An Inconvenience Rightly Considered

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
― G.K. Chesterton

When we were much younger,  my sister had a teacher she adored, who generously shared her life with her students.  One salient feature of her life was her child, who happened to have Down Syndome.  I will never forget the gist of a parable that she shared with her students one day; a small story that made such an impression, it was worth repeating by her students.  You could ask my sister to confirm the details, but it goes something like this.  Having a child that is different than you expected is something like getting on a plane for Paris, and ending up in Holland.  The language is different, the customs are different, the topography is not what you expected.  You learned French, and prepared for Paris, but ended up in Holland.  Can you guess the moral here? Holland is different, and you are less prepared.  It is an inconvenience.  But Holland is also a beautiful, wonderful adventure.

I must admit that in the wee small hours of the morning, on nights when my daughter is sick or my husband is gone (or, as happened last night, both are true), I am frequently guilty of following a bunny trail of insignificant “news” (i.e. human drama) stories through yahoo and Huffington Post, if I’m not derailed by clicking episode after episode of Jimmy Fallon videos on youtube.  All that to say, I end up reading things about people I never heard of before, like, for example, Charlotte Dawson, who was found dead in her condo yesterday morning.  Because I have never heard of her, I started reading a bunny trail of articles about her life, to know what she did that her death merited notice.  I don’t really want to delve into defining her life, but there are two facts that made me pause while reading.  One is that she had a very short lived but long on impact marriage to Olympian Scott MIller.  The second is that they conceived an “inconvenient” child together.  What she said about it was this:

“I could sense some hesitation in Scott,” she says. “My due date would clash with the 2000 Olympic Games and this was very concerning.

“Everything Scott had done was leading up to this moment and nothing could stand in his way, so it was decided that we would terminate the child and try again later. Who needed a developing foetus when a gold medal was on offer, eh?”

On the day of the termination, Charlotte says she was in “total turmoil”. Her husband accompanied her to the clinic, but “couldn’t cope with the atmosphere” so left her alone.

After the procedure, Charlotte went home and tried to behave as though nothing had happened, but says something had changed forever.

“I felt a shift,” she says. “Maybe it was hormonal, but I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression.”

(excerpted from Australian Women’s Weekly)

If you look up Scott Miller today, you will find an interview where he seems so high he might fall asleep, and cannot give a coherent response to the interviewer.  The tone of Charlotte Dawson’s reasoning for an abortion is not one of agreement, or acceptance.  She never came to a place of saying “good thing we aborted that baby.  Everything turned out for the better.”  That baby was Holland, and her husband was dead set on France.  I remember reading a collection of essays in my twenties about couples.  Not sure why I picked it up, but I have ever after been haunted by the story of a woman whose husband was a doctor, and insisted that they abort their unexpected second pregnancy, as they had “successfully” raised their first child to adolescence, because he didn’t want to risk “messing up” with the second.

Where do we get our concepts of love and success? Love is not a business deal, where we cut our losses and report our quarterly gains.  If success is defined by “not messing up” we will only be measured once we’re dead, and have no further possibility of “messing up”, whatever that means.  I think it is fair to say that the very definition of love is risk and sacrifice.  God himself sent us a baby to save us all.  He gave us his son, to mistreat and murder.  Jesus could have come full grown out of the ocean, like Botticelli’s Venus, or spring from God’s forehead himself, replete with armour, like Athena.  If we are inventing dieties, that’s how we do it.  Actually, our God would probably look like Scott Miller, in his glory days, ironically.  But God knows better.  Heroes are not made from narcissists and easy lives.  I have noticed that my sister’s catch phrase these days is in regard to “following the path of least resistance.”  It is what 90-99 percent of the population do, myself included most days.  We do not do the moral thing, the brave thing, the unpopular thing.  We do not rightly consider inconvenience.  Abortion is always the path of least resistance.  Putting ourselves first is the path of least resistance.  Sacrifice is not.

