Friday, September 28, 2007
Here's the passage that first alerted me to trouble. Read carefully, there is a quiz at the end.
"And we're not alone, you know children [in the fight against evil], came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. "All through the universe it's being fought. . . You think about that, and maybe it won't seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it's a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it's done so well.
"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.
"Oh, you must know them dear," Mrs. Whatsit said. . .
"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus."
Of course Mrs. Whatsit said, "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."
"Leonardo da Vinci," Calvin suggested tentatively, "And Michelangelo?"
"And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out "And Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!" pg. 88-89
The problem with the passage displayed above is
a) Jesus did not come from earth
b) There were no "others" like Jesus
c) A Guardian Angel would never stoop to the nickname "Mrs. Whatsit"
d) all of the above
As a new Catholic, I've inched towards an understanding of the saints. In the beginning, I thought nothing of turning to Jesus directly for every little barked shin. I hesitated, however, to bother the saints with anything but the most serious prayer requests. It seemed impolite, somehow, to trouble them. They were in heaven, they had earned their right to rest. Jesus was divine. I knew that he had to be patient with me. Endless patience from the saints, I wasn't so sure about.
I'm growing in devotion to Mary through the work of St. Louis D Montfort. Prayers to Saint Joseph have always come more easily to me. Yet the Saint that has really helped me bridge this gulf, is Saint Jude. This Saint has never, ever let me down. I go to him all the time for lost things.
At first, I only asked St. Jude to find important items, such as my husband's missing passport. Then I had a major breakthrough during the long episodes of morning sickness with baby Maria. Alex and Hannah would come to me and say "Mama, I can't find my tea set!" I'd want to help them, but there was no way I was moving my aching body for something trivial. So we struggled for a few weeks. Then I finally hit upon a formula. "Go pray to St. Jude first. If you can't find it then, I'll come help you look." Man, if that didn't work every time.
I don't know how it works. St. Jude had a photographic memory. I don't know if he telegraphs the likely location of the missing object or after praying to St. Jude we all take our search much more seriously. I just know that it always works.
Despite six months of constant success however, my search goes something like this.
"I desperately need to find the baby's pacifier."
"Pray to St. Jude, Mama" says Hannah with perfect faith.
"St Jude, help us find Maria's pacifier" I say out loud. But then mentally add "But if you can't find it this time, that's okay, I'll still believe in you."
Then wham, the pacifier appears in an unlikely place. "Oh, thanks St. Jude."
"But if you can't find it this time . . ." still mentally adding that coda despite St. Jude's perfect track record of success.
I'm sure St. Jude is doing far more important work at your house than finding lost pacifiers, tea sets and beloved spider man comic books. I'm grateful, however, that he is patiently teaching me that the saints will never ever let us down. Hopefully, some year I'll reach the stage where I'm not anxiously checking on the Internet, "Did Oliver Hill Farm get saved?" Rather, I'll confidently know in my heart "of course our Blessed Mother took care of that need for us."
She skipped over saying how cute Maria was, and instead launched into this long, tortured explanation at all the reasons why she couldn't have another child, none of which I'll repeat here other than to assure you, gentle readers, that none of them involved the physical inability to bear another child.
After fifteen minutes of explanation, Jon was so unsettled that he took the kids home early. "I don't know why she would get so agitated and feel the need to take me into her confidence like that. I never suggested that she should have another child," Jon said.
"You didn't have too!" I replied. "Maria did all the work."
I truly believe that. There's all this talk about children growing up to change the world. Maria's already this powerful force- a gorgeous third child when everyone else in America seems content with one girl and one boy. Our neighbors knew that we are struggling. There's no secrete suitcase of money stashed away under our bed. Yet there is my husband, at the same apartment-complex playground that she shares, hanging out with yet another newborn.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Here's a quote from Molly's blog,
"I am so completely overcome with feelings of gratitude. First to Our dear Mother, then to all of you faith filled and faithful friends. We may not be friends in this life, but I am most confident we will be in the next.
Having said that let me explain. We have had such generous offers and benefactors that it has already left me numb. Now today we have someone call and offer to pay the remaining balance if any after all the donations are in. How does one begin to say thank you? How does one tell you of the relief and security you all have given to our family? I do not pretend to know, so I will offer my most humble and pitiful thank you. Please know we are offering our communions and rosaries for all the intentions of our benefactors.
Bill and Molly"
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
It seems that family can survive the onslaught of any outside force against it. Yet how can it survive the forces that threaten to rip it apart from the inside?
We live in an age of divorce. When I was in middle school, (I'm 32), divorce was so rare that my guidance counselor interrupted class to lead a discussion on the subject when one classmate's parents announced their separation. That act just couldn't happen today.
I'm working on a long divorce post based on my rather odd experiences. My parents are not divorced nor am I. But I went to law school with the intention of becoming a divorce attorney. I even wrote my senior college thesis on how to restructure child custody cases to get a more fair result. As a Legal Service Attorney, I handled about 10-20 divorces a year for four years. Because there was such a demand for our services, I only handled the divorces for domestic violence victims who wished to leave their abusers. These divorces were supposed to be "good moves" to help women live safer lives with their children. Leaving an abusive home and obtaining a domestic restraining order is a positive act. I always felt so grateful & hopeful after every civil protection order hearing. So it confused me when the later divorce trials with the same clients were so miserable. My experiences with woman after woman left me with a heavy heart.
I think living a "good" marriage, and building up the institution of marriage is the most important thing we can do as Catholic laity to help the church. The church needs more priests, and those in religious orders. It also needs a lot of ads in the Catholic paper congratulating couples on making their 50th wedding anniversary.
While I'm working on this next piece, I'm throwing open the discussion on marriage.
What is the best piece of marriage advice you've received or discovered?
What is the thing you love most about your spouse?
How are you encouraging your children to view the vocation of marriage?
Share the source of your perspective. Let us know if your single, engaged or married when you comment. I look forward to hearing from all of you!
To wet your appetite, here are a few highlights from this episode:
A paper boy talks about the shock of seeing the blue service stars hung in the front windows of the houses in his home town suddenly turn to gold stars whenever a death in the family occurred.
The combat pilots over Germany faced such terrible odds, it makes Heller's Catch-22 seem rather Pollyannaish. One fighter pilot described how one mission was so awful that on his way back to the airstrip he suddenly lost control of his right hand. The right hand started involuntarily shaking so hard that he had to land his airplane using his left hand on the control stick. He continued to have terrible nightmares of this mission after the war, for over 50 years. Whenever he dreamed of this mission, when he woke up his right hand would be shaking and virtually useless. Those mornings he would go downstairs for breakfast, and his wife Jackie would see his right hand shaking. Without a word being said, she would always hand him a cup of coffee in his left hand. I can't quite explain it, but that silent communication of handing a cup of coffee sensitively to your husband's left hand seemed sort of the essence of a good marriage.
One more story, which actually comes from episode three. An American family with three children (the youngest being only 3 months old) is swept up in an internment camp after the Japanese invade their home on the Philippines. The parents do their best to provide a stable home life in the midst of this chaos. The mom said "for as long as possible, we are going to eat our dinner (a simple meal of rice & fish) at our good wooden table, with a table cloth and on our colored plates." Something to think about as we go about our common tasks of preparing & eating our daily bread with our families.
It’s okay for kids to listen to classical music on the radio instead of the concert hall. To watch movies instead of live theater performances. Yet, if you want to truly nurture an “art-art” lover, skip the mumbo jumbo of Baby Einstein painting books. Head right to the art museum.
This is impossible you say! Just a few pointers to encourage you to branch out from the Natural History Museum to take in the Hirshhorn & National Galleries during your stay in D.C.
Babies love art museums. Put the baby in a sling and as long as you go at a gentle pace, you can stare at pictures to your hearts content. Jon and I trade off baby duty + the hand of a relatively responsible older child. The other parent gets to hold the hand of the squirmy toddler.
Kids love sculpture. There is something really cool about being able to examine a life-like thing up close. Take a long stroll through the 18th sculpture hall which you usually brush past.
Spend time in the pre-Renaissance Galleries. The focuses of these paintings are almost exclusively religious. I use this as an opportunity to quiz them on their saints & bible stories. It’s truly inspiring to see how many different versions of our Blessed “Mama Mary” can exist in the same room.
We’ve had wonderful luck at the Black Box video installation at the Hirshhorn Museum on the Mall. One video showed 99 of the Guards at Buckingham Palace march in interesting formations. Another was a ballet of trucks. (Lex’s favorite!) This month is a highlight of
Keep the visit very short with kids (under 25 minutes). It helps that in D.C. all of the Smithsonian art museums are free. When I visit art museums at other cities, we usually get a two-day pass. We plan for four hours over two days, rather than one massive time block. That way we can see what we want, without risking a toddler meltdown. We also take the kids to the Museum cafeteria for treats. That way one parent can handle three kids while the other gets some quiet gallery time.
