Today is Mother’s Day. I am blessed to still have a healthy, in-her-right-mind, ninety-one year old mother with whom I live and share household duties and expenses. For many years now she has refused gifts, citing her plethora of possessions, richness of blessings, and lack of need for anything beyond continued good health. At first, I resisted not giving her a gift on Mother’s Day, but as I have grown older, I have arrived at the same place. I, too, do not want to receive gifts, for the same reasons. All I want is good health, the good health and happiness of the rest of my family, and especially, a good life for my girls and grandchildren.
However, I do buy a nice card for Mom on Mother’s Day. I go to Walgreen’s and peruse the cards, reading sometimes a dozen before finding the perfect verse in the most pleasing pastel colors. Yesterday I went to Walgreen’s. The parking lot was full, and the card aisle crowded with adults on the same mission– to find a perfect card, or even just a card, for Mom. I was lucky. The first card I saw was perfect, and I took it to the cashier.
These beautiful cards are always no less than five dollars. I resent paying that much, not because I resent buying a card but because I resent the stranglehold that card companies have thrown and tightened around the necks of consumers. Not just Mother’s Day requires a card, but birthdays for Mom, Dad, kids, grandkids, spouses, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even good friends, if they are lucky.
These cards are expensive; they give a moment of pleasure and elicit a grateful smile. They are placed on a shelf for a week or two, or maybe even a month, then stuck into a drawer until the drawer gets full and the space is needed for more cards or other important papers. The message of the cards wears off, and they are tossed into the recycle bin long before the next year’s occasion rolls around and the giver is obliged to buy another card.
My mom keeps her cards. I will probably put them in her casket. Nevertheless, my irritation with the expense grew considerably when I heard the cashier ask me for $7.59.
At that moment, I felt like a rat in a maze, slave to inherently hard-wired responses that get activated instantly to stimuli designed to energize those responses. Corporate America has constructed a revolving door, the elements of which are monetary greed propelled by the soft spots in human character. This combination creates a perfect storm of consumer spending on an artificially constructed occasions custom made for their purpose.
Mother’s Day is only one such occasion. Father’s Day occurs in June, along with the aforementioned occasions for which perfect greeting cards cost more and more each year.
Living in Saudi Arabia all those years pulled me off the greeting card merry-go-round.
In the Middle East, birthdays, in particular, are not celebrated with the vigor and expense that characterizes American culture. I knew many Muslims who did not make birthday parties for their children, citing precedent in Sunnah, if I remember correctly, and lack of indication for the permissibility of such celebrations within the pages of the Qur’an. At first, I thought their attitudes rather stiff, as I remembered my own birthday parties as a child, and how much I enjoyed the attention and the gifts.
Now, however, I understand birthdays, and all other occasions for which one might buy greeting cards and/or gifts, as artificially created occasions promoted by Big Business in order to suck more money out of consumers.
Once I admitted this, I easily gave up the habit of participating. I have long felt no need to buy a greeting card for any person, for any occasion, as a matter of habit or obligation, and I feel quite free of this particular noose. I passed that attitude on the my girls, who easily accepted it because they’d been raised in the Middle East.
We do celebrate birthdays, as an act of thankfulness for having been allowed by Allah to complete another year of life on Earth, but we celebrate quietly, and we do not make shows of spending money on cards, cakes and unneeded presents.
The only card I buy during the entire year is Mother’s Day card. I buy it not because she expects it (she doesn’t) but because I enjoy the opportunity to tell Mom how much I love and appreciate her. The card is certainly worth the expense from that point of view. When she passes, I will feel sad that I will no longer be able to buy these wonderful, expensive cards, just like I feel sad on Father’s Day that my father is no longer with us.
I also buy sympathy cards when someone I know has suffered the loss of a loved one. Sympathy cards serve a purpose. When Pop died, we received dozens of cards, and each one gave us comfort.
What I will not buy, ever again, is a card simply because another holiday approaches, and I see advertisements for cards or gifts. I will not participate in customs designed to play upon the loving bonds between people in order to enrich the accounts of people whose accounts are already large. I thank my residence in the Middle East for this maturation of attitude, and I salute the teaching of Islam, which directs us to be thankful for the blessings of Allah, and to show our thankfulness in prayer, kind actions towards others, helping those who need our help, and forgiveness of their offenses against us.
Mom understands all of this perfectly, and she’s not even a Muslim.