I have a dream too…

Artist: Jen Norton

I have a dream

That no woman would choose abortion

Out of fear

Or shame

Or finances.

I have a dream

That each baby born would be celebrated.

Provided for.

Nourished.

Nurtured.

I have a dream

That girls would grow up to love their bodies.

Their minds.

Their strength.

Their ability.

I have a dream

That each woman would

Claim her sexuality.

Share her body, only
by invitation.

Welcome a child, knowing
that her community
Would always support
the gift of life.

I have a dream

That every father would teach his daughter self-love.

His son, self-respect.

His family self-knowing.

I have  a dream

That every mother would teach her son self-disclosure.

Her daughter, self-care.

Her family, self-restraint.

I have a dream

That we would recognize the fabric of our connection

With each life.

With every family.

With all of the earth.

Love Never Ends (a tribute to a friend)

utils_files30 years ago I spent a semester in London, or to be more specific, in Hampstead, in a home filled with American students and just as many (retired) Jesuit priests. Maybe 50 in all. Maybe a bit less. There was also a Director (of the house); a Professor (from our Jesuit university); a cook, named Eric, with a fetish for toes; and someone else, unexplained: a single extraneous woman.

Sister Norrie.

I pulled out my address book this morning in search of her last name and her last place of residence and only then did I realize, as I paged through, how infrequently I relied on physical addresses of friends for communications anymore. Yet, once upon a time, Sister Norrie and I were pen pals; and before that, house mates.

Southwell House was cold and damp and dark, and to me this fully explained the British habit of afternoon tea; and London itself was dark and dreary and bitter which illuminated the addition of sweets. Thursday was my favorite. Eric baked scones. Despite the careful directions he sent me via post years later, I was unable to duplicate them.

Tea and sweets and beer kept me warm that winter, as did the occasional hot shower stolen from the priests when I was brave enough to infiltrate their wing. Sister Norrie lived above them, at the tail end of the students’ wing, where she kept me company in her tiny room.

Norrie must have been 70 at the time, maybe older, but I was only 20, so she could have been 60. I remember long, white, wispy hair. Thin bones. Ruddy cheeks. A steady and gentle presence.

She once confided that her only regret at becoming a nun was not having children of her own.

I gave her a grapevine heart sent to me by a dear friend, and she gave me a small brown earthen mug, handcrafted by beloved students. (These, our parting gifts on the morning that I took the train to Heathrow to fly home.)

Most of my classmates left the second the semester ended, but I stayed on, stashed my belongings in an empty room off the foyer, and took a journey to Ireland, to the roots that Norrie and I shared, and to further delay my return to the world of pain that had become my family as it silently imploded.

Those belongings of mine, including a stuffed dog and two blankies, had been mistakenly donated to a charity while I was traveling. I was desperate to get them back, and embarrassed to think that the priests had opened my things, and perhaps seen my diaphragm and spermicidal jelly (which I never did use there); but not a word was spoken; and Sister Norrie saw that everything was returned to me in time for my departure.

Years later I would return to Southwell House with my new husband, a lifetime after I had lived there; though in regular time, only 6 years had passed. The life of Southwell House had been dramatically altered too.

What had once been a quite serious, period home was now egregiously festooned in primary colors. The retired priests were replaced by residential youth. Eric was still the cook. He made us scones. Sister Norrie had already returned to Ireland; but even after she entered a nursing home, we continued to write to each other, until one letter was left unanswered.

It was Norrie, that winter morning at Southwell House, thirty years ago, who saw me put the receiver back in its holder, and must have seen me slump into the corner chair beside the house phone there.

I saw her across the foyer in the doorway of the diningroom so I stood and smiled too.

“Is everything okay, Kelly?” she asked, as I turned to head past her up the stairs to my room.

“Yes Sister.” I lied, convincingly.

She was not convinced.

Just then a group of students went by, inviting me to a impromptu Valentine’s celebration. “Sure,” I said, smiling, as they continued into the library with decorations in hand.

As I put my hand on the banister, but Sister Norrie placed her hand on my forearm: “You’ve just gotten some bad news, haven’t you, Kelly?”

“No,” I said, “Everything is fine, Sister. Really.” (I was an expert at hiding pain.)

Norrie turned me toward her by my shoulders, looked in my eyes, and then took my hand in hers, leading me down the hall past the priests’ guest rooms into a tiny Chapel that I hadn’t known was there.

It was only then, in that sacred space, where I did not belong, that I spoke the truth of my grandmother’s passing.