In what I would call one of the best short stories ever written, O’ Henry wrote about a young destitute couple, wishing to give the other the best gift each can offer, after making the biggest sacrifice they’re capable of.  In Gift of the Magi, Della and Jim have little else but the love between them, apart from Jim’s watch, and Della’s long, beautiful hair. So what do they do? Jim sells his watch to buy Della a comb for her hair, and Della sells her hair, to buy a fob chain for Jim’s watch.  So here we compare the story of Charlotte and Scott.  Would a baby have robbed Scott of his Olympic Dream? Compare their story to Jim and Della.  I do not wish to draw a parallel between a human life and a watch.  But think of how beautiful Della felt, with her hair chopped off, to know Jim had given away his most precious possession for her pleasure? What if Scott Miller had done the same?  How would Charlotte Dawson’s life have looked?  How would his? Instead of being an Olympic has-been with nothing much to show but a history of drug use and a broken hearted ex-wife who loved him still, he might be a family man, with a child to love and an adoring wife. She made the sacrifice, hallowing herself out for his dream.  But what did he offer in return?

Even God would not take Isaac from Abraham.  What God wants our reciprocal love. If you have ever been angered by the story of Abraham and Isaac, perhaps you do not understand O’Henry’s story.  God does not wish for us to give him everything, so he can hoard it.  He is Jim.  He already gave the best he had, and we are Della.  He is waiting, to see which of us understand the intimate nature of the exchange he offers.  He wants to know the color of our hearts.  He is the king, dressed as a pauper, waiting to see who will love him truly.

If I told you a story about a woman who drowned her baby because her boyfriend didn’t want it around, you would call her wicked.  If I told you a story about a woman who “disposed” of her pre-born baby, because her husband didn’t find it convenient you would call her practical, and modern.  Or, you might see her for what she is, and call her very, very sad.  And if you have children yourself, you might point out that children are NEVER “convenient”.  From all accounts, Charlotte Dawson was a kind, lovely woman, and she probably would have been a wonderful mother.  I do not wish to cast stones; simply to point out the illogic of our moral and legal laws.  God knows better than we do the end result when we spurn his gifts.  When he offers us Holland and we insist on France.  We assume we can always go to Holland later, if we decide to.  But sometimes, the offer never comes around again.  Our folly is assuming it will, and insisting that regardless, France is better.

Consider this well known but little implemented wisdom, from Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In the same book, before the better known “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), we find another verse, that reads: 26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen…Image

On the subject of Holland: If you look up the percentage of woman who choose abortion once they are aware that their child is likely to have Downs Syndrome, almost every source shows that between eighty and ninety percent of the gestational carriers (hesitate to call them “mothers”) will abort.

This is, as one article suggests, a form of eugenics.  It is also, as Cassy Fiano writes so directly in a convicting article on the topic, a selfish convenience:

Recently, I wrote about an article in the New York Times, where the author lamented her friend’s missed opportunity to abort her child with Down syndrome 30 years ago. One commenter, perhaps inadvertently, showed why people really choose to have abortions due to Down syndrome: convenience.

We terminated after a positive DS diagnosis. I am so glad we did. Our quality of life would have been terrible. We actually have the chance to retire in 9 years at age 54. Had we birthed such a needy child, such dreams would have gone down the drain as would our summers in Spain, Mexico and Israel.

This couple allegedly had an abortion so that they could go on exotic vacations. Having a child with Down syndrome would have ruined all of that, so bam – sorry, baby, no life for you!

Would this be acceptable in any other situation? Grandma was too much of a drag when we wanted to travel the world, so we killed her. Little Susie got leukemia, which was just really inconvenient for our trip to Spain next year, so we smothered her with a pillow. Society would rightfully shun anyone who expressed such thoughts. Yet the logic is literally exactly the same, so why is one acceptable and the other is not?