Why go through this added hassle? It’s really beautiful to share a passion for art with your family. The kids talk about what pieces they like, and many times it surprises you. You and your spouse can take in a new painting (even if its at different times, holding the hands of different children) and you’ll have something exciting to talk about over dinner. Your family will make tired Museum Guards smile. And someday, hopefully, your kid will unconsciously feel happy and at home while staring at a new acquisition at the Louvre.
This sculpture keeps coming back to me as I go about my basic housewifely duties. How much do I focus on the exterior surfaces of my home -- of the place mats that need to be laundered after jelly drips from a messy four-year-old-prepared peanut butter sandwich and the stain on the carpet from the dog who lost the cheerios that she was never supposed to be fed?
Meanwhile, my main importance as a mother is this "spiritual" force filling up the negative space with love, compassion, and copious acts of patience. Some days I'm more successful at this than others. (Today's bad allergy day being an example of "less successful.") But I'm rarely MINDFULL of how my spiritual energy is filling the house. I count my success as a mother by the tangible, clean laundry, and relatively decluttered floor. This sculpture shows me in a tangible manner how little the surface stuff is in relation to much larger, open, spiritual space.
I remind myself to be more faithful in my home by staring at sculptures on the weekend & writing during the weekdays. What unusual things do you do to remind yourself to practice your faith at home?
Here's one of my favorite Irish Hymns "Be Thou My Vision." The second verse from my old Methodist Hymnal seems very fitting:
Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word
I ever with thee and thou with me Lord
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
great God of heaven, my treasure thou art
Listen to the tune
Yesterday, I took the kids out for a play date & picnic at Fort Ward Park. I'm sad to report that the toy cannon, which my siblings & I played on thirty years ago during visits to my grandfather's house, was unceremoniously dragged off the playground yesterday. Some expert has deemed the cannon "not playground safe." The tractors and other digging equipment made a noisy accompaniment to our picnic, but the three boys were in heaven.
Despite making sure that everyone was dosed with Claritin before the play date, we are now all languishing in allergen fatigue & irritability. I broke my newly instituted "no TV before 3 PM" rule to give the baby & me some much needed nap time. (That sort of sums up my inconsistent nature. My argument to myself to enforce rules goes something like this "The best thing about enforcing the TV restrictions with regularity is that you can break them when you really, really need to. Then the kids will be so happy to be watching TV at an odd time they will give you peace for two hours!")
So it's been a hard, hard morning. Then I find a quote like this to give me a good shot in the arm. Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty on motherhood:
"The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul….The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. " HT My Journey to Faith, Wheelbarrow Manor
Such a lovely thought three days before the Feast of Angels. I'm inspired now to turn off the TV, get lunch together for a group of sick patients, make myself some strong, strong coffee.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
1944, Battle of Anzio (Italy)
During fighting so fierce that soldiers received additional shrapnel wounds while getting their initial wounds stitched up on the operating table, an American Mess Officer falls to his knees and offers the following prayer "God Help Us. Come down yourself. Don't send Jesus. This is no place for children."
Just after the four month battle of Anzio ends, Babe Ciarlo, from Waterbury, CT is killed. He's 20 years old and the second son of a large Italian American family. In his pockets are found the following: 2 rosaries, 1 letter, 16 photographs of family members and $1.61.
During the battle of Anzio the documentary should this awful footage of the Allies bombing Mounte Cassio. That would be THE monastery where Saint Benedict wrote the Benedictine Rule in 529 A.D. which became the founding principle for all western monasticism. To read more about the two German officers who saved the priceless library of over 70,000 ancient books, go to this site
Monday, September 24, 2007
I picked up dozens of handouts. Check out a complete list of events on the Kennedy Center website. Here is the upcoming events that I've place on our calendar.
"Family Look-in Don Giovanni," 1 hour condensed version of Mozart's Opera
"Hansel & Gretel Opera Presentation," December at local libraries
"Bring Your Teddy Bear," Kid-friendly NSO concert
"The Lion King," Original Broadway Presentation
Help us to see the difference between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. Help us to discern what comes from our will and what comes from God’s desire. Amen.
HT: Jen@ e tu jen for introducing me to this new favorite saint
This original colonial shortbread recipe comes from my four year old’s “Lady Washington’s Bake Set” purchased at Mount Vernon gift shop by a generous grandmother. I made it one day when we were bored. Now it’s my favorite cookie recipe. The dough is super thick and easy for preschool kids to handle. Without any raw eggs, impatient kids can munch on the dough. The end result is so yummy that only a few lucky cookies make it until Dad returns from work. These cookies are perfect for tea time, especially topped with whipped cream & fresh strawberries.
4 cups flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pound of butter
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour and sugar; add butter. Place on a floured surface and pat to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut in desired shapes with cookie cutters. Bake 20-25 minutes.
"Donatella repaired to the outdoor terrace to smoke. Seated at a wrought-iron table, she thumbed open a pack of "special DV Marlboro Reds," (so called because her staff in Milan is instructed to cover the customary "Smoking Kills" label on every pack with a sticker bearing a DV monogram in medieval script.)" pg. 152.
This post brought me back to my many, many IEP meeting experiences as an Education Law Attorney for Legal Services. God Bless you all who are in these sticky mediations. (I found that domestic violence hearings were less tense than facing an irate second grade teacher who was fed up with the ADHD kid in her class.)
Here's are ten tips for surviving IEP meetings.
1. BRING FOOD to the meeting. This starts everyone out on a good note. The adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" also applies to IEP team members. It also lets you say, "Oh I didn't realize that there would be 15 staff members here today. I only made brownies for five." Next time, they will make sure to give you an accurate count of IEP members in advance.
2. If the meeting is going to ugly (not always easy to predict in advance like 'Lissa's post shows), shake things up by sending in the other parent. For example, if Mom is the one who usually goes to the meetings. Shake things up by sending in Dad to sign the final IEP. The teachers will fall all over themselves trying the help the "new" & "lost" parent.
3.Every family should own a copy of "From Emotions to Advocacy" available here. Read it cover to cover. Highlight it. Sleep with it under your pillow before each IEP meeting.
Seriously, I cannot recommend this website enough. Wrights law is founded by a severely dyslexic student who went on to break all odds and become a lawyer. (His wife is a counselor.) Mr. Wright performed a miracle intervention for one of my middle school classmate's brothers. The Wrights truly know of what they speak, and they are very, very encouraging. The Wrights lead IEP trainings all over the country. Go to one in your area. Immediately! You'll learn all kinds of valuable tips and make alliances with other parents and "friendly" experts.
4. Pay to have a neutral assessment of your child. Even though the school must provide free assessments, at least one comprehensive exam during your child's school career should be on your own dime and with the very best "expert" in your area. Even if you have to save up for three years for this exam, it is worth it to have at least one person without an agenda give you medical advice about your child's personal strengths and weaknesses.
5. Start a huge binder filled with every single examination ever given to your child. (Kids tend to float up and down, even on supposedly stable things like IQ scores.) Pull out the six pound volume during IEP meetings. This highlights how knowledgeable you are about your kid and gives a quick double check to see if a disputed test result was a "fluke" or ongoing trend.
6.Always, always take a 10 min "clear your head break" before signing the IEP. I used this time to go over each option with my client. If your alone, you can call your spouse at work- have him remind you what your initial goal was and double check your rational for any compromises.
7. You can LEAVE an IEP meeting without signing a new form. An unsigned IEP is better than a signed, less than 100% agreeable one, for the reasons explained above.
8. Remember, never lose your temper! (You will need to cultivate heroic examples of
"meekness"as explained below.) The most important thing to maintain during the IEP meeting is the good relationship between your kid and his teachers.
9. Think like a lawyer. Build up your case. If you've reached a logjam with the school system, calmly end the meeting. The old IEP will stay in place. (IEP's never "expire" they only get updated). Start getting the proof that you need to support your position. Schedule another IEP meeting when you have the proof you need to add weight to your proposed changes.
10. Get support. School politics are a local beast. You'll need to know how to navigate inside your kids individual school system. A great reference can be the district's IEP parent support person. If this post is vacant in your area, volunteer to fill it. A ten minute monthly chat with a new parent in your area will be a life saver for her child for the entire school year!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The priest said that it is not enough to just attempt to resist my ingrained "sin" pattern. Instead, I should also try to strengthen the corresponding virtue to that sin. I got the mental image of going to physical therapy. Because I am now lifting the weight of three children & have a natural tendency towards anger, I need to do some serious stomach crunches with the virtue of meekness.