The altar shook as a subway passed in the tunnel beneath us, and I almost told Norrie that I couldn’t be there; couldn’t receive her love, didn’t deserve it, or the light shining through the stain glass above us (because I had had two abortions at 16) but instead I remained frozen, in pain, in a small pew, beside her, as she prayed.

This tender moment between an elder and a child, between two women, between two countries and two kindred souls was something I could not feel; did not want to feel; and I so I slipped away as soon as Sister Norrie finished, refusing any further affection or attention.

il_340x270.602291411_hdx4And yet, she loved me still.

That evening I found flowers and a card in my room.

The calligraphy read: Love Never Ends.

 

 

Hobby Lobby Hocus Pokus

scotusI lifted this from a friend on Facebook for how she SO deftly illustrates WHY this SCOTUS ruling matters to WOMEN, no matter their party, religion or stance:

So, this guy sits down next to me at the bar and falls into conversation with some friends about his dentist and his crown and some decisions he has to make and then the C word appears and he realizes there’s a female in earshot and he turns to me and says, “You didn’t hear that, of course,” kind of nice-like, and I say, “I most certainly did,” and he starts to apologize and I say, “And, by the way, I’m a dentist.”

So, now he’s totally fucked and takes a second to consider his options. Choosing badly, he goes with, “You’re . . . a . . .den . . tist? . . .dental something?” and gets the death stare but marshalls on relentlessly, “I mean, you’re a dentist? Not like the office manager? Or . . .?”

And I had to ask him: “Why would I say I am a dentist if I were not a dentist?”

I mean, for the sake of humor, I’ve dropped some untrue punchlines, but I always clarify quickly that I was making a joke. Or, at least eventually I do.

But it is 2014, and I am knocking on the door of 50 years old, and some dick in a local bar still feels totally at home throwing the C word around and acting as if there’s no way a “girl” is a dentist.

And you wonder why some people watch SCOTUS rulings like the old country read tea leaves.

Dr. Patricia Gibbons, DMD.
(with permission)

Burial

love-rose-quartzWhen I was 16, not only did I have two abortions. but I also threw a baby into the trash.

I worked in the pathology department of a hospital that summer, and my job was to catalog the body parts from surgeries, and then to dispose of them once the reports came back.

On one occasion, I opened up a sterile plastic container, dumped out the contents (and  formaldehyde) into the metal strainer, and saw not an appendix, or a gall bladder, but a baby; a tiny little baby.

I had forgotten about this, not forever, but for a long time, and it wasn’t until tonight that I truly felt what it was that I faced all those years ago.

Recently, some of my anti-abortion friends on Facebook have been posting abortion videos and images, suggesting that those who support the choice of abortion should watch it; and I thought to myself, they’re right; if I believe that abortion should be legal, which I do; I should be able to face what it looks like.

So I did, I clicked on a tab that said “Abortion Pictures.”

And suddenly I remembered…

the baby in the plastic cup.

At the time, I thought she must have been only a couple months old, but now I realize that she was at least 5 months old; because although she could fit into my hand, she was perfectly formed, legs curled up and all.

Though I had easily disposed of hundreds of bodily organs, I left her waiting on the shelf for some time.

In retrospect this job at the hospital was too much for a 16 year old, but I didn’t know it then. I even said, “Go ahead, I don’t mind,” when they asked if they could do an autopsy in the room while I worked at the sink (because Pathology was housed in the Morgue at the time.)

There were jars of organs on shelves; one jar of someone I knew who had died in a recent plane crash. There was a man in the freezer on a stretcher with a single shoe. A sneaker. Was he hit by a car while crossing the street? I remember his big belly. He wasn’t wearing a shirt.

I did my job every week, and I was paid well, and for the most part I thought myself lucky, even if I did have to dump body parts right after lunch while nauseous with early pregnancy.

It was the prostates that bothered me the most. They looked like ground up hamburger, and I dumped them as fast as I could, without looking, while I gagged.

I’ll never forget the hard yellow tumor that I saw the Pathologist slice out of a large breast. The woman to whom it belonged must have been old and must have been too afraid to see a doctor until it had grown almost as large as the breast around it. I had a hard time rinsing that breast and throwing it away.

But in my imagination, the baby is still there, on the shelf, because I cannot toss her into the trash. She is not sitting in a strainer while I look at her, wondering what to do.

Instead I’ve taken her home, in a tiny box, and placed her deep in the earth, with a beautiful rose quartz stone.

I’ve said a prayer for her soul and for her parents who must be grieving.

I’ve wondered why miscarried babies are thrown into the trash and not buried.

And now I wonder what becomes of the aborted.

