The following is a reprint submitted by Connecticut Catholic Corners Contributor Doug.
August Of ‘78
I recall in at least one of the movies of “The Godfather” trilogy, on a couple of occasions, someone invoked the phrase, “I have a pebble in my shoe” to illustrate that he had some sort of annoying problem. I have had a pebble in my shoe for a while now. Now is the right time to remove it. The article I am about to write is one that I meant to write several times previously, and maybe some time in the future. Enough. Now is the time. As I compose this article, now, on May 13th, 2006, it is time to tell you about another date, back in August of 1978.
Ironically, tomorrow is Mother’s Day. As this story unfolds, you will soon learn why I say “ironically.” Today, however, 89 years ago, in Portugal, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three children. It would not be the last of her visits, but the Catholic Church recognizes May 13th as the anniversary of “Our Lady Of Fatima.” In her messages, the Blessed Virgin revealed to the children that the world needs to repent of its evil ways in order to bring about peace before it’s too late. Not only did we not heed this advice, our sordid behavior only drastically worsened. Fast forward to today.
This evening I plopped down on the couch in front of the TV with remote in hand and did what every red-blooded American male does best: I clicked away. As I was channel surfing, I stopped at the channel for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), and saw Father Frank Pavone, who I know to be the head of the pro-life organization, Priests For Life, giving a homily during a mass devoted to Our Lady Of Fatima.
Father Pavone delivered an impactful and stirring sermon about the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the children on this day in 1917, and that only through repentance can there ever finally be peace in the world. Father Pavone emphasized that the doors to the Church are open to all who seek repentance, healing and peace through Jesus. He also emphasized that the Church rejects sin, not the sinner, but that the worst sin is abortion. Abortion, he said, defies what Jesus taught us, to love our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable among us. Father Pavone elaborated that despite that fact, no one who truly seeks forgiveness and repentance is exempt from being forgiven. Father went on to say that he even knows of a woman who has had 24 abortions. He said that if that woman so chooses, even she can repent and be forgiven.
Father Pavone also mentioned Mother Teresa. He was correct in doing so, as Mother Teresa also often rallied against abortion, and rightfully reminded us that no nation that accepts or tolerates abortion can truly be a nation of peace. Mother also taught us that we must not give so little regard to God’s precious gift of life that we would barbarically destroy it because we deem it to be an impediment or an inconvenience.
Father Pavone also empathically implored all who heard his voice to repent right now, and today, and to reach out to one another to give witness to the evil, and untold harm of abortion, and to reach out and give comfort to those who have already committed that grave sin, and grave mistake. He gave several very disturbing excerpts from regretful post-abortion mothers, who articulated vivid, grotesque, and heart wrenching testimony of both physical and emotional trauma from abortion on the Priest For Life web site at www.priestsforlife.org, part of the Silent No More campaign at www.SilentNoMoreAwareness.org. Father Pavone also spoke about how both women and men who are suffering and are seeking help and healing from having been involved with an abortion can find such help at another project called Rachael’s Vineyard at www.RachaelsVineyard.org. What those children saw on this day 89 years ago today was a miracle. I believe miracles happen, but rarely. More often than not, I think God acts in very subtle ways, through every day, garden-variety means and messengers He has already created. I believe that God speaks to us often through these means and messengers, as long as our ears and minds are as open as the doors of the Church, and the loving arms of Jesus. Upon listening to, and reflecting upon Father Pavone’s words, and the significance of this day, my eyes welled up, I trembled a little, swallowed a couple times and then very clearly realized what I must do next, so here I am at the keyboard. I believe in stewardship. I believe that God gives each of us gifts and talents to serve Him and His people. OK, Father Pavone, no more procrastination. I write this article today, and right now. Today, the pebble comes out of my shoe.
From here on, any names I use will be fictitious, but the people I describe are real. Sadly, so are the events. I can tell you that this event took place in August of 1978. I cannot recall the exact date, though I wish I could. I once had a high school English teacher who told us that we tend to forget things that are unpleasant. Maybe that’s why, but I don’t know for sure. I wish I could forget more than just the date, but I can’t. Such is my cross to bear.