Of course, I'd NEVER heard of the virtue of meekness. Who trains themselves to be meek in today's world? But after some Internet research, I stumbled onto this
Now my working definition is "restraint of anger in the event of provoking circumstances." Here I am, in the midst of some very provoking circumstances and practicing trying to get a handle of that whiplash of a temper and angry tongue of mine.
I'll keep you updated on my inchworm slow progress on this matter. Here are the few pitifully slow measures I've been able to implement over the past six weeks.
-If I do insist on fighting with my husband (wrongly) over whether I, as an anemic breastfeeding mother, still have to take my yucky tasting prenatal vitamins, I can at least force myself to sit down on the floor when I hear my voice starting to rise in anger. This is my physical cue to stop arguing and start implementing meekness.
-I've discovered that praying to the child's guardian angel when a kid is on a disobedience kick really helps. This changes the discussion from "WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO ME" to, "Guardian angel please help (said child) to learn skill of following directions." (As a former Protestant, I didn't even really register that kids had guardian angels until I noticed this month that their upcoming feast day is on October 2. I'm still feel pretty awkward praying to them, but am going with the mantra that practice makes perfect)
-If I'm losing the battle to control my temper, it is possible to take a break from the family, stare at a tree, and remind myself that I have just taken the Eucharist. (Done today at a Sheetz Gas Station on I-79 in the midst of a five hour car trip.)
Have you successfully conquered a frequent sin like gossip or losing your temper? Do you have any insights on the importance of meekness?
This meal passes my "can be cooked with a colicy child on my hip" test. If you have any similar recipe gems please leave the name of the dish on my comment section!
Tourtiere (meat pie)
Notes: Serves 8, easy to freeze, easy to save for leftovers
1- 1 1/2 lb ground pork
1 large potato
1 large onion, minced
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
dash of all spice (optional)
1/2 cup of water
9 inch double pie crust (I buy mine frozen since arrival of newborn)
1 egg (optional)
dash of paprika (optional)
1. Bake potato in microwave or oven. Peel & Mash.
2. Place mashed potato, ground pork, onion, spices and water in frying pan. Stir at a simmer until very thick. Traditionally this takes one hour, but I cheat and just do it until the pork is dark brown (15 mins.)
3. Spoon mixture evenly into pie crust. Cover with top pie crust. Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle paprika if you have time.
4. Bake for 50 min in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees.
5. Serve with a dish of formerly frozen peas for a complete meal.
One of the featured veterans describes himself as raised in a Christian home. He said that he struggled over the question of whether he should join the army before 1941 because he was taught "that it was wrong to kill." He lived on one of the Pacific island's attacked early by Japanese war planes. A friend was horrifically killed in front of him. As the plane cleared away from the blast, the veteran said "I could see the pilot smiling and then I didn't have any trouble killing Japs . . . It was my job to kill as many as I could a day."
Leaving aside the whole fighting a just war philosophy (which I'm pretty sure WWII neatly qualifies into), is the veterans response truly "Christian?" It's a natural human response, but aren't we called to go beyond revenge killing? Christ's urge to forgive our enemies also happens to apply to those who directly kill, even our dearest friends.
I'm not for one second suggesting that as a Christian nation we should not have gone to war against the Japanese, or Axis powers. It just troubles me in this individual story that a Christian boy who struggled with his conscious against killing had one horrific act of sin done to a dear friend, and this suddenly "flipped a switch" which powered his to feed his revenge for four years of fighting.
My husband's suggestion is that the boy's parents stressed "Don't kill" but didn't explain "why." Some examples of the "whys" would include, Christ admonishes us to be the peace we seek in the world, we must master our emotions for revenge, and the familiar line "turn the other cheek." Any killing in the army service of a just war should be done with great regret and be motivated from love rather than hate. (This is sort of hard to qualify, but makes sense to me intuitively as a mother. I'm extremely strict with an abrupt & immediate discipline with my older children when one of them does something dangerous around the baby. My motivation is never out of hatred of the offending party, but rather out of concern for a helpless newborn.)
Does this line of thought makes sense to you? Or is it too Ghandish to be Catholic? What would your thought process be as a Catholic before signing up to fight in a war? Has anyone faced this issue directly with the Iraq War?
Sept 23-26,30, Oct 2 at 8 PM.
Repeat 23 & 26 at 10:30 PM, Sept 24 & 25 at 10 PM, Sept 29 at 5 PM-2 AM, Sept 30 at 11 PM
Tune in a few nights and get a new appreciation for the WWII veterans in your family.
Friday, September 21, 2007
We made you a member of the Catholic church
We covered you with hugs and kisses
Now you are so big that Mama had to retire all of your newborn clothes to the storage closet for the next baby. Time is passing too fast!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
While each of the lines in that post are true, it also obscures the larger issue that my husband and I "chose" to pursue this current life, even with all of its hardships. We started out with a pretty stable life as a non-profit lawyer and an art professor. After having Hannah, however, we elected to drop out of our planned future to pursue a vague vision of an integral life tied to Catholicism, art, and parenthood. At first we tried to do this as entrepreneurs. Then we thought the answer was a move to New York City. When both those dreams failed- we didn't move back to Southern Ohio where comfortable jobs awaited. Instead, we came to start living a new slate of dreams founded in the nation's capital.
It's hard to explain that even with bill collectors calling and a newborn with infant reflux who constantly squirts up on my shoulder, I still wouldn't trade places with any of my law school friends who started out making $100,000+ at age 25. I wish my family's financial troubles would end. I wish the baby could find a better drug for her stomach acid. But I don't wish that I was sitting in a more conventional life spending my day shopping for window treatments.
This divide has lead to some odd conversations with my former classmates. Friends tell me of their office troubles and then wonder why I'm not there too. Meanwhile, I stand there, conscious of the purple circles of sleeplessness under my eyes, faking my active listening skills and thanking my lucky stars that I'm now a stay-at-home mom.
This passage I found today in Maugham's "The Moon and The Sixpence" seemed to speak about this gulf and the futility of using words to breach it.(The Moon and The Sixpence is a fictional account of artist Paul Gauguin. The title comes from a critique of the protagonist "Of Human Bondage" who it was said "like so many young men he was so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet.")
"I told Tiare the story of a man I had known at St. Thomas's Hospital. He was a Jew named Abraham, a blond, rather stout young man, shy and very unassuming;but he had remarkable gifts. He entered the hospital with a scholarship, and during the five years of the curriculum gained every prize that was open to him. He was made house-physician and house-surgeon. His brilliance was allowed by all. Finally he was elected to a position on the staff, and his career was assured. so far as human things can be predicted, it was certain that he would rise to the greatest heights of his profession. Honors and wealth awaited him. Before he entered upon his new duties he wished to take a holiday, and, having no private means, he went as surgeon on a tramp steamer to the Levant. It did not generally carry a doctor, but one of the senior surgeons at the hospital knew a director of the line, and Abraham was taken as a favor.
In a few weeks the authorities received his resignation of the coveted position on the staff. It created profound astonishment, and wild rumors were current. Whenever a man does anything unexpected, his fellows ascribe it to the most discreditable motives. But there was a man ready to step into Abraham's shoes, and Abraham was forgotten. Nothing more was heard of him. He vanished.
It was perhaps ten years later that one morning on board ship, about to land at Alexandria, I was bidden to line up with the other passengers for the doctor's examination. The doctor was a stout man in shabby clothes, and when he took off his hat I noticed that he was very bald. I had an idea that I had seen him before. Suddenly, I remembered:
"Abraham," I said.
He turned to me with a puzzled look, and then, recognizing me, seized my hand. After expressions of surprise on either side, hearing that I meant to spend the night in Alexandria, he asked me to dine with him at the English Club. When we met again I declared my astonishment at finding him there.It was a very modest position that he occupied, and there was about him an air of staitened circumstance. Then he told me his story. when he set out on his holiday in the Mediterranean he had every intention of returning to London and his appointment at St. Thomas's. One morning the tramp docked at Alexandria, and from the deck he looked at the city, white in the sunlight, and the crowd on the wharf; he saw the natives in their shabby gabardines, the blacks from the Sudan the noisy throng of Greeks and Italians, the grave Turks in tarbooshes, the sunshine and the blue sky and something happened to him. He could not describe it. It was like a thunder-clap he said, and then, dissatisfied with this, he said it was like a revelation. Something seemed to twist his heart, and suddenly he felt an exultation, a sense of wonderful freedom. He felt himself at home, and he made up his mind there and then, in a minute, that he would life the rest of his life in Alexandria. He had no great difficulty in leaving the ship, and in twenty-four hours, with all his belongings, he was on shore. . .