Anti-Abortion AND Pro-Choice

“Fighting against the world that we don’t want is a critical first step, but fighting for the world that we do want is where liberation truly begins.”
Courtney Martin

imagesI can’t recall when I became “Pro-Choice.” Maybe it was by default. When I “chose” to have an abortion, 2 of them, two-months apart from each other, at the ripe age of sixteen. (Though I know others who made the same “choice” and who are equally “Pro-Life.”)

I never gave abortion much thought; not politically speaking. It was a personal, desperate, practical act; that I knew was wrong, inside, but I grasped at it anyway.

Afterward, when I became more conscious of politics, I didn’t feel I had any right to say no to abortion, no matter how I felt.

I did do my best to help other young women avoid that choice, by providing all I’d learned about birth control. While keeping my own abortions secret. Secluded. Shamed.

Later, as a married woman, I suffered two miscarriages, and I knew that these devastating losses were punishments, self-inflicted, for the carelessness with which I had treated life.

In my early thirties, I met a new friend, who shared her own abortion stories, with reverence, but not with shame, which loosed my own, and opened me into motherhood.

I have been a good mother. Good enough. I have devoted my life to my children with consciousness, creativity and fervor.

Before this chapter of parenting, I had been a teacher–a kind and passionate steward of young hearts; and before that, a sister–the oldest of eight, tending as best I could to the lives of little ones.

I’ve always had an affinity for children. And elders. An immigrants. And the downtrodden. Those on the margins, I suppose.

As I age, a radical appreciation for women takes form inside. For who they are. For what they endure. For what they have to offer the world. For how they make a difference.

With this awareness, I know that women’s reproductive rights must be their own. And yet, as I approach 50, and that hard-earned sovereignty is threatened, I realize that I have a responsibility to fine-tune my thoughts and attention and consciousness. And so, I ask, how am I anti-abortion and pro-choice at the same time?

The answer is that these are not stances, or political sides, but instead truths that resonate inside of me.

I still think abortion is wrong. I think it IS the taking of a life. Abortions performed after the first trimester are particularly alarming given how developed a baby is; especially now that science and technology have radically shifted outcomes for premature births. Those delivered in the early part of the last trimester can now thrive. Even some born in the second-half of the second trimester survive. And who knows what new technology might bring.

But do those developments determine the dignity of life? Is a life only worth honoring if science can save it?

When I think back to my miscarriages–one at the end of the first trimester, and the other at the beginning, I remember how dismissive many were of my loss with comments like… Just try again or At least you know you can get pregnant or None of this will matter once you have a child or It was so early, are you sure?

Liberal or Conservative, religious or not, pro-choice or anti-abortion, we all differentiate when it comes to the unborn; but we can’t take this into consideration because to do so would make us vulnerable to the “other” side and we each have so much at stake.

The culture is to blame. January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade; celebrated or grieved; but of course, abortions themselves, legal or illegal, have been a part of women’s lives forever.

What has also been a part of women’s lives is subjugation and inequality, still evident in the places where laws are created that shape our mutual futures.

As women, we must move forward, together, in ways that honor the legacy of what it means to be a woman, and a mother.

Perhaps Naomi Wolf described it best, in her piece “Our Bodies, Our Souls”:

Now imagine such a democracy, in which women would be valued so very highly, as a world that is accepting and responsible about human sexuality; in which there is no coerced sex without serious jailtime; in which there are affordable, safe contraceptives available for the taking in every public health building; in which there is economic parity for women—and basic economic subsistence for every baby born: and in which every young American woman knows about and understands her natural desire as a treasure to cherish, and responsibly, when the time is right, on her own terms, to share.

In such a world, in which the idea of gender as a barrier has become a dusty artifact, we would probably use a very different language about what would be—then—the rare and doubtless traumatic event of abortion. That language would probably call upon respect and responsibility, grief and mourning. In that world we might well describe the unborn and the never-to-be-born with the honest words of life.

And in that world, passionate feminists might well hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, standing shoulder to shoulder with doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead.

I’m not sure if my own words should end with hers. I don’t really want to stand outside abortion clinics. I don’t want to face the horror of what happens there nor do I want to intrude upon the women who make that choice.

But I am only half of the equation. I can let my Pro-Life sisters lead the way. They are fierce protectors and lovers; they will show me how.

As I write these words, a deer, a doe, steps into my view, outside the window at my writing desk, heading East, into the place of new beginnings.

With her characteristic gentleness.

A favorite Rumi verse comes to mind: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

And just as I decide to end with that, a second doe steps forward, facing West, into the direction of wisdom and women.