My first moment of irony for this grey Saturday came as the version of G-mail that I have loaded onto my tablet crashed four times. With a moue of disgust, I abandon the effort and open a browser window on my eight-year-old Mac while the Saturday trash collectors bang the recycle box back to the driveway's edge and lumber towards the neighbor's house. Life in the 21st century sometimes challenges my old brain.
The tennis player has already gone, signaling that I've lingered too long over my second cup of Italian coffee. I've clucked about the local feature-writer's castigation of those who apply their ancient double standard to our outgoing Secretary of State, and chuckled at the antics of the kids in the Cul-De-Sac. The Saturday after a long tiring week draws feebleness to the foreground.
The anti-abortion sentiments that choke my inbox remind me of my mother's caustic comment when a woman repeatedly shushed her one Sunday morning, displeased as the parishioner evidently was with my mother's proclivity to explain her own position to me as we listened to the priest. To the shock of the lady who did not like my mother's talking, my mother told me in a stage whisper, "Now there's one woman whose mother should have considered abortion." But her point related not so much to the undesirability of the woman's existence as to her rudeness in not tolerating the parental lessons that the priest himself encouraged. My mother welcomed all life. We knew this from an early age: If you're ever pregnant, she'd scold, I'll raise the baby until you're able to take over. When I had a miscarriage in her bathroom, anguished and single, twenty years old and emotionally unready for whichever direction the pregnancy took me, my mother held me close and murmured my name over and over again. If she felt secret relief, she did not show it.
Another mother sat in my office yesterday, giggling, beneath a knitted cap, huddled in her ski jacket, clutching her cell phone and trying to remember the address of the most recent apartment where she has been given refuge. An appointed case. Her children, four and two, reside with their grandparents. My client has never completed high school and has an IQ of less than 70. Her behavior mimics that of a child, with little understanding of the potential loss of her parental rights and no appreciation of the impact of her inability to meet the state's demands for her behavior. Earlier this week, she left a message with my secretary that she could not afford to buy birth control pills. I resisted the temptation to give her money that she might well use for candy or soda instead.
Other mothers have sat in the same chair, in other offices, in other buildings. The haunted eyes of one will never fade from memory. She, too, had two children, but no grandparents to take them, and so they fell into the system. The mother, whom I had been appointed to represent, suffered from schizophrenia. She had taken up with a band of undocumented immigrants of some Hispanic origin, and gave each of the resulting babies a slew of Spanish-sounding names. She told me she thought in Spanish and realized that she must have been stolen from Mexico as a baby. If so, she had been sired by a Norwegian and borne by a Dane: Blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, she resembled no one of Mexican descent that I have ever known. She came to me twice with a tale of being pregnant again; both times, the supposed pregnancies fizzled. Once she told me she had an abortion; once she whispered only, I lost the baby. I held her close both times, and let her sob against my chest. Even against my size 2 body, her frame felt fragile and tenuous.
That client finally disappeared. I had a Guardian ad litem appointed for her. We agreed that there was no good reason to prolong the outcome. The court terminated her parental rights.
Good women choose to end pregnancies because they judge themselves unable or unwilling to parent. Others should have that option so as to avoid the hollow-eyed desperation of my schizophrenic client. These precepts persuade me.
A cluster of cousins, Catholics most, post on Social Media that the termination of a pregnancy is murder. An old friend who raised a trio of children on her own after a nasty divorce hotly agrees. My niece queries, Have you ever talked to a fifteen-year-old who has been raped, and wants an abortion? I have! I periodically insert a judicious comment, merely suggesting that each viewpoint has merit. The pro-lifers loudly protest that the only legitimate pronouncement is theirs, because any other opinion promotes murder. The pro-choicers seem to be somewhat more considerate, encouraging a civil debate, pointing out the factual inconsistencies in the life-begins-at-conception argument, quietly noting that no analogy quite jives with the fact that the growing cells, whether human yet or not, lie within a host who has not always chosen for the pregnancy to occur. I see both sides. My opinion remains the same: It is a difficult issue, one that each person should be able to decide for herself. I cannot liken all abortions to murder. It just does not play; I cannot make that leap, though I understand why others do. It all depends on a basic assumption that some present as fact without the ability to be sure.
In the end, I bypass the sixth commandment for the words of Matthew: Judge not, that ye be not judged.
The trees rise above the roofs of my neighborhood, the bare limbs grey against the slight blue of the sky. Matching green houses march northwardly on the street behind me, their white trim bright in the dim light of the wintry morning. A mound of laundry awaits me. I put aside weighty thought, and head downstairs, to brew another pot of coffee, while the Car Guys dispense easy wisdom from the radio, and the sounds of traffic drifts towards me from the east.
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