"Have you never regretted it?"
"Never, not for a minute. I earn just enough to live upon, and I'm satisfied. I ask nothing more than to remain as I am till I die. I've had a wonderful life."
I left Alexandria next day, and I forgot about Abraham till a little while ago, when I was dining with another old friend in the profession, Alec Carmichael, who was in English on short leave. I ran across him in the street and congratulated him on the kinghthood with which his eminent serves during the war had been rewarded. We arranged to spend an evening together for old time's sake, and when I agreed to dine with him, he proposed that he should ask nobody else, so that we could chat without interruption. He had a beautiful old house in Queen Anne Street, and being a man of taste he had furnished it admirably. on the walls of the ding-room I saw a charming Bellotto, and there was a pair of Zoffanys that I envied. When his wife, a tall, lovely creature in cloth of gold, had left us, I remarked laughingly on the change in his present circumstances from those when we had both been medical students. We had looked upon it then as an extravagance to dine in a shabby Italian restaurant in the Westminster Bridge Road. Now Alec Carmichael was on the staff of half a dozen hospitals. I should think that he earned ten thousand a year, and his knighthood was but the first of the hors which must inevitably fall to his lot.
"I've done pretty well," he said, "but the strange thing is that I owe it all to one piece of luck."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, do you remember Abraham? He was the man who had the future. When we were students he beat me all along the line. He got prizes and scholarships that I went in for. I always played second fiddle to him. If he'd kept on he'd be in the position I'm in now. That man had a genius for surgery. No one had a look in with him. When he was appointed Registrar at St. Thomas's I hadn't the chance of getting on the staff. I should have had to become a G.P., and you know what likelihood there is for a G.P. ever to get out of the common rut. But Abraham fell out, and I got the job. That gave me my opportunity."
"I dare say that is true."
"It was just luck. I suppose there was some kink in Abraham. Poor devil, he's gone to the dogs altogether. He's got some twopenny-halfpenny job in medical at Alexandria-sanitary officer of something like that. . . The fact is, I supposed, that it's not enough to have brains. The thing that counts is character. Abraham hadn't got character."
Character? I should have thought it needed a good deal of character to throw up a career after half an hour's meditation, because you saw in another way of living a more intense significance. And it required still more character never to regret the sudden step.
But I said nothing, and Alex Carmichael proceeded reflectively:
"Of course, it would be hypocritical for me to pretend that I regret what Abraham did. After all, I've scored by it." He puffed luxuriously at the long Corona he was smoking. "But if I weren't personally concerned I should be sorry at the waste. It seems a rotten thing that a man should make such a hash of life."
I wondered if Abraham really had made a hash of life. Is to do what you most want, to live under the conditions that please you, in peace with yourself, to make a hash of life; and is it success to be an eminent surgeon with ten thousand a year and a beautiful wife? I suppose it depends on what meaning you attach to life, the claim which you acknowledge to society, and the claim of the individual. But again, I held my tongue, for who am I to argue with a knight?"pg. 165-168
Interesting food for thought. Has anyone ever accused you of making "a hash of your life?"
Then you must skip to the most fascinating, witty recount of a young art student's life in Paris at the turn of the century. These students are obsessed with that dashing new group of bohemians who called themselves "The Impressionists." If you've ever had a Monet watercolor reproduction hanging on your wall in college, you'll relish this historic insight into the lives of their contemporary "wannabees."
But, during the course of your reading as painters names are flung around as thickly as absinthe orders, and you're secretly gratified that the hours you spent in a darken lecture halls of Art 100 were not in vain, you may stumble into this passage. It will cause you to sit up and wonder if you've ever really studied the history of painting at all:
"A good painter had two chief objects to paint, namely man and the intention of his soul. The impressionists had been occupied with other problems, they had painted man admirably, but they had troubled themselves as little as the English portrait painters of the eighteenth century with the intention of his soul. . .
The greatest portrait painters have painted both man and the intention of his soul; Rembrandt and El Greco; it's only the second-raters who've only painted man... Correctness is all very well: El Greco made his people eight feet high because he wanted to express something he couldn't get any other way."
An arresting thought which makes reading Maugham's novels so addictive! Impressionists as simply the inventors of a new technique to record light. The painters put as little thought into the meaning behind their compositions as a camera does for a simple family photograph.
Now you think, for all your talk & Paris museum visits, have you ever really like the Impressionists? Did Monet with his lovely colored shadows ever paint his mistress so that you could see the contents of her soul? Or was did her face always remain inscrutable? Where the dabs of paint just a fad of technique like Jackson Pollack? Something cool to know about but never so absorbing as to force you to stand again and again in front of them probing for deeper meaning. In fact, the obvious popularity of the Impressionist makes them sort of an embarrassment. Rather like discovering at age 32 that you do not in fact like the lyrics of "Imagine"?
Is Maugham's criticism of the Impressionists valid? I leave it for you to debate, gentle readers. I know that I for one, will be seeking out more Rembrandts and El Grecos, to ponder at the National Galleries in the near future.
El Greco, Holy Trinity
It's a rare gift and one that even after two years, we still appreciate. I get a 'spell' from handling three kids. The kids get to tell Dad all about their morning adventures while the day is still fresh in their minds. Jon, the worker bee, gets a break from job stress and a tangible reminder of the four precious reasons why he works so hard.
If you aren't lucky enough to have a Dad who comes home for lunch, why don't you do the next best thing. Make a weekly "lunch date" over the phone. As your husband eats a sandwich at his desk, tell him about the joys of your day. Have the kids share their favorite story. Tell him that your proud of him for handling the angst of the work day with the grace of a Catholic.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
To save Oliver Hill Farm, the family needs 530 people to donate $100 by September 27. I've made a donation and brought their intentions to my Mothers' Rosary Group this week. If you are also moved, please visit this website to learn more, keep them in your prayers, and consider making a donation(at whatever amount).
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
(The author, Scott Peterson, is the husband of the amazing Melissa Wiley. His blog also hosts a steady, thought-provoking tribute to the fallen soliders of Iraq.)
Saturday, September 15, 2007
“How many dependents does your husband have? Four?” a woman with a friendly Midwestern accent chirps.
“There are five in the family now.” I answer brightly, trying to juggle a nursing newborn and a cordless phone on the same shoulder.
“And you’re STILL a stay-at-home mother?” The friendly voice becomes less friendly. The woman leans hard on the word “still.”
“Yes” I answer simply.
“And you’ve had ANOTHER baby!” There is a sharp accent on “another.”
“Yes,” I answer. A much smaller, meeker, but still simple “yes.”
I’m the girl who is still sitting on her graduate degree,
still a mother of yet another newborn,
an ex-student still hitting the “post-pone payment” on my Sallie Mae student loan debt,
the borrower still only 18 months into a 5 year credit-card repayment schedule
AND I’m still trailing almost $1250 in debt from our family’s lapse onto Food Stamps two years ago. (Our $1250 debt is a batch of unpaid medical co-pays with an unpaid electricity bill and an unpaid Ohio parking ticket thrown in for variety. Today’s family-size judgment came from the unpaid electricity bill people.)
I must be in some sleep-deprived alternative reality because when Ms. Midwest identified which “important business matter” message had been left on my answering machine three weeks ago my heart leapt up. “Oh, Madison Electric!” I think. “I know that bill.” “Hurrah, your company’s finally made it to the top of the repayment list.” “I even sent you a check from the money we received when the baby was born.”
Ms. Midwestern Debt collector was not so joyous when she opened my account. “Yes we received your $100 payment. On June 4th. That was three months ago.” (The baby is that old already?) “No payment has been made since that date. You’re husband is still at the same job making the same amount? You’re still a stay at home mother? And you’ve had another baby!”
I answer “yes.” Then I do something that I’ve never done before. I hold my breath. I pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. My husband has specifically asked me to stop placing impossible deadlines on our old bills. Without this promise, my natural tendency is to promise to sell my left kidney in order to pay off the creditors faster.
For example this is the verbatim conversation that occurred between the family accountant (me) and the wise, loving husband (him) on March 17, 2006.
“Honey, if we don’t pay rent for three months and ask my grandfather to cover all of our groceries, then I think I can pay off our biggest credit card by July.”
My dear husband says “No.”
“But I’ve negotiated such a great deal, we can save $4,000 if we do this.”
“No” he says with infinite patience.
