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;)