When you think that 80-90 percent of woman would choose to abort their child, knowing he or she will have Down syndrome, it’s hard to think of a better example of a “despised” group of people.  When you think of the simple cognitive abilities of people with Down syndrome, its easy to categorize them as “foolish” or “weak.”  And so, I think it’s fair to say that these are the “despised God has chosen” to essentially teach us how weak we can be, how foolish we can be.    If you look at the statistics of families that have children or siblings with Down syndrome, you might be surprised at how HAPPY they are, both the individuals Down syndrome, and the parents and siblings who love them.  It is not sentimental to call these people gifts.  God made them, he loves them, and he gives them to us as gifts, just as any baby is a gift.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that I once, while working for the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, had the pleasure of matching a grown woman with Down syndrome to a little girl with Down syndrome.  Katie, the adult, was a productive, contributing, lovely individual.  She swam regularly, and was proud of her accomplishments swimming in Special Olympics.  She was a proud auntie, an excellent friend, and a role model to the little girl she mentored.  To my knowledge, she never did anything that brought sadness or harm to the people around her, (and I had interviewed them before matching her).  Could the same be said for Scott Miller?  Does he, an “able bodied, able minded” Olympian have more right to live than her? Did he cause his parents less grief, his wife less pain by being “normal”? He is simply a different trip.  And, as I hope for any individual, I hope his family loves him through his failings, and grows through the experience. As the Hokey Pokey says, that’s what it’s all about.  If they do, he will know that they really loved him.  Not for his Olympic medals, or his perfection, but for himself.

Probably my daughter’s favorite song these days is by J.J. Heller, called “What Love Really Means.” She sings it soulfully, and frequently, and I listen.  And I hope that she, and my husband, and my family and friends, and YOU will always know that you are loved for being yourself, imperfections and failures included.  I imagine that Charlotte Dawson had the lyric playing in her heart the day she died “who will love me for me?”  It is a tragedy that she didn’t know, or believe, the chorus.

He cries in the corner where nobody sees,
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe.
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become.
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means.

Her office is shrinking a little each day;
She’s the woman whose husband has run away.
She’ll go to the gym after working today-
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed.
And she says:

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become.
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means.

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone,
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done.
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul,
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew.

May you be loved for you.  May you know, in the darkest, loneliest night, that you are always loved by the one who made you, and knew you in your mother’s womb-no matter what you’ve done. May you learn to love the people around you truly, deeply, sacrificially. May you know the love of Della and Jim.  May you accept the gift, and feel that peace that passes all understanding. May you go to Holland, if the ticket ever comes. Please send a postcard, if you do;)

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The Plan

I am getting excited about the holidays.  I love the well placed sequence of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  In America, anyway.  I love my Canadians, but Thanksgiving just isn’t the same pre-November.  It steals all the thunder from Halloween, and leaves us drifting through November, with nothing to distract us from the wait to December.  As far as I’m concerned, the first of October is the home stretch in a long year of waiting, waiting to go home again.  And our kick off is Halloween, a holiday I love a little more every year, because it is the domino that tips all the rest over.  Halloween, Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving, Christmas; Christmas, trip home;  Trip home, New Year’s among friends, again. Sigh.  New Years, January-still home (in the states).  It is the first in a 4 month cycle, that helps us slog through the other 8 months, until we’re home again.  February, back to Chile.  Put the dominoes away until next year.

So, speaking of cycles, back to Halloween, the first holiday.  It’s got me thinking of the joker.  More specifically, Heath Ledger’s Joker, in the brilliantly done “Dark Knight.” And what is one of the two most memorable movie lines I have heard in 10 years.  It goes like this:

The Joker

You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”.  But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!

Why does this quote resonate so?  This observation about “the plan” is so astute.  It is not the chaos of the world around us that surprises.  It is the disruption of our expectations that we generally find so horrifying.  This can take many forms.  It occurred to me today that there is a grammar analogy hiding in our expectations.  In linguistics, there is a concept of diagramming sentences.  Sounds sexy, right?  Diagramming sentences is a way of showing the “deep” grammar that undergirds surface grammar.  Like, for example, if I say to you “wanna go?” you know I REALLY mean, “DO YOU want to go?”  If you are a native speaker, this is obvious to you.  You know who the subject is, you know it’s a question.  But maybe you never thought about what is down there, under the waterline, past that ill spoken ice-burg.  Maybe, you never realized that the ‘do’ and the ‘you’ were sitting down there, pushing the rest above surface.

Expectations are like that.  I had some expectations above the water line for years.  I knew they were there.  For one, I used to love Barbara Kingsolver-in particular, in my early 20’s, I loved the character she’d imagined in the Bean Trees, who unexpectedly falls in love with an abandoned baby she calls “Turtle;” a baby she ends up keeping.  I wanted Turtle.  I loved her too.  And one day, I met her, in my real life.  And fall in love I did.  My expectations cut a wide swath for such a marvelous marriage of circumstance and blessing, that when it happened to me, I met it gratefully.  However, getting married was never really on my ice-burg.  But Turtle and I crashed into a ship, we’ll call him my husband, and it set us off-course.  Oops-see that there.  That’s the evidence.