“But I don’t think that we’ll get evicted as long as we stay just two months behind in rent. Even if we do get served with eviction, it’s a six week long process and I can handle all the pre-trial motions for free.”
“No,” remains his firm and wise counsel.
Eventually, even with my impaired vision, I can see that this great deal is not so great. So I call back Bank of America and tell the nice claims adjuster that the deal we spent 45 minutes hashing over is now off the table. (Eventually, we settle on $318 per month over 5 years at 9.9 % interest).
So this time, rather than have the embarrassment of over-promising and not paying, I choose to just stay silent. Not mad. Not defensive. Just quiet. And this time the debt collector actually got quiet and got off the phone. Without my promising to pay anything at any date! Because honestly, I have no idea when or how to pay off that debt.
And yet, I’m still having babies. Lots of babies. “Why?” our creditors mournfully ask.
Because. . . it’s hard to explain. I’m afraid that if I waited until I had the money thing all figured out, I’d risk never having any babies at all.
Besides Maria (our newborn) is the cheapest one yet. She came, as the Italian proverb said, with a loaf of bread tucked under her arm. Her fine baby clothes came from a surprise shower held by her Daddy’s co-workers. The income tax deduction from her birth perfectly covers Daddy’s private student loan bill—the one that begins in October and runs for the next ten years. Nursing Maria means no grocery bill yet. Her great-grandpa generously picks up her diapers during his Cosco runs. Maria even came with a tiny $844 co-pay hospital bill. Since we gave birth at Holy Cross, a Catholic hospital, we receive an additional 50% off. (The financial aid income limit for three or more children is almost double, which I excitedly interpreted as “Hey, thanks for having a large family! Please let us grant you practically free medical care!)
Claiming that Maria is such a “great deal” at only $422 doesn’t satisfy our creditors, however. I still feel bad every time they call. I don’t have any answers for them or even strength to make pretend answers. I’m still swimming in the same pool of debt. Now I’m just pulling even more babies behind me.
Practicing humility sometimes requires enduring humiliation. My husband has one pair of scruffy dress shoes from Kohl’s with soles that are so wore-out that they pick up stones during his daily walk to work. (I’m down to one pair of rhinestone encrusted snappy evening shoes and one pair of seven-year-old Teevas.) This current shoe-shortage might feel sort of liberating if it was done by us on purpose to pay for Hannah’s Catholic school tuition. (I imagine a sort of pride in taking Jesus’ call to “take only one pair of sandals with you” so literally.) Instead, we have neither money to send Hannah to pre-school now nor a clear prospect of how to pay for her kindergarten next year. There is no money to pay two-year old electricity bills and the sinking knowledge that someday soon there’s upcoming expenditure, of at least $75, for men’s dress shoes
So we are limping. We don’t have our financial house in order. Yet we are still having kids.
God Bless the Debt Collectors. What dirty, rotten job they have to slug through every day. God Bless the families that can’t pay their electric bills. God Bless those families that abstain from having more children in order to avoid conversations like mine. And God Bless newborn baby girls who are their mothers' greatest treasure.
Happy 3rd Birthday Mr. Archer! Hope you enjoy your Spiderman birthday cake. Enjoy this musical message from your friend Lex. (Just imagine him happily singing "Is he bad? Listen Bud. He's got radioactive blood!")
A special shout out to your amazing mom who is now juggling a trio of boys, William (6), Archer (3) and newborn baby Morgan, in the Nashville heat. You are my hero Jen!
“Your new friend looks like a poet,” said Weeks, with a thin smile on his careworn, bitter mouth.
“He is a poet.”
“Did he tell you so? In America we should call him a pretty fair specimen of a waster.’
“Well, we’re not in America,” said Philip frigidly.
“How old is he? Twenty-five? And he does nothing but stay in pensions and write poetry.
“You don’t know him” said Philip hotly.
“Oh yes I do: I’ve met a hundred and forty-seven of him.” . . .
“How can you have known a hundred and forty-seven of him? Asked Philip seriously.
“I’ve met him the in Latin Quarter in Paris, and I’ve met him in pensions in Berlin and Munich. He lives in small hotels in Perugia and Assisi. He stands by the dozen before the Botticellis in Florence, and he sits on all the benches of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In Italy he drinks a little too much wine, and in Germany he drinks great deal too much beer. He always admires the right things, whatever the right thing is, and one of these days he’s going to write a great work. Think of it, there are a hundred and forty-seven great works reposing in the bosoms of a hundred and forty-seven great men, and the tragic thing is that not one of those hundred and forty-seven great works will ever be written. And yet the world goes on.”
Weeks spoke seriously, but his grey eyes twinkled a little at the end of his long speech, and Philip flushed when he saw that the American was making fun of him.
“You do talk rot,” he said crossly.
From Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” pg 120-121
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
"Lord, you said that whatever two or more people ask in Jesus' name will be granted onto them. We pray that Islamic terrorists are blessed. That they have the peace of Christ in their lives and in their hearts. That the economies of their country prosper and that they are surrounded by loving family and friends.
We also pray for the peace in the hearts of all of those who lost a love one on 9/11. We ask for a blessing of protection for all of our dear soldiers in Iraq and around the world. Amen"
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Magdalene Scholl was an extraordinary mother of five who lived in Munich, Germany during WWII. Two of her children, Sophie Scholl (age 21) and Hans Scholl (age 23), were executed by the Nazis on the same day, February 22, 1943, for leading a non-violent student resistance group. “The White Rose” passed out six illegal leaflets that urged University of Munich students (most of the them on study breaks from their obligation to serve as officers in the German army) to withdraw from the Nazi party and oppose Hitler. The Nazi’s restrictions on free speech were so great during this time period that this tiny collection of leaflets is one of the only examples of internal dissent ever voice against Hitler during the entire war.
A medical student, Hans Scholl, founded the White Rose after becoming disillusioned during his service as a German army medic. Hans saw first hand the horror of the Jewish Ghetto in Poland. He was certain that once the German people knew the truth about the Nazi party that they would rise up in revolt against it.
Full of angst in 1943, Hans wrote a passionate appeal for German citizens to stand up against Hitler. He wrote the first four leaflets (or essays) with the help of his friend, Alexander Schmorell (a devoted Russian Orthodox). The two printed and passed out the leaflets in secrete. Han and Alex’s essays are wonderfully earnest and sensitive appeals to conscious, filled with quotes by Goethe, Aristotle, Ecclesiastes, and Lao-Tzu. Here is a brief quote:
“I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.” From Leaflet IV.
To read all six leaflets in their entirety go to to
As a responsible older brother, Hans kept his sister, Sophie, in the dark about the White Rose, not wishing to expose her to danger. Sophie sensed something was up and demanded that Hans tell her everything. Once she learned of their secrete mission she insisted on joining the group. As the only female member, she was incredibly useful because she was the least likely to arise suspicion. Sophie even helped get a contraband copying machine to expand the printing process.
On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie skipped class to stock the hallways with the sixth leaflet written by their beloved philosophy professor, Professor Huber. When the lectures were finished, some students paused to pick up the illegal leaflets on their way to lunch. After the storm of students passed, however, Hans and Sophie saw that many leaflets remained. Not wanting their hard work to be in vain, they decided to throw the remaining leaflets onto the floor of the main hallway. The two siblings carried the leaflets up to the third floor and Sophie flung them off the railing. A janitor saw the students and reported the incident to the Gestapo. Hans and Sophie were immediately arrested
On February 22, at 8 AM, the siblings were brought to trial for treason and faced the death penalty. (These events are faithfully captured on the film “Sophie Scholl: Final Days” available on Netflix.) Both siblings were incredibly brave and levelheaded. They insisted on taking the full blame of the group’s activities on themselves. The only time Sophie cried was in her cell when she realized that through hand-writing analysis the Gestapo traced and arrested a third member of the group. Christoph Probst was a beloved friend and a father of three children.
Sophie and Hans parents, Magdalene and Robert Scholl, reached the trial in Munich at 12:00 PM. The guards at the courtroom tried to bar their entrance. “But I’m the mother of two of the accused”, Magdalene cried. “Then you should have raised your children better!” was the Nazi guards reply.
Robert broke into the courtroom but was immediately tossed out after trying to intercede as a defense witness for his children. At 12:40, the Judge, who was infuriated that these children from “good German families and schools” had dared to oppose the Nazi Party sentence them to death. Robert and Magdalene then raced to various administrations trying to get a stay of execution. By 2:00 PM a friend in official office warned that it was hopeless and urged them to make a final visit immediately with their children.
