Making the Most of Mother's Day

I grudgingly admit that the big things I wanted when I was a young adult were fame and fortune. Yes, I can rationalize that I wasn't alone in my youthful lust for more, more, more for me, me, me. But then there's the audacious northern Californian, Marla Ruzicka, whose stirring death in Iraq last month, at age 28, was an elegant reminder of how stuck we can be in our boundless self-interests.

It's as if her bigger-than-life role as a long-time advocate for the victims of war was a giant finger poking at the tightly woven cocoon many of us have spun (consciously or not) that insulates us from acknowledging the ravages of armed struggle on the lives of ordinary people in other lands. Yes, she did the heavy lifting for a lot of us.

Ruzicka, by dint of personality and pluck, sought out politicians (for aid money), U.S. soldiers (for clearing landmines) and the media (to cover the plight of civilian Iraqis) so she could assist displaced families and orphaned children who were either bombed by mistake or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ironically, this woman who had made helping victims of war her life's work was "collateral damage" herself when a car bomb meant for another target, killed her and two others on April 16. She was on her way to help an Iraqi child. I recall I was on my way to the mall.

It was a stunning realization that this smart and pretty blonde -- 20 years my junior -- had done more at her age, as Vermont's U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy put it, "than most people do in a lifetime."

Yes, Marla Ruzicka was a daughter any mom could be proud of. "She cared about people and gave people her love and help," her own mother, Nancy, was quoted as saying following her daughter's death. "I'll remember the love she spread around the world and the good ambassador that she was for her country."

In one sense -- and not as tacky as it sounds -- Marla Ruzicka's death comes just in time for Mother's Day. Her acts of compassion in war-torn countries renew the importance that Julia Ward Howe gave to the act of honoring mothers in the late 1800's. You could say Mother's Day was her brainchild; but flowers and chocolates didn't figure in.

Julia Ward Howe is probably best known for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Yet, like Marla Ruzicka, Howe witnessed first-hand the carnage and suffering of war -- for her, the Civil War, taking place on our own shores. She was shocked by the staggering deaths, injuries and disease among the soldiers, the devastating toll it took upon the widows and orphans she worked with and the ensuing economic crises that followed the war.

It was from this seminal experience that in 1870, Howe composed a Mother's Day Proclamation calling on women to rise up and "solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace. Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God."

This Mother's Day, why not follow in the tradition that Julia Ward Howe set and Marla Ruzicka exemplified. Both embraced the great human family, drawing no distinctions between "them" and "us." Let's honor the valued women in our lives by making peace a priority, whether it's making peace at home or a half a world away. Even better, as you sit with your family this Mother's Day, read Howe's original Proclamation aloud knowing that we all can't soar with eagles -- but we can carve the turkey and aspire to doing a little more to make the world a better place.

Read the proclamation at


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