By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. Elsewhere today we are running a post based on a column by Ross Douthat, who drew his inspiration for his New York Times op ed on an essay written by Dr. Richard Selzer. Given the heating up of the presidential campaign, in the context of the furor over Planned Parenthood, it made sense to re-run this in which I allude to a different essay that appeared in the same book.
The following was excerpted from an editorial that originally ran in the December 7, 1993, issue of National Right to Life News. It ran one year and one month after pro-abortion Bill Clinton was elected President. The editorial begins by referring back to the many conversations I had in November 1992 when pro-lifers were stunned by the election of “Slick Willie.” The excerpt begins several paragraphs in.
What I told them in heart-to-heart talks formed the basis for remarks which later appeared in this space. What I said was that however keen the disappointment of the hour, however great the momentary bitterness, quitting was an impossibility. Why? Because you are promise-keepers, deeply faithful men and women given over body and soul to fiercely defending those too tiny or too frail to stick up for themselves. Whatever the wayward direction of our culture, it simply is not part of your personality to use setbacks as an excuse to evade your individual responsibility to do whatever you can.
Many drew strength from Philip Hallie’s remarkable insight that “one of the reasons institutional cruelty exists and persists is that people believe that individuals can do nothing…” We reminded one another that we have never fallen victim to this morale-sapping lie. Were we about to now just because Slick Willie temporarily occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Hardly.
Columnist Fred Barnes wrote recently that Clinton was amazed that the Pro-Life movement was still alive and kicking. A man of no known principles of his own, Clinton does not understand that yours is an open-ended dedication to the needs of others. But to be fair, not many do understand our motivation. …
When we–and I do mean we, the father as well as the mother–conceive a child, morally we are duty-bound to recognize that we have implicitly made a pledge more lasting and of more consequence than even a marriage vow. As a result we are called to love more than we planned, “or perhaps even wished” [a reference back to a book on marriage discussed earlier, titled, “For Better, For Worse: Sober Thoughts on Passionate Promises.”]
This is Greek to the pro-abortionist. Control, planning, the absence of surprise (and mystery) is their alpha and omega. Faced with an “unplanned pregnancy,” the instantaneous response is, “But what about me? What a drag on my personal growth it’ll be.”
Talk about dense! True “growth”–that is, moral maturity– is characterized by relinquishing self-centeredness, to put selflessness in its stead. In other words, to give yourself away to others…for better or for worse.
What prompted these ruminations was a photo I chanced upon last week while rummaging through an old file. It was of a woman marching in one of the pro-abortion gatherings held in Washington, D.C. a few years ago. Herself resolutely grim, she was accompanied by a beautiful, smiling young girl whose hand she held. Just about the time you think you ought to revise your stereotype, you notice that around the child’s neck hangs a sign: “I’m a choice.” Good lord, what a thing to do to your own flesh and blood!
But this depressing reminder was more than offset by two other events that took place the same day. On my way into the office, I had listened to a broadcast by Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, who spoke of the need for our faith to be tough. His wry point was that life is going to give us many opportunities to show whether we are made of sterner stuff.
Dr. Dobson concluded with a passage from an extraordinary essay I had read years before. It came from a book titled “Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery,” written by Dr. Richard Selzer. Selzer was writing of a post-operative scene in which, despite his every effort, surgery to remove a tumor had left a young wife’s mouth “twisted in palsy, clownish.”
In her husband’s presence, she asks Selzer, will she always be this way? He answers yes, “She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of cute.'”
Dr. Selzer continues, “Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”
Dr. Dobson quite properly notes that the young man was no god, only a good man, a faithful husband whose love was made of sterner stuff. The kind of stuff pro-lifers are made of.
Later that same day, as I walked back to my car, I chanced upon one of those small human dramas typically no one ever knows about. It was a bitterly cold Washington, D.C., night. I was hurrying along at my usual warp speed when I saw two street people. As I approached I could see that they had what probably was a sum total of their earthly possessions in a little metal cart that tagged along behind them.
Looking closer I saw that the younger man was carefully holding the elbow of the older gentleman, patiently guiding him around some broken glass toward an open door. As I drew abreast, I heard the tap-tap-tapping sound made by a white cane. The scene nearly reduced me to tears. Obviously down on his own luck, the younger man nevertheless cared enough to help his blind friend find shelter from the howling wind and near-freezing temperatures. I understand in a fresh way what it means when we say we care for the “least of them.”
May I just relay one more story? I think you will agree it drives the point home. It was told to me last week by my wife, Lisa. It seems Joanna, our six year old, had been playing peacefully all day long with her four-year-old sister, Louisa. (That alone should have tipped us off something unusual was in the wind.) For some reason, Joanna suddenly piped up, “Oh, when we die we won’t be able to play together.” Whether it was the look on Louisa’s face or Joanna’s own tender heart, she quickly ad-libbed, “But we can play together in heaven.”
Louisa, for her part, was not so easily satisfied. “But how will I find you?” she asked anxiously. Easy, Joanna replied confidently. They’d each have their own mansion. “You can look for mine,” she said. “It’ll have a sign, ‘Joanna’s mansion.'” Louisa then looked up at her big sister and responded in her most solemn voice, “But I can’t read!”
I’m told Joanna paused for only an instant. And then in her best it’ll-be-alright-voice, she reassured her little sister, “Don’t worry. You don’t die before you learn to read.”
We laughed, but then, almost at the same instant, we both thought of the preborn children who sadly, never had a chance to learn to read.
I’m convinced that pro-lifers are given these precious moments not only to make us love our children even more but also to fortify us for the challenges ahead. And because we so love all little children, I believe we have been given special insights into the Lord’s heart. We know that He expects us to be faithful, just as He is faithful. We know that we are to do all that we can for the babies until He calls us home. That is our awesome responsibility but also our glorious privilege.
When we are in His presence I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be mansions waiting for us. I believe the loveliest will be set aside for the children He treasures so much. And may I suggest that the most beautiful mansions of all will be reserved for those who came into His presence before they learned to read.