Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Better Left to Chance
Today as I listened to Rick Santorum's speech announcing that he would be dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination to run against President Obama in this year's election, I thought about how I knew very little about Santorum's politics. Don't ask me his stance on Iraq, off-shore drilling, or the specifics of his plan to shrink "big government." What I know about Rick Santorum is what he is, in this moment, probably most famous for: He is a devout Catholic with eight children, including their deceased son Gabriel (I like that name), and their daughter Isabella, born with the knowledge that she would suffer from what is considered a "terminal" chromosomal defect, Trisomy 18. Isabella, now 2, was cited as a major reason for Santorum's decision to withdraw from the race.
Despite the fact that Santorum's wife Karen has stood by his side through this race, that he defers to her when he is asked questions about the next election, that the two of them present themselves as steadfast equal partners, Santorum has been depicted as a man who practically hates women. He is most well known for his social and family values which include an unapologetic opposition to birth control and abortion.
I think Rick and Karen Santorum have nothing to be sorry for.
Santorum stated in his withdrawal speech that his run has been about so much more than winning the race. By his example, he has touted that a strong family makes for strong individuals and thus a strong nation. Rick Santorum has walked the walk, he is no hypocrite when it comes to these matters, and he has shown what can happen when we give our children a chance. Santorum did what Gabriel did, something that reaches beyond politics -- they touched hearts, and reaching into people's hearts is what will be the true catalyst for change in this increasingly cold world.
I have been told by friends that they support my decision to carry Gabriel to term, but that they would also support my right to NOT carry him. While I appreciate that, I maintain that there is no real right to end the lives of our own children at our whim. My choice was no choice at all, but a following of my conscience that I sincerely believe if we were all to listen to closely, would mean that no woman would ever "choose" to have an abortion. I use the word "choose" loosely, because I think it is a far cry from a choice and only become more adamant in that belief with every occassion that I have listened to someone say to me they felt backed into a corner and had no other choice when they aborted. That is not freedom of choice. That does not show love and respect for the bodies of women. That is oppression at its most heinous. It may surprise some to know that I have close friends, men and women, whose children were aborted, and I love them no less for what happened, and I am sorry for their loss. I am sorry that I am a part of a culture that didn't support them in bringing those lives into this world.
Today I read in a Facebook thread, "Ironic, isn't it, that trisomy is one of the conditions routinely tested for and parents given the opportunity to abort?
Santorum would take that right away and force all parents to endure the heartbreak of watching their child suffer and die. In my mind, failure to abort is cruel and abusive." Though no one has said that to my face, I know that there are those that think that I was wrong to bring my son into this world, knowing his life would be short. Among my critics would likely be Alan Colmes, the man who shamefully mocked Santorum and his wife for bringing their deceased baby Gabriel home so that his brothers and sisters could see him, so they could know that he is real and that he lived.
I know that people think that I was wrong, but they are wrong. Gabriel lived, and because he lived this world is a different place and I would have robbed the world, and you, of the blessing of his precious life if I had had also robbed Gabriel of his. It is true, sometimes the conditions of a pregnancy and subsequent birth are not always ideal. But if we can't take a chance on the least among us, the most vulnerable, our children, how can we hold our heads high as a nation?
The truth is, we all suffer. Even the parent of a child who lives a long life will experience their suffering. Parents will take their infant children to be vaccinated, and will cry with them. Most parents in the United States will have their newborn sons circumcised and shudder at the witness of their pain. Our children will learn to walk, but will fall along the way. They will break bones. Our children's pets will die and they will ache with sadness. Their hearts will be broken. For some unfortunate parents their child will be struck with an illness such as cancer, or will die in a terrible car accident. Parenting is not without its suffering, but aren't all things worth doing, worth suffering for? Imagine for a moment the pain that my parents and Ben's are experiencing now, having watched their children lose their baby boy less than a year ago, and now watching as our marriage frays. Would any of you parents rather your child never breathe air outside of their mother's wombs, to spare you and them the pain of some of these events?
The truth is, we all will die. I learned all too young that death is not just for the old and the sick. At the age of 23 I stared at Sean's dead body, Sean himself only 26 years old, while I called the police. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral. Six years later I held my own son in my arms as he took his last breath. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral too, the most important speech of my life in which I have delivered many speeches. I go to the cemetary and walk among headstones which reflect that death does not discriminate, but I still want to keep living until it drags me from this earth, just as my baby boy did.
I have chosen for this entry pictures of Gabriel without his cap. I am not ashamed of my baby boy. He looked strange, and unusual, and the pictures make some people uncomfortable. But he is my little boy, and I beam with pride at the sight of him, no matter how he looked.
Today Gabriel would be ten months old. He would be crawling, and eating solid food, learning to stand on his own and before long learning to walk. I like to think his hair would have gone dark like his mommy's by now. His little face would have changed, his relationship with his mommy and daddy would have changed, but he would be the light of our lives. He still is.
On the way home from Mass on Easter Sunday I heard Garth Brooks' "The Dance" on the radio. For many years I turned the station at the opening notes, unable to listen to the song without thinking of Sean and crying. It seems absurd, now. Sadness is a part of life, just as death and suffering are. The song now makes me think not just of Sean, but of Gabriel, and of Ben, and of how each of them left a scar on my heart with their departure. I guess if I had known, I could have skipped the pain. But it wouldn't be worth all that I would have missed.