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GOD, MOTHER, COUNTRY
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Oration delivered at the Virginia State Intercollegiate Oratorical Contest held at the College of William and Mary on May 6, 1921.)
O him who reflects upon the religion of the man of to-day must come sighs of gloomy doubt over the mighty differences which exist between this generation and the one
At first glance one would say that the populace of today had lost thought of everything like religion and would declare that their deity was pleasure, their prayers the mad cry of joy seekers, and their house of worship the cabaret or the dance hall. One would say that the fiber of our manhood and womanhood of to-day had lost its former consistency; that the old Puritanical sense of integrity and right had disappeared; and that the simple, yet complete, culture of our Virginia forefathers and matrons had long since given place to that flippant strain so prominent in the nature of the youth of to-day. Our fathers and mothers as children were kept in touch with God. There was the family worship around the altar led by the father, the Bible readings by the children and the nightly prayers. The generation of our day appears to have little knowledge of our Maker; they think they have no time to learn of Him and His works; seldom, if ever, do they read the Bible so sacred to their mothers. At this time when our mothers and fathers would be about to confide in God, the youth of to-day embarks upon the delightful sea of pleasure, often in a bark of thoughtlessness under the shaded arc of indiscretion into the gulfs of luring enticement. In the past the Angelus called the youth to their respective homes for the nightly prayers, the lights became dim, the work of the day was at an end, and all was enrapt in a blanket of peaceful and undisturbed quiet. The Angelus of to-day one might more aptly term an assembly call to the pleasures and joys of the night, be it theater, dance hall, or what not. In a hasty retrospection one would say that as our fathers put all trust in God and His divine will, so this generation holds the
present supreme, and exercises as its motto "Live in the present, forget the past, and give no thought of to-morrow." The great cry of to-day is "Now or never." This is evident at every turn in life. In the rush of human existence the individual seems beyond the control of God and His mandates, and when enveloped in the surging eddies of social madness he disregards all and thinks only of self. To him his fellow men are but rings in the forces of opposition. It would seem that he is a stranger to brotherly love. He reverts to the latent tendencies which have been so long dormant in man. A great critic has spoken of this age as the time of the greatest achievements in all phases and the day of deepest thought, but also as a time when little or no regard is given to the religious mandates, no weight placed upon advice of parents, and no heed given to their wishes. As we advance in one line, we go back in others. Along with progress goes retrogression.
This is the impression one gets from a first glance at our youth of to-day, but upon closer inspection one finds that every boy and girl has deep in his or her heart a reverence for our Maker. On Him rests all their interpretations of right and wrong. Look into the little home of to-day and you will hear the child repeating a simple prayer and the mother teaching in her loving way the truths of God. It is in the home where the first ties of love are knotted, never to be severed. The home is to the child what water is to a withering plant: it is virtue giving and character making. It develops in the child a sense of love and holiness, an appreciation for beauty and for God, a value and desire for companionship. Here in the home all these forces in the youth are trained and directed toward the proper end. And now I ask you who is this agent in this moulding process of our youth? Is it the father? Yes, in part; but to a greater extent, it is the mother, mother, the dearest friend man has on earth. It is she who upon pain of death brought us into the world and gave us life, the soul of all virtue. Knowing only love for us, self-denying and self-sacrificing she guides our wayward feet through the childhood years into manhood and womanhood.
Then, when we are far away from beyond her, she still remembers us and in her prayers speaks only of us. Mother, the link between the youth on earth and God above, she who has thoughts only of us, the soul of love, service, and care.
So I feel justified in saying that one's first impression of our youth is far from right and I can explain that impression by saying that it is not only characteristic of our youth but of our nation as a whole. It is not frivolity, it is not skepticism—that is the deepest manifestation of our people's hearts. No, I would rather call it true Americanism, a people whole-hearted in their pleasures and joys of the time, but equally serious and conscientious in executing all the responsibilities of true citizenship. Again, I say, the times have changed and these changes are substantiated by the present-day interpretations of our behavior which differs so radically from that of our predecessors.
But Mother is the same to-day as she was of yore. It is the neural channels cut by her teachings in our childhood that hold and harbor the motive force which impels to-day as in previous generations the actions of our wisest men. It is this embryonic impression, however faint it may be, which shapes itself into some of the greatest thoughts of all time. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Lamb are good examples of the product of a mother's love. Not only among literary men can glaring examples be found, but in every phase of life as well. Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, a few hours before his death, sent as a last message to the various ships in his fleet before going into action, the words his mother murmured through her tears when he told her adieu. These words were "England needs every man." His men received that message with a shout, won a great victory, but lost a noble leader whose character, which served a nation in her hour of need, a mother's love helped to mold. So can I not justly say that mothers play an important part in the great drama of all time? Though sometimes unseen, the results of their work are always evident. Thomas Jackson, more commonly known as Stonewall Jackson, is another product of a mother's influence. He, who was loved and worshipped by the South, respected and
held in high esteem by the North, whose memory is cherished, honored, and revered by both sections, was one of the greatest strategists of all history. It was this man who so displayed his forces as to keep in action opposing units several times the number of his own, and led the flower of the South to battle and many times to victory. He was called Preaching Tom; but it was his sincere prayers, his implicit and open confidence in his Maker, in the solitude of his tent, which gave him faith, and this faith in turn gave morale to his army. He learned to love God through the great love he had for his mother. A mother's love is like the gentle showers of spring time, giving growth to the embryonic tendencies and warming these tendencies as they shape into habits by the sunshine of a mother's loving smile.
Mother is the sponsor of one's character. But what is character? Some one has said it is the mirror of life. What we are is dependent upon our character. If you were to study the men of all times you would find that most of the noblest characters were built on that simple yet implicit faith which the mother gave to them. As we turn the pages of history we find all periods yielding worthy leaders; Greece had its Pericles, Rome its Augustus, France its Napoleon, and our United States its Washington. What these men did and stood for in life history tells you; but the greatness of each one's virtues, you are left to judge from the memories which remain. But do we need to turn to the past to study the character of a mother's boy? Are we not sons to-day as our forefathers were in the past? Is not that blessed relation the same? I need not answer, but rather ask you to go back over the recent years with me. Recall the period beginning the war from which we have just emerged. Did not the Nation's sons step forth in her hour of need? Did they not offer themselves through their love of country, their spirit of loyalty to her, and their desire to defend their homes? They traversed seas infested with the death-seeking submarines that they might meet the foe on his own ground rather than at our own portals. These sons went forth with the love of God in their hearts, a desire to do His will, a determination to strike
in behalf of mother, and a willingness to die for their country and for their loved ones at home. As America's entrance into the war was the accusing finger of right, so the conduct of our troops was the mighty arm of vengeance and the able management of our Nation's affair the verdict of true justice. Was not every son a beautiful example of a mother's love, an ideal demonstration of true loyalty, an apostle of patriotism and a crucial test of true manhood? Those who went and served us then, and came back deserve much credit; but far greater tribute is due those who went but did not return; those who so loved their native land that they gave their all, paid the supreme sacrifice that the world might be left untainted to posterity. All were heroes in the fight of justice. As the boys suffered at the front so the mothers likewise suffered, both paying their tributes to American ideals.
So I say that God, Mother, and Country are but rungs in the ladder of faith, all of which are held by knots of love-the one an outgrowth of the other, all interwoven by the trust we have in God, the reverence we hold for Mother, the loyalty we exercise in upholding the ideals of true Americanism.
E. V. P. Stowitts.