This excerpt is from a first-hand account of Magdalene’s last visit with her daughter
“Then a woman prison guard brought in Sophie. . . . Her mother tentatively offered her some candy, which Hans had declined. “Gladly,” said Sophie, taking it. “After all, I haven't had any lunch!” She, too, looked somehow smaller, as if drawn together, but her face was clear and her smile was fresh and unforced, with something in it that her parents read as triumph. “Sophie, Sophie,” her mother murmured, as if to herself. “To think you'll never be coming through the door again!” Sophie's smile was gentle. “Ah, Mother,” she said. “Those few little years. . . .” Sophie Scholl looked at her parents and was strong in her pride and certainty. “We took everything upon ourselves,” she said. “What we did will cause waves.” Her mother spoke again: “Sophie,” she said softly, “Remember Jesus.” “Yes,” replied Sophie earnestly, almost commandingly, “but you, too.” She left them, her parents, Robert and Magdalene Scholl, with her face still lit by the smile they loved so well and would never see again. She was perfectly composed as she was led away. Robert Mohr [a Gestapo official], who had come out to the prison on business of his own, saw her in her cell immediately afterwards, and she was crying. It was the first time Robert Mohr had seen her in tears, and she apologized. “I have just said good-bye to my parents,” she said. “You understand . . .,” She had not cried before her parents. For them she had smiled.”
-taken from Jewish Holocaust archives at
This passage has caused a lump in my throat all week. “Remember Jesus.” “Yes, but you, too.” The last words between a mother and beloved daughter. Sophie would be executed by guillotine in front of her brother at 6:00 PM that night. The Gestapo guards were shocked at her calm demeanor. “Not a hair on her head turned” as she faced the gullitonine. Her final words were “God, you are my refuge into eternity.” Her friend, the father of three little children, Christoph was baptized as a Catholic just before his death by the priest that offered Sophie and Hans their last confession. He told the priest “now I can die with joy.” Hans had to watch a sister and friend die. His last words were “Long live freedom!”
We know so much about the type of mother Magdalene was from her actions. “Remember Jesus.” And her daughter offers her the same consolation. She raised her children to love each other and to be so connected to the Holy Spirit, that they alone, seemed to figure out that opposing Hitler- in this peaceful, non-violent way, was worth the risk. Times had changed so radically for Magdalene. When her son Hans was born, her husband was a celebrated mayor and the town they lived in fired a 21 gun salute in honor of his birth. Now the German state had just murdered her two children after a fake trial. How did she survive after that loss?
She survived using the same sacraments that I use as a mother. The Eucharist. The Stations of the Cross. Her children were united with the unfair condemnation of Jesus himself and suffered the same penalty.
Did their sacrifice seem worth it to her? When I first heard of this story in the National Holocaust museum I was a college student and felt thrilled about the siblings bravery. Rereading their words as a writer, I’m touched. As a mother, I’m also baffled. Suddenly the pain is so much more real. If I were visiting Alexei in the prison cell it would probably be less “Remember Jesus,” and more anxiety: “Why are you here? Why did you drag your little sister into this? Was a few words thrown from a school railing, worth it?’
At the time, Sophie was convinced that her death would cause the students to rise up and end the war. That didn’t happen. The war dragged on for two more years. Sophie and Hans’ younger brother died in Russia while serving the German army. The rest of the family was imprisoned until the Allies freed them in 1945. (Including older sister Ingrid, who heard about the White Rose and refused to join her siblings because that was such a dangerous idea!)
When we make the conscious effort to pass on the faith to our children all we can know for certain is that a strong Catholic faith insures “a good death.” We can hope this means a peaceful death at age 95 while holding the hands of loving children and grandchildren. But a “good death” can mean dying at age 21 at the hands of an evil tyrant. Sophie died in front of her brother and newly baptized friend. She had the graces of the sacrament of the sick imparted heroic virtue. I’m sure that her mother, Magdalene, played a large part of her children’s strong Catholic faith.
The Mass Reading from August 27, which we celebrated in the Columbus Cathedral, is a fitting conclusion.
The Reading is about the beheading of John the Baptist. Mark 6:17-29
“Since St. John the Baptist’s martyrdom to the present times, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and persecution at the hands of violent people. The blood of martyrs throughout the age’s bare witness to this fact. Their testimony to the truth, teachings and challenges of the gospel and their willingness to suffer and die for their faith prove victory rather than defeat for the kingdom of God. Through Christ’s victory on the cross they obtain the glorious crown of victory and everlasting life with Jesus Christ. What give us the power, boldness, and courage to witness to Jesus Christ and to the truth of the gospel? The Holy Spirit fills us with courage, love, and boldness to make Jesus Christ known and loved, She should never be fearful of those who oppose the gospel, those who challenge the teachings of Jesus Christ, because the love of Jesus Christ is stronger than fear and death itself. His love conquers all, even our fears and timidity in the face of opposition and persecution. We can trust in his grace and help at all times. Are you ready to make Christ known and loved, to stand up against the fad and trends of our society for what is right, true, and good according to Jesus Christ, and if necessary to suffer for his sake and the sake of the gospel? “
Handout from the Columbus Cathedral, Adapted form Irish Jesuits’ Sacred space
*In an ironic "vengence in mine, sayth the Lord", the Judge who treated Sophie and Hans so cruelly was killed on the bench by an Allied bomb attack. Eventually the air-raid sirens were heard. Everyone made it out of the courtroom. However, the Judge remembered that he had left out an important file and returned to his bench. He was killed while sitting at the bench by a Allied bomb.
My apologies for being a poor historian. Turns out that calling Sophie a Catholic, is a bit of a stretch. Her sister, Inge Scholl, described her siblings as being on the brink of becoming Catholic. Since Inge is a Catholic convert herself, that report could be a bit biased. Their mother was certainly not Catholic. I couldn't get a firm read on whether the priest that heard their final confession was a Catholic. Some sources said yes. However, the Scholl movie, which was otherwise extremely accurate showed the last priest as being Lutheran.
The real find during my "is she a Catholic or not?" web search, is this amazing find. A potential Catholic Saint was the person who most likely the one who inspired Sophie Scholl's actions. Sophie attended a service of Bishop Von Galen, nicknamed "the Lion of Munster." He directly challenged the Natzi's on their program of exterminating the mentally ill. Sophie had worked with mentally ill children during her work in "kinder care." She quotes Von Galen during her fiery defiance speech in the midst of her interragation.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
My earliest memory on this subject comes at age eight, or there about, and screaming in the middle of a four-square court on a Columbus playground, “Well, I’m not a Republican because Ronald Regan makes women have babies when they don’t want to!”
My concern over abortion rights had a bizarre beginning. My mother started out her teaching career as a seventh grade history teacher in a special inner-city school for pregnant girls. This meant she that had daily exposure to girls ages 12 and 13 who were pregnant with their second or even third baby. So my mom, who was too tongue-tied to offer me an explanation of sex or even to urge abstinence, just kept telling me from age eight “If you ever get pregnant come tell me early so that we can take care of it.”
I knew that I was going to have an abortion if I got pregnant before I even had any idea how one became pregnant. I figured out from watching movies that passionate kissing must be involved. Couples kissed a lot and then in the next frame they had a baby. So I decided that there was some big electric clock-like counter in a couple’s bedroom and after a certain number of kisses in a row- say 500- a baby would suddenly appear in a Mama’s belly. (I distinctly remember having this thought as late as 7th grade.)
Skip to senior year in high school. We’ve moved to rural West Virginia, a place where teenage pregnancy is “rampant” or at least out in the open when girls decide on adoption rather than abortion. I remember standing in the lunch line as a freshman and being shocked at seeing 4 to 5 girls in line ahead of me with swollen bellies.
My senior year, my well-respected doctor, came to speak to my Methodist high school youth group about sexual education. After his chat about the dangers of syphilis, he calmly passes around tiny fetuses in test tubes. “See how small fetuses are,” he said passing them around. “They can’t live on their own. This is why it’s okay to abort them early.” The babies were impossibly small, under an inch long, and looked like unformed Martians bobbing up and down in formaldehyde, like some type of toy. He passed them around to show how uncreepy death was. A freshman girl ahead of me recoiled and refused to touch the two tubes. I remember distinctly pushing down the bile in my stomach, and grabbing the test tube in front of her. I felt like I had to be brave, and have a scientific mindset in front of my doctor. “Yep, this is not human. It might as well be a chicken embryo.” I thought, “Early abortion must be okay, just not late, late abortion.”
(I have no idea why this was permitted in my Methodist Youth Group. I’m sure that many adults in my Methodist church did not share my doctor’s viewpoint. But no parent or the youth group leaders ever complained about it. I can only assume that as a popular doctor, no one dared to complain to their parents about his tactics or his message.)