The deep grammar, the underwater expectations I had went something like this:

  1. Have a house
  2. Have some babies, free and easy
  3. Live with those babies in that house right down the street from sister.  Just like when we were kids….
  4. Sister has babies, free and easy, and she lives right down the street from me, just like when we were kids….
  5. Have a car
  6. Have health insurance, house insurance, car insurance, life insurance.
  7. Somewhere, hovering in the background, must be a lucrative job, or well heeled man.  It seemed as necessary and unfamiliar to me as the family piano.  Something that must be in the living room, but I have no idea how to play it.

Guess what.  After the Turtle miracle, nothing went “according to the plan.” And believe me when I say nothing, nothing. We have the pain and privilege of experiencing the world through a new set of eyes.  The eyes of “them.” And by them, I mean, everyone who’s expectations are necessarily less than mine, based a life experience and place of birth.  Granted, mine weren’t obvious to me until they weren’t met, but how scandalous it feels when things do not go according to the plan.  And I am met by another realization, something I could only recognize in the mirror of my sister.  We were set up to expect so much!  We had a house, a green lawn, regular dental visits and cross country trips to see grandma; summer and winter resort vacations; bicycles and health care and team sports.  Visits to the hair dresser, and packed lunches, courtesy mom.  We had new Easter dresses, and school clothes shopping; regular visits to the mall and the movie theatre, and annual Christmas “girl’s weekends”  to Seattle.  What a set up!  I didn’t realize until very recently how wired I am to expect my life to look like my parents.  I wonder how true that is for other people.

I can be a slow learner, so certainly it is silly to be 35, having the aha moment that my life doesn’t have to, and won’t, resemble my parent’s life.  When I was a child, I was convinced that when I was an adult, I would be able to play the piano.  Not because I practiced, but because my mother knew how.  It seemed a rite of adulthood: grow up, have 2 kids, a backyard, and the magical ability to play the piano.  Isn’t that what everyone has?  I didn’t know too many people who didn’t.  That was the set up.  And then I grew up.  I don’t play the piano.  I don’t have 2 kids.  I don’t own a house or have a backyard, health insurance, life insurance, car insurance or fire insurance.  And suddenly, that much insurance seems a little ridiculous.

Suddenly, paper towels and razors are luxury items.  The internet and hot water are available on the good days.  When my daughter gets the wind knocked out of her, and a few bruises falling out of a tree, or off a see saw, my first thought is to pray she doesn’t have to go to the hospital.  Because how will we pay for it, and even if we could, who want to go to THAT hospital?  It’s a little like chaos.  It is, as the joker noted, fair.  More than fair, because it’s about time we experience a taste of what passes for normal in most countries.  It is less than fair, because it’s about time we experience what passes for normal, and we still haven’t even gotten there.  We feel safe, we eat, we have a few bedrooms, and most months, we can come up with the money for Turtle’s sport.  Someone buys us tickets home, when the dominoes start tipping.  But the deep grammar is there, causing a sea quake, robbing our small island of peace.  If I could just forget all those expectations, it would be so much easier to enjoy the view.

There is an image circulating the internet (our should I say Pinterest?) that has resonated with me for the last year.  It says “Don’t let comparison steal your joy.”   I realized awhile ago that social media sites like Facebook and Instagram can have a   numbing effect, when you see all the shiny happy parts of other people’s lives, and feel like you somehow missed the boat.  I have learned to take them with a bucket of salt, and realized that a major factor for curating the appearance of a happy life is a great camera and some photographic talent (I have neither).  I wouldn’t mind if a few people posted status updates that said things like “electricity got cut again,” and “screaming match with 10 year old again.  Isn’t it a little early for puberty?”  But the internet is not REAL.  So of course, the things we put on the internet are not real.

