Cherish is the word I use to describe….

You all know that old song “Cherish” by the Association:

“Cherish is the word I use to describe
All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside…

… and off it goes on another song about unrequited love.

Last night, our board had a work session in which we looked again at the Open Arms vision: A world that cherishes birthing women, their babies, families and communities.

Between our recent board and staff retreat and this board work session, I’ve spent hours talking about the word “cherish” and its associations and alternatives. Is “cherish” a strong enough word for our vision of the world? Does the word convey the importance of what we mean by cherish, or does it recall Hallmark cards with fuzzy bunnies in pink and blue bows? I confess that song goes over and over in my head when I hear the word, and it sounds … cheesy. Am I right?

Yet let’s look at what the dictionary says about cherish:

cher·ish

–verb (used with object)
1. to hold or treat as dear; feel for: to cherish one’s native land.
2. to care for tenderly; nurture: to cherish a child.
3. to cling fondly or inveterately to: to cherish a memory.

We want the world to care for, hold dear, nurture and tenderly care for our communities birthing women, their babies, and families. We also believe that communities should be cherished, for they are what sustain us and bring us nourishment.

The thesaurus says “cherish means to be fond of, be attached to, while nurture means to bring up, help develop, help grow, or provide with nourishment.” Ideally we want to do both, but by cherishing families and communities, we provide the means for those families and communities to do the nurturing. Another interesting synonym is foster which means “to promote the growth or development of; further; encourage”, which is of course what we want for our world as well. Antonyms for cherish are equally revealing – neglect, relinquish, abandon, denounce, forsake, not care, renounce. That’s not what we want to do with mothers and babies in order to have a healthy society!

When I think of cherish, after I get past the cheesy associations, I really think -we do want the world to cherish new life and those who bring it forth. Cherish is not just holding in reverence but means action. You can look at moms and babies and families and communities and say oh, I cherish them and go about your business, but to really do it, you must take action and stand with mothers and babies and say because I cherish you, I will protect you, nurture you, respect you and show you that we value you. We must stand behind those words with action.

Today’s world emphatically does not do this, but rather judges new mothers and their babies on many counts, disrespects them, abandons them. Hey honey, you chose to get pregnant, now you’re on your own. Deal with it. There’s cruelty to it that shocks me. These are babies and our own mothers, sisters, wives, friends and ourselves that we are talking about. Have you ever seen a newborn baby? The love in a newborn baby’s eyes is beyond description in the depth and wisdom it contains. It takes your breath away. Most people see only their own baby or a baby of a dear friend or relative and are blown away by it, but I can assure you, every baby has the same look when its born. The love is beyond description. How can we not cherish them?

And speaking of babies, often our focus goes to the babies, but you know, birthing women should be cherished too. Women are not just the vessel that produces the baby – a machine that must function properly and follow all instructions in order to deliver a perfect product at the end. No, women have value in and of themselves, and are worthy of deep respect  and love. We must hold them dear as well, for it is through women that everything in society can change for the better.

So what is the word we’re looking for? Is it cherish, or does that word just not work? We’ve spent a loooooong time looking at alternatives: treasure, embrace, value, nurture, protect, and so on, and yet continue to come back to cherish for its deep love, reverence, respect, and value.

For the moment, we think we’ll stick with cherish, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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