Tuesday, February 13, 2007

an "ill-conceived" sentiment

For the past few wintery evenings, I have turned on the bed early and cozied up to a delightful book by Rachel Simon entitled Riding the Bus With My Sister. Ms. Simon, whose younger-by-eleven-months sister Beth is mildly mentally retarded, takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through both her childhood and her mid-life “coming of age,” both set around her relationship with her sister, whose sole focus in life is riding the public buses from morning until night around her Pennsylvania city. The year that Rachel commits to riding the buses with Beth is nothing short of life-changing—challenging, among other things, Rachel’s self-protective busyness and her concepts of mental retardation and self-determination. Other than a few conversations that felt overly-philosophical and forced, it was beautifully written and well worth reading.

That being said, I had one jaw-dropping, “I can’t believe she said that!” moment about half way through the book that greatly disturbed me. Rachel recounts reaching a point, once Beth is living on her own and becomes “involved” with someone, when her family must make a determination about birth control. After much deliberation, it is agreed that she would never remember to take the pill, couldn’t be trusted to use a diaphragm, couldn’t manage a condom, and would never agree to an IUD. It is at this point that Rachel remarks, as they are feeling the urgency of the situation, that “…the thought of Beth undergoing an abortion seems unbearable—not that she would anyway, as she is the one family member who objects to abortions.”

This is not the comment, just to be clear, that made me gasp. The fact that Ms. Simon does not object to abortions, while it says something to me about her politics and sense of morality, does not, unfortunately, shock me. It is entirely all too common in our “my rights and my needs above anyone else’s” and “there is no right or wrong, just what’s right for ME” culture. What caused me to wake my husband up came two pages later.

After determining as a family that a tubal ligation is the best option for Beth, Rachel accompanies her to the procedure. It appears she is not prepared for her own emotional response afterward. She writes:

Then, after I pull away, waving with a big, sunny smile, when I am too far down
the road to glimpse them in my rearview, I weep. It is a terrible act to
eliminate the possibility of children, to terminate a long march of futures.

This is the same woman who does not oppose the elimination and termination of a fetus? What am I missing here?

Now, I will grant you that some people may argue that what Rachel is really grieving here is the loss of Beth’s choice. Both abortion and conception are, after all, about “a choice, not a child,” correct? Given the articulate nature of the rest of her writing, however, I am not willing to entertain this argument. Her writing is very blunt and intentional. Had she meant that, I’m confident she would have written it as such.

I believe that what Rachel mourned in her rearview mirror was the loss of life in her sister’s womb. The problem with this is that Beth’s womb did not yet contain life—it merely contained the promise of life. I cannot, therefore, reconcile how she could mourn the loss of the promise or hope of life—the “possibility,” as she put it—yet could be perfectly okay with the actual loss of life within her sister’s womb. The contradiction was apparently not as blatant to Ms. Simon.

It is this type of ill-conceived sentiment that convinces me that many in our nation still have a conscience, but refuse to heed it. We know, in those moments of feeling, that there is something lost—that there is something amiss. We feel it in our gut, it washes down our cheeks, it bunches up in our throats, causing us to be unable to swallow. But so many are unable to untangle the web of feminist politics to see that what is amiss ARE the feminist politics, and therefore go on buying the rhetoric that you can have it all—sex without strings attached, choice without consequence, possibility without the true promise of life.

I, too, grieve for Beth, and for other women who have lost the choice to have children. But I grieve even more for the women who elevate the loss of choice over the loss of a child.

1 comment:

Sprout said...

Excellent post! I agree that many people speak from the decisions of their mind and ignore their heart. Unfortunately, I believe many followers of Christ do the same.
Lisa Biggs Crum