I recently read “The Hole in our Gospel,” written by the founder of World Vision, and I was struck when I reached a chapter about a man who travels abroad, and while staying in a home as a border, does his host a favor by emptying her bathtub of the still water collected there.  When he lets her know about the “favor” he did her, she begins to cry, because the tub had been full of the only clean water she would have for a month.  What a good illustration of people who have no idea about want meeting those who do.  We grow up with this 1950’s maxim about eating everything on our plate, because people “in Africa” have nothing to eat.  And somehow, that to has a numbing effect on us.  Of course people in Africa have nothing to eat, because they live IN AFRICA.  That’s somehow part of the plan, so it doesn’t seem so horrifying.

I follow a blogger who works with midwives, helping foment rural health care in Zambia.  One of  her recent posts is about trying to offer solace to a mother who lost her fifth baby.  FIFTH baby.  And in her post, she says:  “I have heard of hospital staff withholding medication or giving lethal doses to patients whose lives they deemed worthless.”  (Every Minute of Every Day) And I can’t help but  think of the Joker, and “the plan.”  Lately, I have been thinking and reading a lot about abortion, primarily in America, and was rocked when I was diverted to a page about the enforcement of the single child policy in China, and the many abuses and murders that have been committed against Chinese families to enforce it.

It took my breath away a little, to realize that in all my years of grieving over an inability to have a second child, I NEVER thought about the fact that there is an entire enormous COUNTRY where EVERYONE is only allowed ONE child-because that is the PLAN.  And if you breach it, your family members will be detained and tortured, some murdered.  Your nearly full term babies will be ripped from your womb, and as a woman, you will be forced to undergo a process of sterilization

(http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/chinas-one-child-law).  Why don’t we hear more about this?  Why isn’t it all over the news?  Why don’t we hear a whole lot more about a whole lot more things?  I am guessing because they are all part of the “plan.”    Of course, ironically, this year there have been 964,340 babies aborted in the US (http://www.numberofabortions.com/) to date, because they are NOT part of the plan.  This is a big difference between the US and Chile.  Abortion is still illegal here.  And it changes the culture.  Everything is not dominated by a PLAN.  We don’t go to parties at X time (of course everyone is late here!), we don’t leave parties at X time, we don’t go to bed at X time, and if you get knocked up, you are going to have that baby.  Which means no man is going to pressure you to get “rid” of your baby, because it’s not convenient to him.  No parent is going to push a child towards an abortion clinic, because it gets in the way of college (the plan).  People adapt.  Children are CHERISHED.  Because they are not the fruit of a plan.  They are gifts.  They are adventures.  They are what life is ABOUT.

My daughter is anti-type A.  I think, on a scale, she’s about a Z.  I hover somewhere around G.  Which means there is a rub. We have endeavored to take morning walks before we start our school day, so she can exercise her anger, which has lead to the untimely deaths of a few bugs.  It’s our new plan to avoid a bug holocaust.  But, I am ever mindful of the hour, because we have to get other things done, besides the walk.  So mindful, that many mornings sound like this:

“Mommy, look at the flower!”

“Yes Turtle, that’s great.  Keep marching.”

“Mommy, look at the ladybug.”

“*Sigh* Amazing.  Please keep walking.”

“Mommy, look at the Hummingbird!”

“Ack!  I don’t CARE about the hummingbird.  We have to get HOME.  Puh-LEASE WALK!”

(By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, we repeat this scene OFTEN).  We recently had one of these interactions, and I had a temporary moment of sanity, and thought “what? I don’t CARE about a hummingbird?  My daughter’s great passion? One of God’s greatest works of art?”  But it wasn’t part of the plan!   So we stopped, and it happened.  A small crescendo of joy, as I stood in a dilapidated park with my very unplanned child, and watching a tiny jeweled miracle dart around, on a beautiful warm day,  under a lovely tree.

I know some of us are type A, and we need a plan.  A plan is not bad!  I’m not saying it is.  But slavery to a plan, happiness built on the realization of that plan ROBS our JOY.  So my halloween wish for all of us (can I have a halloween wish?) is that we all embrace a little chaos; that we relinquish our dependence on the plan, and that we are more aware of our brother’s and sister’s around the world that are suffering, and don’t accept is as part of any plan.  My new maxim is “Don’t let the PLAN steal your joy, or anyone else’s.”