In my high school years, I worked at a supermarket in a shopping plaza. After a while, I got to know several of the local regulars, including one very pretty blond named Laura. We dated a few times, but it was nothing serious, and it was soon obvious to me that I liked Laura more than she liked me.
There was also a coffee shop in the plaza named “Willy’s.” Willy was a big, burly guy with a thick, reddish/blond beard and an affable personality. He was a former deputy sheriff from the Midwest. One of his regular customers was an older, and very distinguished gentleman named Al. Al was the epitome of a gentleman, very mannerly, but you also got the sense that he was no shrinking violet. I soon learned that Al was a retired cop from a nearby large city. As I was torn between three career choices in those days: the priesthood, journalism, and law enforcement, I was soon a regular at Willy’s, often endlessly jawboning with Willy and Al, and listening in awe as they regaled me with “war stories” from “the job,” “back in the day”. Willy and Al were my heroes, and Willy’s was soon my regular hangout.
Laura had a sister named Cathy, who was roughly 3 or 4 years older than me. To put it into colloquial terms, Cathy had what could then be called, “the community chest.” Through Laura, I knew Cathy enough to talk to her. One of her many sexual escapades resulted in the birth of her little daughter. I have seen dogs treated better than this poor little kid, always dirty, crying, and unhappy. Cathy, on public assistance, would often literally drag her daughter, about 3 or 4 years old by the hand down the hill to Willy’s, where the kid dined on a steady regimen of grease while her mother sat, pouted, snarled, yelled at her, and blew cigarette smoke in her face with about as much warm, nurturing, maternal love as a piece of granite in February.
I went into Willy’s one day and saw Cathy quietly sobbing to herself in a back booth. I went over to comfort her. She was hesitant to talk, but asked if I would give her a ride so she could find her “boyfriend.” I complied. We drove past a couple different bars, looking for his motorcycle in the parking lots to no avail. Cathy finally confided in me that she was pregnant with his child. Romeo had impregnated her in the back of his van, and when she told him of the result, he told mother (and child) to go take a hike. I could see how Cathy was so attracted to the natural warmth and charm of this pure gem. He was a real knight in tarnished armor.
A few days later in Willy’s, I saw Cathy again, now desperate to talk to me. She pleaded with me to take her to an abortion clinic in another city. The ever-compassionate humanitarians at the baby butchery refused to do the procedure unless she had a ride home. I was a kid, myself. I bristled at the idea of abortion, but also knew what kind of “mother,” for lack of a better term, Cathy was. I didn’t know what to do. I needed to talk to someone, and soon. Cathy had a deadline that was soon approaching. Otherwise she could not have the procedure done, and obviously sensing my reluctance, she gave me the ultimatum that given no other choice, she would then be forced to perform the abortion on herself, at great physical risk. She also claimed that I was her only means of transportation. I should have talked to my parents. I don’t know why I didn’t. Then again, maybe I did. I confided in Willy, who reminded me of how badly Cathy treats her daughter. His vote was to go for it. I sought the advice of a parish priest, but every time I went to the rectory, he was not there. Meanwhile, the clock was still ticking, and at my then tender age, while I was convinced I knew everything, I suddenly realized just how little I really did know, and how few life experiences I had to draw from for archived knowledge and direction.
For lack of a better alternative, and feeling pressured, I chose what I thought was the lesser of two evils. I know now, however, that there was only one evil, and I chose it. Cathy could have opted for adoption, or even better yet, to keep her legs closed and stay off her back until marriage. She did not choose these options. I chose not to speak to my parents. We only thought we were confused, but the correct answers stared us both in the face the entire time. Instead, we chose evil.
When the ugly day arrived, I compounded my sin by lying to my parents. I told them that a bunch of us from the store were going to a lake for the day, and I needed to borrow the family car. I even thought to pack swim trunks, and a towel, and on the way home, dunked them into the sand and water at a local beach to give credence to my lie; more premeditated evil.
When we finally arrived at the baby butchery, I was astonished to see pro-life protesters in front with signs. As we exited the car, they surrounded us, and begged us, empathically, albeit very politely, to reconsider our decision. They even offered us help, although I did not know what kind at the time. Cathy became visibly upset, and the protesters were physically blocking our entry to the building. Looking back, it now seems to me that God offered us one more chance. We didn’t take it, so through the doorway of “the point of no return” we went, but not before I took Cathy by the hand, dragging her in, as I yelled at the protesters and physically pushed them out of the way, like I was running interference for a receiver, running for a touchdown in a football game. As we finally got inside, my teenage male testosterone and adrenaline rush made me feel kind of good, like I was Sir Galahad, or something, having just saved a virtuous damsel from distress. In reality, however, what I did was far from noble.
