Sunday, February 26, 2012
POOR BABY: A Child of the 60's Looks Back on Abortion
Several months back I posted a series on the issue of violence--or rather non-violence as the chief characteristic of God’s love. Many—not all, but many—folks came out fighting. What are we just supposed to let Hitler?....they asked. What are we, supposed to just stand by and watch our children be savaged? What are we just supposed to let the Japanese at Pearl Harbor rape our children and cut them into little teeny bits…
That last hit me with particular force, as one reason violence is so abhorrent to me is because of the abortions I had before I converted. I've BEEN violent. I have seen "the children" not protected. I have been responsible for the children not being protected. That is a wound, a sorrow, a guilt, a shame I carried around for over twenty years; in a sense, will always carry. And because of it, I see so clearly how all violence is connected; how fear—the fear that there won’t be enough to go around, the fear that we are not loved, the fear that we lack the capacity to love—is the same fear that underlies all violence, all cruelty, all war. . .
I said it then, and I’ll say it again: non-violence isn’t a stance toward war but rather a stance toward reality. I’ve noticed that when people are pissed at me, when they disagree with an opinion, for example, they’ll immediately stop using my name. That’s the effect of violence. We reduce the person to something less than human; we make him or her invisible so it’s okay to hurt them. Going to an abortionist and closing your eyes isn’t the same as the people who operate the remote controlled military drones that pick people off from miles away, but it is absolutely on a par with.
This is not to try to reduce Christ to the Great Pacifist. To reduce Christ to a single issue—your issue; my issue—always misses the mark. But the problem with violence is that it is by nature not containable. Like good, it’s a metaphysical concept with implications and repercussions that go far, far beyond the violence at hand. Just as we never know (and mostly never see) where the fruits of our “good” acts are going to break out, we never know where the results of our violence will break out either. When people see someone else being violent, they tend to think that gives them carte blanche to be violent themselves. If we think our own violence is justified, we’d better be prepared to let everyone else justify theirs, too. Nagasaki shows up in the psycho who lined up the Amish schoolgirls. Capital punishment shows up in 9/11 shows up in Abu Ghraib. SHU (23-hour isolation) units give rise to Austria’s Hans Fritzl, who kept his daughter Elisabeth, along with the three children she fathered by him (a fourth died) in an underground bunker for 24 years.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. I’m reminded of a lawyer I worked for, writing legal briefs, for several years. After awhile I saw he was a shyster but I figured, Well I’ll be conscientious within my job; I’ll be stand-up within the parameters of what I do. Of course he ended up stiffing me for four grand, and when I took him to small claims court accused me of shoddy workmanship.
Another example: a friend put up razor wire all around her back yard wall to discourage robbers. Months later, she adopted a litter of stray kittens. She mothered them, fed them, cooed over them, and one morning she went out and found one of them impaled on the razor wire. Frantic to save it, she tried to jump over the rail and got slashed herself. The very violence you plan on using on another comes back to do violence to you and those or what you love. Violence cannot be confined to a specific target. Like love, violence radiates out in all directions. Violence is completely impersonal. It will hurt the robber and it will hurt the kitten.
The Obama ruling rescinding conscience protection rules for medical workers is horrifying, but could it possibly come as a surprise? Can we seriously believe a county that spends up to half its budget on the military but won't give its children basic health care is concerned with a petty matter like conscience? Can we seriously believe a country that keeps 80,000 prisoners in 24-hour a day solitary confinement is going to balk at ordering a doctor to provide an abortion?
Both the right and the left are seeing the logical extension of exactly what they have been clamoring for all along. The right wants a conscience that is for war, for locking up prisoners and throwing away the key, for the rich at the expense of the poor--and is shocked when that same violence-based conscience turns its gaze to abortion and doesn’t blink an eye. The left wants everybody to do exactly as they please as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else—and for everyone to get to make up what that might mean as they go along—and is shocked that freedom without moral law in the end means coercion: if not for them, then for someone else.
