faith and decided to marry (a wonderful man), when she was about to become a mother, I was invited into this womb. It was the first time in my life I have willingly accompanied one of my children into a place of pain and suffering. I anguished along side my daughter as she breathed through the labor pains. I stood silent watching her push herself beyond any known threshold. Her husband offered amazing support, encouragement, and presence. I stood in awe as the two of them ventured bravely into unknown territory. I knew what was to come, but this act of creation is a mystery, I had to stand back, and let them have their own experience. Now this is a strong woman, she played D1 water polo in college, but when they placed Audrey in her arms, her strength was at it’s greatest.
My second child is a talented artist, she graduated with a degree in studio art, durning the worst recession in more than eight decades. She broke the surface of college, came up for air, and realized she would have to channel her creativity in a new direction. Believe me when I say she has the stroke of a genius on canvas and I was frightened my outlier would not adjust to the rigidness of the tech industry. I watched her start at the bottom, struggle for a place in a male dominated field, climb the metaphoric ladder she did, because this woman is strong. She took the industry by storm, I’m not sure it will ever be the same, but Kelley has made her mark. I have learned to trust her instincts, to use my arms as a place of rest, for this ever so restless child.
My third child likes a challenge, both mental, and physical. He is not afraid of the dark, the unknown, or the dangerous. My arms have been stretched as I try to keep this child safe. Sneaking out at night to play glow in the dark Frisbee at the elementary school, driving too fast, football, wrestling, or climbing some mountain just for the view. I have spent more time worrying about brain damage then anything else. Then he decides to play rugby during college as he struggles through a rather rigorous engineering program. I have had to use my strong arms to keep myself in the stands when he is hurt. They frown upon mothers running screaming onto the field, “my baby, my baby, my baby.” I’m sure he has no idea how hard it was for me to observe him from a distance. Just when I got him back in the nest he decides on a new adventure, he is going to carve out a completely new path, and spend an extended amount of time in a foreign country. I had to use every ounce of my strength, not to run down the street begging him to stay, as he drove away. A mother’s arms are strong…
My fourth child is really the crown jewel, the prince of peace, a category all his own. If you know this child, then you love him, because that is how he affects people. He recently decided to take a break from academics. He would like to work for a while, give himself some space to open up, and maybe discover some hidden talents in the process. This of course sent me into a tail spin, I don’t know where this path will lead, I only know the path I took is too narrow for him. It scares me, I don’t have any control, but I have also learned to trust this child. He knows what is right and true for him, he is ever so competent, and his heart is stronger than anyone I have ever known. I will use my strong arms, to hold open the space, for Dante to find his own way in this world.
As a mother, it is difficult to stand aside, and let my children flounder or flourish, but it is the right thing to do. I can not know what is right for my child anymore then I can know what is right for a perfect stranger (Although I am generous with my opinion). Each of us is responsible for our own decisions and this includes the fallout, the repercussions, and the consequences of our actions. Every decision we make comes with some sort of consequence but we are still obligated to follow our conscious. Catholicism even teaches that a person’s conscious is not to be ignored. Facing up to our transgressions is the most difficult thing a person can do and maybe this is when a mother’s arms are strongest…