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.”

21 comments:

  1. Oh, goodness, Heather, I can't tell you how violent I've been lately. I could a tale unfold, as Hamlet Senior's ghost says (I, v, 20 et seq.).

    A brief quasi-confession. I've been attacking "stupidity" wherever I find it lately -- except, of course, in myself. One sees disembodied words in cyberspace, words without a voice or a face, and if there's a flaw in logic, one pounces. This is violence of a sort.

    There are some well-meaning non-Christians who subscribe to an ethic that they express in thus wise: "Do as you will, no harm to others." (Echoing Augustine's "love and do as you will" -- ama et fac quod vis -- but changing it subtly.) Someone pointed out that if we do "do as we will," we will eventually harm others, whether we mean to, or not.

    I'm very eager to read Poor Baby. Your words are always something akin to a balm of Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul, or a spring of water in a parched and weary land. To say that I look forward to whatever you write is something of an understatement!

    In the meantime, pray for me that I can stop "teaching, pontificating, analyzing" -- and start listening to people, and accepting them where they are, even if they are just disembodied words in cyberspace -- that I might say nothing to someone online that I wouldn't say face to face (it's largely a question of tone and manner -- in person I can "disagree agreeably", but not online).

    As the mid-20th century poet José García Villa wrote: "Me. Me. My own perfidy."

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  2. It's taken me a long, long time to realize that the imitation of Christ is both easier and more difficult than I always want it to be. I want to choose my penances, because they are controllable: I can seek one out whenever my life needs a little contradiction, and I can end them whenever they become too difficult.

    Meanwhile, if ever anger or misunderstanding was directed my way, I'd deflect it with equal, opposite force. For justice.

    I'm learning that the absorption of other people's anger, misunderstanding, etc., without deflection, is exactly what Christ did, and it's way more difficult, requires more self-discipline, more nonsensical love than fighting back. On the plus side, it abbreviates the conflict.

    It makes no sense/ it makes perfect sense.

    Thanks for this post. Your stories provide a much needed context for such quandaries.

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  3. Good job publishing the ebook and self publishing your essay. And good job on this essay, too. I'm not sure I agree with it all but as usual, your writing is thought- provoking.

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  4. Thanks so much, Betty: that's exactly what I'm trying to get at; that non-violence is a stance toward reality, not toward, or only toward, war. I love this quote from Carlo Carretto, a priest who threw away his address book and lit off for the Sahara. In I, Francis, he takes on the (imagined) voice of St. Francis of Assisi. Here's one passage:

    “In my time, the Crusade against the Muslims was considered a “just war,” and the Church itself promoted it.

    In your times, you consider as just, very just, guerilla wars waged against totalitarian regimes, against dictatorships which oppress the poor.

    Perhaps the Crusaders were right in my time. Just think of the Battle of Lepanto. And perhaps the guerillas of today are right.

    I am not debating, and above all I am not judging.

    I am only saying that there is another method of combating and vanquishing, that of nonviolence. And I am pointing out that in the Gospel it undoubtedly has the primacy. And I, Francis, consider it more effective as well, even though it may be more difficult.

    The struggle against injustices and outrages, especially those committed against the poor and defenceless, is basic Christianity, and Christians are not permitted to be silent, to withdraw, to refuse to get involved.

    If they understood, really understood, they would volunteer to die for justice.

    That is what Jesus did.

    But nowhere is it written that to make our adversary yield it is necessary or indispensable to employ the sword, the machine gun, or the tank.

    The highest claim of the Gospel is that I can cause my enemy to yield with my unarmed love, with my bare hand, as Gandhi did, as Martin Luther King did, as all who believe in nonviolence do, as Bishop Romero did in your times.

    What a sublime example this unarmed person gave! What wonderful words he spoke against the arrogant, who massacre his people!

    Give a nation a handful of men and women like that—give the Church a band of heroes of strength like that—and then you will realize that when Jesus proposed nonviolence he was not doing so in order to lose battles. He was doing so in order to win them, and win them in the only way worthy of a human being: without shedding the blood of others, but by shedding one’s own.