I was sparing my children the suffering of having a bad mother: that’s what I told myself under the banner of humanitarianism. I would have been a bad mother and to prove I would have been a bad mother I destroyed my unborn children. Crazy, right? The exact kind of crazy reasoning employed by the people who say, “Well, yes, we killed 110,000 civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but if we hadn’t even more people would have died.” We love people so we have to kill them. We love some people so we have to kill other people.
The problem here is hubris. The question here is: how do WE know? How do we know how many people, if any, would have died if we hadn’t incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We don’t know that refraining from dropping those bombs on Japan would have somehow changed the whole world so that NOBODY had to be killed. You don’t know what kind of mother you’re going to be until you're a mother. I always told myself I wouldn’t know how to care for a pet and then I finally got a cat and for sixteen years it turned out I “knew” exactly how to care for her...
To choose violence is not to cut off the possibility of suffering, in other words, but rather to cut off the possibility of good. It’s to forestall the transformation that always comes about when we refrain from violence, for Christ’s sake, when violence would be expedient. Christianity has never, ever claimed to be expedient. Christianity has never remotely claimed to be about results, efficiency, numbers, worldly success. Hitler was efficient. The death camps got results. Christianity is about the one lost sheep. Christianity says there are worse things than having or being a bad mother.
Violence is just one prism through which to view abortion. There are many others. Abortion led me to see, for example, that if you think of sin in any kind of mathematical way there is no escape. I had done what was not forgivable. I had done what could not be atoned for. For twenty-plus years I could not get my mind around how I could possibly be forgiven.
Unlike us, however, apparently God does not weigh things, balance things, count the cost, keep a ledger. We're forgiven before we even ask for forgiveness. The Prodigal Son had been forgiven long before he came trailing home. I'd been forgiven even as I lay on the table in those clinics: the problem was I couldn't forgive myself. The repentance is for us, not for God. The repentance is to open our hearts. God's is always open. God's has always been open. Open, and longing for us to turn to him, and bleeding...
Or as St. Thérèse of Lisieux observed: "God is all-wise but there is one science of which he knows nothing: arithmetic."
God knows nothing of arithmetic—not that kind—and I also take full responsibility for what I did. In fact, it there is a felix culpa to my abortions, it's that I understand all too well that the evil in the world does not come from "out there"; it comes from within me. When I hear that a 13-year-old has been raped, or that another pedophile priest has been arrested, or ___, I don’t think, Those savage beasts. I don’t think, The unimaginable, unspeakable evil. I think, I am complicit in that.
I also understand that someone else, someone who, say, was abused physically, emotionally and/or sexually as a child is going to come at the issue of violence from a whole other standpoint. That person knows they should have been protected, and they were not. Someone perhaps should have used some kind of force to remove the parent from the home, someone should have said this is wrong, this is totally totally against love and against God, and you are precious, you are loved, you were grievously hurt, the grownups failed you. So while I hear "Take up your arms" as a call to perpetrate more of the violence in which I've been complicit, the other person is going to hear "Put down your arms" as more not being protected by the world, more betrayal, as opening themselves to more violence.
I have to tread very carefully here, then, and to speak from my own experience, and to let others have their experiences and as always, the genius of Christ is that he meets us all exactly where we are.
Speaking of experiences, story is always significantly grittier, funnier, more excruciating, more joyful and more real than someone who is trying to teach, or pontificate, or analyze...Everything I know, I have learned through my simple love of Christ, the Sacraments, and the Gospels...
My story, in a nutshell, is three abortions, twenty-plus years of silent excruciating suffering, and then I found my way to Project Rachel, an organization that operates under the auspices of the Church and helps women (and men) to heal from abortion. I wrote a 10,000-word essay that no-one seemed to want to publish—possibly because of its length, but also possibly because it doesn’t fit into the prevailing rhetoric. It’s not from the right and it’s not from the left. It’s from Christ. It’s from reality. It’s from gratitude for the women, Christine Lowe in particular, who helped me find my way back, insofar as I have, to a child-like heart.
I’m going to post later in the week from a couple of different angles—but for now I’ve converted my story into a $2.99 “e-book” that you can find in the sidebar if the spirit moves.
And so—introducing “POOR BABY: A Child of the 60’s Looks Back on Abortion.”