Monday Musings for Monday May 5, 2014
Volume IV, No.17/174
Remembering Mother’s Day
By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
(Editor’s Note: this year Mother’s Day, May 11, falls on the birth of my late mother, Kobra Meymandi who died at age 101 in 1994. We dedicate today’s MM to all Mothers.)
Mothers have a special place in the construction and fiber of every society- western, Eastern, Northern, Southern. Way before the prophets of the old testament, Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, recorded the “lofty status of mothers before the shrine of Ahoura-Mazda . . .” In the writings of Cyrus the Great, the liberator of Jews from Babylon, who reigned nearly 2600 years ago, he repeatedly insisted that “The wisdom and love of mothers should be employed in all ranks and posts of the government…”
Mothers indeed were more than slaves who cooked and kept the children clean. In the court of Cyrus the Great, there were many mothers as high functionaries and Viziers (ministers). In the personal notes of Benjamin Franklin, credited for founding US Postal Services, he refers to Cyrus the Great the inventor of the postal service, and his first Postmaster General who was a woman by the name of Mithra.
In biological terms, the relationship between a mother and her fetus is unique and unparalleled. This is the ultimate in intimacy: fusion of two human beings, loving, protecting and nurturing of one person, the fetus, who is in the process of becoming, by another person, the mother. A pregnant woman- prospective mother- offers such an in depth and stirring example of “giving-of-one’s-self-totally-to-another” (altruism) that no psychiatrist or behavioral scientist has ever been able to fathom and explain. Freud has written much about women’s penis envy. I am afraid cannot have that ultimate form of intimacy in a relationship that women have. Only in recent years we have been looking at, and talking about, this form of ubiquitous pervasive envy that men unconsciously that he was blind to the fact that many men have womb (uterus) envy, because they hold for women. Frankly, a pregnant woman is angelic in sight. The rich hormones estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and oodles of other cortico- steroids make her soft, loving, lovable and pure. The mere appearance of a pregnant woman stirs all kinds of noble and altruistic feelings in others. We want to reach out and help, carry their baggage, compulsively ask about how far along they are, and many other brotherly and platonic gestures of love and compassion. Frankly, I don’t know of any other sight that evokes more noble and altruistic feelings in mankind than the sight of a mother-to-be.
Mothers are Saints. Have you noticed that at the time of extreme stress, even the most powerful people immediately think of their mothers. This is almost a reflex reaction as commonplace as the knee jerk. When Napoleon Bonaparte was captured in Russia, he cried vociferously, “ou es tu, maman? . . .” “Mother, where are you?” In our own era when the late former President Nixon was forced out of office, while almost crying, he spoke of “my mother was a saint …”, while 100 million people watched on TV. Much attention has been paid to this fairly inappropriate remark. However, it was most appropriate; because at the time of stress we tend to call on our most intimate and powerful friends. One’s mother, at the time of total impotence and distress is indeed the most intimate powerful and rescuing force.
Being a mother is the most important job on earth. It is also the least rewarded and the least recognized job by the western societies. It takes the nurturing, the selflessness, the staying up all night, the love and care of a mother to raise a child. No creature, under any circumstance, gives so much, so unselfishly, so constantly as does a mother.
My own mother, with whom I share the same birthday died in 1994 at the age 101. Kobra, who was always called Janbibi- means BiBi or Lady of the world- never ever anyone called her by her given name, Kobra, which would have been blasphemous- loved life. She loved music, dance, poetry, singing, chansons, and parties. And yes, she loved to travel. Like her parents, she, too, fed the poor and there were regular intervals that they made rice and lamb and served them in huge copper trays to the masses that would come to their vast court yard. Our mother was equally serious about knowledge, learning, education and studying. She had us all memorize Hafez, Saadi, Rumi and of course, the Holy Quor’an. Right up to the last days of her life, when I would talk to her on the phone, after the preliminary exchange of greetings she wanted to know “What did you learn today?” or “What are you reading today?”…
A Personal Note
One of the myriad of things my mother has done for me is to sharpen my sense of observation and awareness. Often when climbing stairs together, when we reached the top of the stairs, she would say “Ageh gufti tchand ta pelleh? Can you tell me how many steps? We travelled together much and she counted the steps in all places- we climbed the 898 steps to the top of the Washington monument; we climbed the 710 steps of Eiffel Tower in Paris, not only once, but several times; we climbed the 354 steps to the crown of the Statues of Liberty in NY, not to mention the 463 steps going up to the top of Duomo in Florence, Italy and the 285 steps separating the upper hilly Buda and the lower Pest, in Budapest, Hungary, just to name a few adventures…
Well, my mother’s gift, in addition to the gift of medical education which puts extremely high value on observation and encourages paying attention to detail of what one sees, as well as memorizing facts, have made me a quite aware human being. We have all read the Holy Quor’an over and over. Do we know how many times the name Allah has been invoked in the 114 Surahs 2,698 times. How many times the name Buddha is invoked in Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book? Do we know how many words are in the 66 books of the Old and the New Testament, especially in the 1611 King James translation? In the Old Testament there are 593,493 words and 181,253 in the New Testament giving a total of 774,746 words in the 66 books. I know many members of our families have travelled extensively. Well, in celebrating my heritage, I have set out to count the number of times the names of the Kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible. The result is astounding. Isaiah is the best press for the Old Persian kings. For example, Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the doings of King of Persia whom they called Messiah. Isaiah is pure PR and good press for the liberator King of Persia…In the book of Esther 3, Haman, assistant or Vizier to King of Persia, Ahashuerus, who hated Mordecai, shows how the wise king handled the dispute…At any rate according to my count there are dozens of references to the Kings of Persia in the Bible. The origins of the Persian months starting with Nisan (see my Monday Musings for Norooz, March 21, 2012 which lists all the months of the Old Persian calendar) are all recorded in the Old Testament.
Today, as I recall my mother, and with intoxication and spiritual élan, I celebrate that lady’s birthday. I wish all to be infused with love of knowledge, love of wisdom, love of sensitivity to the needs of others with beneficence and altruism. That would satisfy Kobra Meymandi, our Janbibi, and our Lady of The World. She was a magnificent teacher and learner. Right up to the last moment, she sang and wrote poetry. She had faith in herself, in her God and in her children.
Salute to all mothers.
Kobra Hanjari Meymandi died in 1994 at age 101. The Raleigh Concert Hall, home to the North Carolina Symphony which opened on February 21, 2001, was named for her.
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.