    This is the principle of martyrdom, which has never been lacking in the Church and which is the highest witness a human being can bear upon earth.

    Further than that one cannot go.”

    --Carlo Carretto, I, Francis, pp. 24-25

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  5. And Dylan, bless your heart, I'll pray for your sharp tongue and please pray for mine. Truly, this is where it all starts--IN our hearts--and this daily, minute-by-minute awareness/surrender/discipline...you HAVE to be a warrior to sign up for that...

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  6. Dylan: your comment rings so true. Violence in my heart is something over which I've been weeping and repenting much for the last several years. Backbiting, gossiping, cruel humor, judgment, self-righteousness, and more -- against others, against myself -- a cesspit of filth at the core of my being nurtured sadly over many years, and only of late bitterly repented. Cor mundum crea in me Deus (Ps. 51) -- glory to God for His mercy and grace, even at a late hour.

    Your post is eloquent, Heather, as always. Thank you.

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  7. Our pastor/priest of 24 years in Texas once said from his Bible-Study pulpit that there was no sin he was incapable of commiting. I rejected that at first...for him,I contended, but really more for myself.

    If I acknowledged that possibility for him, then myself, what could I possibly reserve to judge others about?

    A few years later, at the opening of a prison ministry weekend, I observed over 30 of 42 attendees cite one person who'd invited them to the weekend. What I later learned about him was that he was serving a mandatory 50 year sentence...and his "sins" weren't pretty! Yet, he was bringing more people to introduce them to Jesus than I ever had...hmm.

    Over ten years in that prison ministry taught me a lot about my sins and those of others. Most of all, it taught me that I sure don't see all these sins as God does...which is worse...or worst?

    Thank God I don't have that vision...I'd be even more insufferable than I am now. The loss of original holiness and justice in the Garden has put us at odds with everyone, including ourselves. Only coming back and asking for mercy and accepting forgiveness for our own personal sins will ever start the process of reconciliation on the larger scale.

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  8. This post and the comments speak to my soul.

    God Bless you all.

    Gordie

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  9. Thought provoking as ever, Heather. I am having a problem understanding this sentence though:

    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.

    The comparison isn't clear to me. I think it's the "closing your eyes" part.

    Also, when you say Capital punishment shows up in 9-1-1 is assume you mean Sept 11th and not placing a 911 call?

    Sorry to be so picky. Am I doing violence to your prose? Maybe it's a Monday thing....

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  10. Heather, I'm fortunate to have access to the Internet here at the rectory where I am staying as a part of the Mission I've been invited to give otherwise and with your permission I would like to quote from your post on Tuesday night as I focus on Confession.

    I have done exactly this, objectified someone or entity by not using their/its name because it is easier to hate/be angry at/be violent in my spirit toward a person or group of persons when I deny them their person-hood. When I do this I play the monster with JPII's teaching (esp seen in "Love and Responsability") about person-hood, that each human being is a unique, individual, soul with unrepeatable experiences and an irreducible minimum for whose own good I must always act. I don't want to think about how many times I have failed at that!

    The anecdote of the cat lady is a startling illustration.
    -
    I'll check out the ebook when I get back home.
    ---
    @Betty Duffy, I am speaking about exactly, as in *those very words* , this Tuesday night of the Mission during the 'Confession' talk; absorption not deflection. I am tying that with "release not perpetuation." This is the other side or the necessary follow though of absorption lest I in-take or take-on the fault of another and cause harm to my self and potentially repeat that very hurt or violence in some variant form.

    Not sure I have expressed it clearly. Hope I do tomorrow night.

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  11. Good eye, Brian, thanks, yes, I meant 9/11. As for the closing your eyes, I meant that in both cases we would just as not see the human face, eyes, hands, heart we are destroying.

