Forgive a rare foray into the theological here.

Today is Mothering Sunday. My wife’s grandmother would rise from the grave and strike me down if I even thought of calling it ‘mothers day’; an appalling Americanism in her frequently and strongly expressed opinion. In Anglican churches the Hebrew Bible reading for today is the birth of Moses. You probably know the story even if you don’t know you know it. Moses’ mother floats him in a basket among the bullrushes (hence ‘Moses basket’), he gets found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and by a bit of cunning and a twist of fate his mother gets employed to wet nurse him.

The background to the story is the persecution of the Israelites, then a ethnic minority in Egypt. It’s all very concisely written in the first couple of chapters of the book of Exodus. To save the life of her son in times of conflict and political turmoil, a mother says goodbye to her baby son and puts him in a boat, knowing it’s dangerous but knowing that not doing so is even more dangerous. She risks losing the most precious person in the world to her in order to save him. Heartbreaking.

The parallel with the current Mediterranean crisis is forcibly striking. Read Warsan Shire’s wonderful poem ‘Home’ in full here https://genius.com/Warsan-shire-home-annotated

“You have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

Moses mother (I wonder what her name was? Perhaps not worth recording…) had to put her child into a boat, because the water was safer than the land. In the hope that he would have a better life.

I not going to laboriously explain the connections. If you can see them, then you’re simply not looking hard enough.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition this is an heroic story. Children on Sunday schools will paint and stick pictures of Moses in his oh-so-sweet boat in the river. When the exact same story is played out in the present day, as it is every day, then a different standard can apply. When the protagonists appear less, shall we say Nordic? In the minds eye. When the boats are grimy, leaky death traps. When the water is cold, unforgiving sea.

They’re not really at risk, they sink the boats themselves to get rescued. Why do we only see young men on the boats? What sort of people abandon their children in this way? It’s because life is cheap for them. They are not heroes.

Except they are, and we should never, never forget it.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

(Image: Moses in the Bullrushes. Paul Delaroche)

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