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Matriotism for Mother Earth
by Eloise Bell

Excerpted with permission from Only When I Laugh, Signature Books, 1990.

During my childhood, February always ranked as the most patriotic month. In school, we seemed to spend forever cutting out silhouettes of Lincoln and smearing brown Crayolas over our wobbly drawings of log cabins. No sooner had the library paste dried, than it was time for cherry trees, hatchets and pictures of George Washington with his funny ponytail and grim simile.

Be that as it may, I got to thinking about whether I am really patriotic. And that’s when I decided we need a new word. So I coined one: Matriotic.“Patriotic,” of course, comes from the Latin pater, meaning father. A patriot is one “who loves and loyally or zealously supports his own country” or fatherland; a perfectly good word for a perfectly good feeling. “Matriotic,” by analogy, comes from the Latin mater. A matriot then, is one who loves and loyally or zealously supports her motherland, her own planet – Mother Earth.

The two words are not perfectly analogous, otherwise people might see conflict of interest where there is none. Patriotism, as we use the word, is about the flag, the government and the history of a nation—in our case, the Bill of Rights, free elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

Matriotism, on the other hand, is yin to patriotism’s yang. It’s about the Earth, not the world. It’s about what those fortunate few have seen from spaceship portals, not what we see on a map or a globe with regularly updated borderlines and political color-coding.

Matriotism is about one sun by day and one moon by night—a moon that waxes and wanes and marks months and menses whether you live in Moscow, Idaho, or Moscow, Texas. It’s about what human beings have felt since the dawn of time when they lay on their backs on the ground and looked up at floating clouds or glittering stars.

Patriotism has always had a lot of the zest of competition in it—rival teams, us and them. My country, right or wrong; my country over other countries.

Matriotism, by contrast, recognizes that while there may be six- or seven-score fatherlands, there is only one motherland. There are political divisions that have risen, prospered, and utterly vanished, civilizations and great cities that are no more. Many cultures, patriots of many nations—but one earth. So it’s not either-or; it’s not a matter of patriotism vs. matriotism. It’s just a matter of bringing our matriotism a little more to the forefront, perhaps.

For instance, we could start with a holiday; a matriotic holiday, a worldwide day of celebration, gratitude, and rededication to the planet. We’d need a flag, of course, and we’d need a song—an anthem, really. Wouldn’t it be quite a feeling to have an international anthem that little kids all over the world would learn to sing about the oceans and the mountains and the sands and the snows of Earth? We could certainly work up a pledge of allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the soil, and to the air we breathe, to every species beneath the sun…”

We’d certainly need a Matriots Hall of Fame someplace—maybe onboard a ship that would sail from country to country, celebrating the great matriots who fought for Mother Earth, whether by saving the whales and the gorillas and the snail darters, or by engineering new strains of seed that would feed more on less, or by finding the key to practical mass use of solar energy instead of fossil fuels—and so on.
Some people might not get too excited about being matriotic, seeing that it lacks that old competitive edge. On the other hand, remember what Walt Kelly’s cartoon possum Pogo said: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” This fight to save Mother Earth could end up as the biggest battle of all.

Elouise Bell is a syndicated columnist and professor emeritus of English at Brigham Young University.