When it was time to attend Smith College, I looked carefully over the student health insurance brochure. The brochure said plainly that abortions were a covered service, kept entirely confidential from the student’s parents, and even secretly coded in the resulting medical bill. I’d never gone further than kissing a guy, but I remembered thinking at age 18, “this is good. I’ll be responsible and get the insurance for this reason.” It seems so important to be responsible and plan for this service before I was actually in a position to need it. I remember urging my dad to pay for the optional health insurance. He didn’t want to pay at extra $500 because I’d still be covered on his family plan until I turned 21. I fought hard, and kept saying “I really need this.” I never told him the real reason behind my urgency. I justified the extra cost to my parents because I figured it was far easier to pay $500 for a medical plan I may not use, rather than have to ask him for the money to pay for an abortion if I accidentally became pregnant.
I held onto my virginity until just a few weeks before my 21st birthday. My decision to lose it was so heartbreakingly innocent. I remember pacing up and down this hill by my dorm my junior year- weighing the pros and cons. I’d been dating this boy for five months. I’d reached the end of what I thought was the only “normal” time to be a virgin. (I had somehow decided was okay to be a virgin when you went into college, but if you were still one after age 21, you morphed into this scary, weird thing & no one would date you.) So now I’d come to the cross roads: so here was the basics of my internal monologue which continued for over two hours as I paced up and down this steep hill. “I love X. I really love him. But what if we don’t end up married college sweethearts like my parents? Hmm, well even if we break-up and I end up marrying someone else, my future husband is still going to know that I really loved X when I was 20, so what is the difference if I slept with X too?” “So what is the difference?”- that was conclusion what marked my fall from celibacy with a guy who broke up with me three weeks later!
While nursing a broken heart Junior year, I’d also enrolled in this intensive senior seminar called “Women and The Law.” We met once a week at a local café to talk with my favorite professor about musty Supreme Court cases and old articles from The Economist. This class was memorable because I actually got to debate policy while eating my favorite lemon poppy seed scones. I also asked a fellow classmate “How was your summer break?” Her unexpected answer “Great, I was an egg donor!” Out poured a hideous tale about shots, doctor visits and the advantage of a Smith degree on the price of one’s ova. All I could think of was “GROSS.”
So in the midst of this climate, I read Roe v. Wade for the fist time and I get this sharp, stabbing pain in my stomach. Suddenly the abortion debate is real. I had sex, I could have gotten pregnant, and in the middle of this frantic “debate” I realize that I personally could never have an abortion. I was a college student. I had options for employment. Even if it were hard in the beginning, if I got pregnant now, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep the baby.
So that is how I morphed from “I’m going to have an abortion.” To I’m personally against it, but people should have the right to make up their own minds about it.”
Then came two telling events in law school. First, I gave material aid to someone seeking an abortion. One of my close friends picked me up from the airport and said she was pregnant. I said “Congratulations!” She responded, “This isn’t good news.” I had this prickly feeling every time she talked to me about it. At that time, I thought that I might never have a baby of my own. I wondered if I should offer to adopt it for her. I raised the issue with my friend in one hesitant, poorly stated question “Have you thought about adoption?” My friend said she couldn’t bear to do adoption. It was going to be raise the child herself or have an abortion. After two weeks of debate, she asked me to go with her to the clinic.
Filled with ironic pride that I was "such a good friend", I had the "honor" of accompanying her to the clinic. When it came time for the procedure, I asked her if we should say a prayer for the baby. My friend said, “No, that will make this worse.” So I said a silent prayer, instead. (I don’t know why I felt moved to offer to say a prayer for the baby but still lack enough clarity of thought to not yell STOP!) I remember feeling sort of numb towards my friend, but thinking clearly that the other girls in the waiting room looked so sad. They were young, college kids and high school kids. Each had a female friend with her and the friend kept joking in an attempt to take away the pain “Think how much fun you’ll have with your boyfriend tonight at the party!” and “Maybe we can go out for chocolate milkshakes when you’re done.” Soothing the pain of an abortion with promises of milkshakes and boy-girl parties, it seemed so painfully young.
Five months later, I was shocked by the painfully cheap price of an abortion. I was manning the call center for our Family Law Clinic. A low-income mother called, furious, that there was no public funds for abortions in Wisconsin. “Shouldn’t that be illegal?” she asked. “Can’t I sue someone?” Her daughter was pregnant with a second or third child, and she didn’t have the money to get an abortion. It was going to cost $350. On and on this mother went complaining about the cost. “Doesn’t the state know how much more expensive it is to pay for a child on welfare? Why isn’t there more money for abortions?” I started out pacifying her and then I got more and more upset. I remember scrambling to get off the phone and finally hanging up the phone in relief.
Then we read Roe v. Wade in law school. I noticed for the first time that this case is a thoroughly rottenly decided legal opinion. It’s short. It doesn’t cite precedent. It rests on a first trimester, second trimester and third trimester framework which no longer matches the living saving technology available in hospital NCUs. Here I was wrapping my head around terribly complex constitutional issues- and this seemed sort of slapped together, poorly reasoned. How could this central Constitutional law question be so different from all the other Supreme Court decisions in my casebook?
In my last semester of law school, I met my future husband. Only, I didn’t know it at the time. I was graduating in six months and he was supposed to be my foray into guilt-free causal sex. This insight was made I was still a good Methodist girl who was living in dorm attached to an Episcopal Church. I was ridiculously proud that he was only my third partner at 26 and that we “waited” a whole three months. Of course, actual tears came out of my eyes and ran all over his head every time we had sex because I just couldn’t imagine ever breaking up with him.
My new boyfriend was a Catholic, which I should spell with a small “c” because he was only going to Mass five times a year and obviously had no qualms about having pre-marital sex with me. Even so, I knew that he’d draw the line at throwing away a potential baby. He’d be the type to honor his duty and become a father. While that touched me, it also freaked me out. Suddenly, I wouldn’t be the only one who decided what to do about a pregnancy. Also I wanted him to marry me because he loved me, and not feel like he had to stick around for a potential child. At the time, that seemed like the greater tragedy. To have a boy I loved stay with me, but for all the wrong reasons.
So how did I cope with these thoughts? I just doubled up the birth control! I went to our college health clinic before we started having sex and ordered a Depo Preva shot from a nurse practitioner. God Bless the doctor who freaked out that I was putting such toxic chemicals in my body and demanded that I switch to low-hormone birth control pills. I wasn’t excited because I didn’t think that I could remember to take them at the same time each day. But I consented. So their we were having sex with condoms & birth control pills. Within two to three months, I stopped taking the pill. I complained about horrible side effects- and my sensitive boyfriend told me to just stop- he hated me putting those chemicals in my body.
The condoms as birth control stayed the same while everything else changed in two years. I graduated, moved to Ohio, got a job, & passed the bar. He helped me move, started graduate school in New York, proposed the next weekend. We got married, 18 months after we met, in a valid ceremony in my home-town. We moved up our wedding a year so that we never had to “live” together, since we had both decided independently that co-habitation was bad for Christians. (That sort of summed up my bizarre thinking, co-habitation is wrong, contraception is not) During the Catholic pre-marital counseling (called pre-cana) I freaked out about the no-birth control rule. I remember saying, “I’ll agree to raise our kids Catholic but I’m not giving up birth control!” My fiancé agreed. Then came those awful September 11th attacks and I realized that I wanted his children sooner, rather than later.
To celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday, our first wedding anniversary, and his end of graduate school in New York (and hence an end to our nine hour commute)—we took a trip to Ireland. I had just converted to the faith that Easter after finishing a year of RCIA. Being around all those ancient cathedrals with my new shiny faith felt electric. I loved the cleansing feeling of my first confession. When we got home, I just thought that I don’t want to have to confess being on birth control. This was the entire basis of my conversion. I didn’t want to sit in a dark room, anonymously, telling a strange priest, that my husband and I use birth control. I didn’t know why it was wrong, just that the church thought it was. As a result, I was going to have the embarrassment of sharing the details of my sex life with a celibate stranger. Somehow, it seemed just easier to stop using it.
So I shared that incoherent idea with my husband and he agreed.
I remember clearly, we were cleaning up the bedroom and my husband took a long shiny roll of condoms, about fifteen left over from our Ireland trip, in a line so long it reached from his palm to the edge of our trash can. “Guess we don’t need these any more,” he said cheerfully and pitched the condoms inside. My entire line of descendants can trace their existence to that one bold act. My profound thought at the time was “Oh, those cost $22! Such a waste of money if we change our minds!”