    Dave, amen. If not for the fact that my sins are "ever before me," I would be TRULY insufferable! And I think this is another reason that the sort of avid pro-life bandwagon is not for me. I'm sure it's absolutely for some other person, but to make a campaign of ferreting out who's pro-life and who's adhering to the party line and who said this and look at these people who are in such terrible error would for me set up kind of siege mentality. Wars against terrorism, drugs, abortion and cancer don't work any better than wars against people, as far as I can see. I don't get to salve my conscience by loudly telling other people they are wrong. What I need to know and keep always before me is that I did wrong. And to make that right as best I can, and then go out and joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world, as Mother Teresa put it...

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  12. An interesting commentary on the media of our society that your story was neither all-left or -right enough for anyone to buy it for publishing. Being Lent, I'll offer up the pain that it causes me to think of this in all of its nasty ramifications rather than to go ballistic. Okay, I'll go a bit ballistic: Do you realize that there are actually people who drink the offal spewed from their television sets and magazines as though it were truth? BTW, maybe you could put me on your prayer list next to Dylan.

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  13. This is one of your best, Heather. I love this: "To choose violence is not to cut off the possibility of suffering, in other words, but rather to cut off the possibility of good." Beautifully put. Thank you...and I'm really glad you are publishing your piece. People won't always get what we know in our heart is to come to light, for the sake of the kingdom. Good work. I look forward to reading it!

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  14. Very beautiful post, Heather. Non-violence is not one "issue" in a catalogue of issues (you can tell I abhor the term) it is a disposition towards reality.

    I'm moved that you've been graced to write this in honesty and humility. Keep it up.

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  15. Dear Heather, I'm a first time reader - Your writing is thoughtful. Just so I am up front: have had 1 abortion and 5 miscarriages which required surgical assistance. Were this procedure not available I would not be alive today myself. Which means, if medical schools do not teach it, women will die needlessly.
    I do not believe Jesus went willingly toward the cross. I believe he was abandoned by God on the cross, which is not the same thing as God not being present. His death was violent and senseless, as much of death can be when it is brought about for political reasons.
    Thank you for your thoughtful words.
    Peace,
    linda

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  16. Dear Heather,

    Thank you.

    It would seem that our wars on “evil” (fill in your choice of "evil") have been violent and ineffective. War is that way. The capacity for evil (and good) are inherent in each of us; or at least in me. My hope and prayer for the eternal present is to expend myself opting to choose good and affirm goodness; to the total exclusion of fighting evil. Not easy and many times forgotten.

    The ripple and echo effects of both good and evil are incontrollable and uncontainable. What would the world be like if humanity were awash in the ripples and echoes of each of us following Christ's example? Forget wars on anything, especially myself.

    Blessings, John

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  17. Heather,
    I have been a fan of yours for awhile now and today I know that we share something quite special. Christine Lowe have been one of my closest friends since the early 70's when I was struggling with my faith. She was always there for me and helped guide me along my journey back to the church. God provides us sometimes with special gifts in the form of friendships that last forever even when we are miles apart.Christine has been my Joshua. I thank you for sharing your struggles and putting them to paper. You are another gift that I thank God for.
    Peace, Love and Joy.
    In Christ,
    Jeanne

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  18. Good for you, Heather. I am, as always, awed and inspired by your words and your work.

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  19. Oh, my God. Heather, you are putting words on paper of enumerable sorrows that will last until the end of time. I, myself, had closed my eyes three times, like you. But, unlike you, I "conveniently forgot" about my violences for 20 years till Jesus, in His infinite grace, brought the memories back glaringly to my conscience. Thank you for you tenderness, your heart's generosity in sharing your soul and its torments. May God bless you, although I know He already has.

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  20. I cried and cried at the truth of this post and the depth of Christ's love and our Father's love for us. How deep and magnificent is the triune God and to Him be the Glory forever. Beautifully and passionately written.

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  21. Thank you Heather, your words here were like the key to the door of a story for me, one I've been waiting a long time to write.

    http://inventingeve.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/who-wants-a-baby/

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I WELCOME your comments!!!