08 May 2009

Moroni Had a Mother

Moroni had a mother. Mormon had a mother. Despite the stripling warriors getting all the credit for a superior education, Helaman too had a mother.

I’ve thought a lot about these women over the past several years. I’ve tried to imagine how Moroni’s mother felt when he whipped out that Title of Liberty, prepared to take on Amalickiah—and all the hosts of hell, if need be. There was a time I would have guessed that her heart filled with righteous pride, but now I know better. Most likely, she smiled when Moroni came home on leave, but the minute he returned to the front lines she cried, Why you? There are men everywhere! Why don’t they go? Why can’t you till the earth, tend the flocks, preach the gospel . . . weave baskets . . . do anything but risk your heart and soul in battle?

I think it’s even harder to send a son off to war in this dispensation. After all, the Nephites knew their sons were fighting for their lives. As Americans and Latter-day Saints, we support our government and cherish our freedom, but we prefer to do it from a safe distance. “Good” little Mormon boys are not groomed for the military. Primary and Mutual are designed to prepare our kids for marriage, college, and missions—not boot camp. Think about it. Who hopes to be called on the kind of mission where they’ll carry a gun with their Book of Mormon? It is not surprising then that when a bright, active LDS kid from a good family turns nineteen and enters not the MTC but the USMC, nobody knows what to say. Nobody knows what to think. This, of course, includes the guy’s mother.

Even living in one of the most supportive wards in the Church doesn’t help as much as you’d think it would. While not a single week passes without a public prayer offered for the men and women in the military, it is done at the request of the bishop—who means it—and uttered by rote by people who mostly do not. My husband and I are often asked for an account of our sons’ well-being, but the people who ask often do so in low voices, as if it shames us to have sons in the service “instead” of serving the Lord. (The Lord Himself does not consider the two mutually exclusive.) Indisputably, a young person’s willingness to live or die for his country is not as admirable in our culture as it is curious. Unfortunately, the way some people react to it is even curious-er. Another of my favorite examples: since his enlistment, my youngest son has received a monthly ward letter that is always addressed Dear Elders (and Matt). That Matt is also an elder never occurred to its author; perhaps because his name badge was of the desert-camouflage variety.

This is not meant as criticism. I don’t know what to make of those boys of mine, either. The only thing that surprised me more than my youngest son’s determination to become a Marine was my eldest son’s enlistment in the Army after a two-year mission for the Church. I swear we used the same Family Home Evening manual and attended the same meetings as the rest of you. Curious and curious-er, say Alice and I. Sure, I’ve always believed that a well-trained, well-equipped, all-volunteer military must be maintained to ensure the rest of us continuing our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness, but I also assumed somebody else’s kids would take the job.

Even though it didn’t work out that way, I am here to report that it is all behind us now—as of this very morning, in fact. After half a decade of viewing life through an olive-drab looking-glass, we have returned to the somewhat less-surreal world of civilians. My youngest returned from Okinawa a few weeks ago, and my eldest left White Sands last night. They will both be home for Mother’s Day. They are alive. Healthy. Whole. As holy as they ever were—which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

I can’t contain the gratitude that fills my heart, but I know that when I have my children all together for the first time in years, not every tear I shed will be for joy. I will never be able to forget other women who are not so blessed. As I celebrate Mothers Day, other mothers all over the country (world) will wait by the phone for their children to report in from life-missions foreign, domestic, religious, and military. Some military moms will not hear a loved one’s voice because their sons are too deep within Iraq, Afghanistan, or South America to reach a phone. These women are blessed, and they know it. (The phrase “no news is good news” was coined in time of war.) They recognize their good fortune because every one of them knows of a mother who will spend her special day at the bedside of a hurt or maimed child. Even these latter count themselves fortunate because what mother in our country does not know of another whose beloved never came home at all?

God bless us, every one.

Moroni was a man who did not delight in bloodshed but whose soul did joy in the freedom of his country. He pledged his life to the welfare of his people because his heart swelled with thanksgiving to God for the privileges and blessings bestowed upon them. No doubt his mother’s heart was also swollen with many emotions; surely she carried equal parts fear and longing side-by-side with hope and faith. Moroni was not young when he left the service, but I like to imagine that his mother reached an exceedingly old age. (If I were even half as talented as David or Heather, I would write a book to make it so, if only in fiction.) I truly hope she lived long enough to see her beloved son retire to his own house to spend the remainder of his days in peace.

My sons’ service was not as remarkable as Moroni’s, but the remainder of their days are hopefully much, much longer. (I expect more prayerful preparation, leadership, and service from them both.) In the meantime, they have dedicated a portion of their youth to serving their country while remaining true to their God. I appreciate and admire them for that. How well I remember the Family Home Evening we hung a brass “Return with Honor” sign on our front door and discussed its meaning. My sons did not go where I thought they would go, or do what I thought they would do, but I know beyond doubt they served well, magnified their priesthood, and righteously impacted countless lives. I know I am blessed beyond measure to see them return safely home . . . and with honor.

Not even Moroni’s mother would ask for anything more.