So we became “open to life.” Sex, which had already turned into “making love” when we got married, suddenly became this profound, humbling thing. I thought that it would take us six moths to a year to become pregnant. I thought we’d have time for my husband to find a job, for us to settle into marriage, for us to find a similar way to record withdraws in our joint checkbook. Yet two weeks later, Hannah showed up!
I freaked out! I was happy. We called our parents. We set up our first pre-natal visit. Yet most of me was really numb. At the doctors office, I was surprised that the nurses kept saying “Congratulations!” I had a hard time connecting this new state of pregnancy with an actual, live baby appearing within nine months.
I remember so clearly when that all changed. It was a Saturday morning in July. I was fooling around on my husband’s computer and I found this great pro-life site that had real pictures and descriptions of each of the stages of fetal development. We were eight weeks in, and the baby’s heart had just started beating. I remember jumping around and telling my husband “the heart has started, the heart has started!”
We went for a walk downtown to celebrate. I remember so clearly, the bright sunshine, and the feel of my husband’s hand and the rough slope of the sidewalk and this electric feeling that there was a baby’s heartbeat inside of me. A heart beat that would go on her whole life, and it had just begun inside of me!
Then my next thought, "But she’s still a chicken! She’s in that chicken stage of embryonic development, so she’s not really a baby yet."
Then I realized with this all over clarity which somehow sort of hit my whole body at once, rather than just my brain, all chicken embryos are babies. Why should this baby be different? Why are we celebrating the start of this baby's heartbeat just because of a few external factors of her mother? I was white, married and had a graduate degree. As a poverty law attorney, I’d dedicated my life to fight for equality for people who didn’t look like me. I’d helped poor women get food stamps and housing and a decent education. Yet if one of my clients was unmarried, younger, with less education, she wasn’t supposed to be celebrating her baby starting a heartbeat. This was supposed to be a “problem” she should be busy getting rid of.
So that started me on the road to becoming an obedient Catholic, one with a capital “C.” I’d never heard about “natural family planning” and so somehow confused it in my internet research with ecological breastfeeding. That left me blissfully quitting my job (I was the only one with health insurance) and planning a move to Wisconsin, before discovering that I was twenty-weeks pregnant with baby number 2. He was conceived during that mind numbing time of being a full time lawyer, and nursing a nine-month old baby. When we found out the date of conception, I turned to my husband and honestly questioned “We had sex in January?” We did, and thank goodness.
I remember reassuringly rubbing my huge tummy with a baby I called "Joey," when a college friend questioned "Are you sure this is the right time?” I already had one child under age one, neither my husband nor me had a steady job, and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment the size of a shoebox. I told her confidently that Hannah didn’t seem to come at the right time either. Now, however, I know that God’s timing is perfect. And it’s true. We are still paying off a $15,000 credit card bill contracted during that time period, but how could the world exist without my son Alex?
My only truly “planned for” baby was my third child, Francisco. We sketched out the time line for our third child when Alex was only one month old. We took classes in Natural Family Planning. We successfully prevented conception during the awful time when we were unemployed and living with my husband’s parents. Once we had a new job, health insurance, and a new apartment, we happily reversed course. When we found out about Francisco, we threw a family “conception party.” I also prayed the rosary in thanksgiving and dedicated the baby to our Blessed Mother.
We were excited to find out that our new health plan offered a free ultrasound at seven weeks. My husband balanced a 3 year old and a 1 year old on each knee. Everyone strained to make out blurry blue shapes on the ultrasound machine. Then the doctor said, “Sorry there is no heartbeat. It looks like a miscarriage.”
Jon removed the questioning children from the room in a hurry. "What's wrong with the little baby, Daddy?" my daughter asked. I was left alone to hear the facts of a 'blighted ovum" from my doctor. We we got home and put the older babies down for a nap, Jon and I reviewed the prognosis. We refused to believe that the miscarriage had already happened. Instead, we prayed and prayed. My whole Catholic Mothers Group joined me in prayer. Our baby grew and developed a strong heartbeat. After two tense weeks, the baby passed his ultrasound: "Your little one looks great. The baby is right on track for where he or she should be at eight weeks." We thought that our conception date was just off and that now we were home free. On week thirteen, I went for a regular ob visit and discovered the baby died the day before. I had a miscarriage at home and we had a full Catholic burial with his body.
The profound experience of seeing my son, who died at 12 weeks and six days, made changed us from pro-life to vocally PRO-LIFE. My son was extremely small, less than four inches, but fully formed. He had toes, fingers, teeth buds inside his gums, and a tiny penis no bigger than a grain of rice. This last fact surprises people, who assume I’m just “wishing” that we had another son since it would be too early to possibly know for certain.
I had an upsetting conversation with my best friend over this issue, whose mother is ironically a science teacher. “He must have been older than the ultrasound date! If you could identify the genitalia, he must have been older” she confidentially stated. This was upsetting because I’d barely reconciled myself to a loss that just crossed over the first trimester. If I’d truly lost him in the second, I thought that it would be so much harder to have a fourth baby. “Let’s trust the experts,” my husband wisely said. I’ve since realized why people are so insistent that Francisco must have been older when he died. Babies aren’t supposed to be recognizable so early. That’s when abortion starts to hurt.
Now it all makes me sick to my stomach. Abortion. IVF babies thrown into the trash. Children aborted because they have Down syndrome. Or because their parents can’t afford the price of another college education. Or the fact that they are due before a marriage instead of after. As Americans, we are so judgmental about female children getting aborted in India, or the second & third children in China. Yet we also live in a culture that is throwing away children. My friends ask me “why have you changed?” But I’ve always been a child advocate. I took on tough child abuse cases as a lawyer and fought for better nutrition in schools. I’ve just moved back the time line on what counts as a child, and now I fight just as passionately for even younger kids.
This experience has given me a profound respect for the Roman Catholic Church. The church knew it was wrong and is the one institution that is consistently pro-life. As a mother and former Protestant, I wish I had embraced strict obedience in the Pro-Life area earlier. Instead, I participated in the death of one child. I debased my gift of sexuality with pre-marital sex. I may have directly killed some of my own children during my months of taking the pill, a chemical that causes abortions as well as preventing ovulation.
The real tragedy is that I freely committed all of these sins while continuing to imagine myself as "a good Methodist girl." I knew that I’d never, ever cheat on my husband once I was married. Somehow, I never connected that having pre-marital sex was just cheating on him before we had a chance to meet. In the same way, I wanted to be a loving mother. Yet, I never connected that only God could decide when you were “ready” to have a child.
I think that birth control also has a dangerous fallacy that there is a time in your life when you can be “ready to have a child.” I think we’d be doing a much better service to low-income women and young teenage women, to just admit that most mothers never feel truly “ready” to have a child. You can never have enough money, enough maturity, enough mental resources.
My proof is that with all of my experience, yesterday, my son throw a cheese grater at my newborn daughter. He hit her in the stomach, while I was inches away shutting down my computer and arguing with my four year old about why she couldn’t wash the dishes again right before Daddy was expected home for lunch. My son stood at my doorway and suddenly threw a cheese grater with all of his might. It bounced off his newborn sister’s stomach. I had a fearful few seconds when I didn’t know if, or how badly,the baby was injured. With every one in time-out, or nursing, I had a breakdown. I just thought, “Everyone is right. I have to many children. I can not keep an eye on them all. I’ve become the old woman in the shoe!”
My poor husband returned to work from his lunch break at home, knowing that he left a wife in bad state. I kept calling him every forty minutes with updates on how horrible life was with three children under age four allergy season. Then mercifully everyone fell asleep. I got to write a blog entry about Spartacus that made me feel human again. We decided to skip the trying to make dinner without any groceries drama and went out to eat to the newly discovered nearby “Noodles & Co.”
Then happiness unexpectedly hit me. My two kids politely shared a cheap plate of buttered noodles. My newborn was cooed in her car seat. Meanwhile, my employed husband drank a Japanese beer to celebrate Labor Day weekend.
I exclaimed over a yummy dish of Japanese noodles, “I love this dish, I used to order it all the time in Madison!” And my husband answered, “I loved that place, I went there all of the time.”
I made the discovery that for two and half years my future husband and I visited the same favorite noodle shop and yet never met. Then I strikes me what a gift this was- that we did meet on a snowy night of January 2000, and now I have a son who sings vintage Spiderman cartoon songs, and a daughter who shows off her newly painted her toenails, and a newborn who can now stare at ceiling lights, and even a little son in heaven who keeps us focused on all things eternal.
This was all “God’s Plan” and ever so much more thrilling than any plot that I could dream up myself!