The pre-conceived plan was that I was to drop Cathy off, and pick her up about (I think) six or eight hours later. In the interim, I felt homeless. I knew I couldn’t go home. I went back to my church. My priest was again out, doing hospital visits, or whatever. I literally just drove around, very much in a depressed daze for about six or eight hours. I felt like a fugitive, running away, yet having nowhere to go, and the whole time, just drifting through limbo as the unbearable and seemingly infinite waiting time passed ever so slowly. It was agonizing torture with no foreseeable end.
It was finally time to pick Cathy up. Then I got lost, and in a less than desirable neighborhood. After asking a cop at a construction site for directions, I finally arrived back at the abortion mill. I now could not stomach the very sight of this house of horrors, let alone to actually have to go back inside again.
I checked in at the front desk and was told that Cathy was not quite ready. The receptionist told me to have a seat in the waiting room, and someone would bring her out soon. I sat next to an absolutely beautiful girl, roughly my age, maybe a couple or so years older, and with long, flowing blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. I remember feeling very attracted to her, as bad as I felt. Her demeanor astonished me. There was a coffee table in front of this couch, (or chairs, I do not recall which). The table had some magazines on it. This girl was kicked back in her seat, reading a magazine, with her shoes off and bare feet up on the top of the table and magazines, and she cavalierly began talking to me as if we were in her living room, watching TV. She was actually quite friendly. She asked me if I was here for my girlfriend. Not wanting to explain this long story, I said yes. (That was the least of my lies that day!) She asked me if this was my first time. I said yes. She said I looked nervous and worried. I said I was. She attempted to comfort me by telling me that it will be OK, it’s really no big deal, and she has already had three abortions, and was about to have a fourth. Obviously, this girl was not only having abortions, but also using them as a form of birth control, with no conspicuous care in the world, let alone any remorse. Her face beamed with youth, her eyes twinkled like stars, and her smile was warm, inviting, and endearing, but inside, this girl was as cold as ice. She was like a stuffed teddy bear, warm, fuzzy, and gentle on the outside, but dead, lifeless on the inside; a facade, a mirage. If this were Halloween, Satan would have won an award for this costume. I was flabbergasted. Just a couple minutes before, I was attracted to, and even aroused by this girl, who looked like the quintessential “girl next door.” Suddenly, I no longer felt attracted, nor aroused, just kind of sick, and even worse than before I walked in.
A short time later, Cathy was escorted out to the waiting room, and I was emphatically told not to let her drive. What an ironic joke that statement was! I soon felt even sicker! She could not have driven if she wanted to. She looked awful, sick, pale, bordering on ashen, weak, and shaky. I asked her how she felt. In a feeble voice, she simply told me to take her home.
I was really frazzled. I got lost again, and then we got stuck in traffic. I tried to talk to Cathy a few times. I needed to talk, and I was also worried about her. When she gave me answers, they consisted of a few words at most. Finally, I got her home. Feeling awkward, I said something stupid like I will see her at Willy’s soon. About ten minutes later, I was home. My mother, a decent, devout, and very pious woman, was puttering around the house, as she always did, humming to herself as she always did, asking me how my day “at the lake” went, and telling me that we would be having supper shortly, whenever my father got home from work. She had no clue. My feeling of sickness deeply intensified. Our 1970’s supper table was like many of middle class America during that time, a meeting place, and a central focal point of the family. All the family gathered there at mealtime, unlike today, and the day’s events were discussed, as well as historically good news and bad news throughout the years. We argued, laughed, and cried over that table. That inanimate piece of kitchen furniture was to our family then was what a green was to a town in colonial days; it wasn’t the community, it was what brought the community together. I was sullen that night and ate very little. I could not hear my family talk. All I heard was white background noise, kind of like a radio on in another room at a barely audible decibel level. I really did think I was doing the right thing at first. But now, as I wandered aimlessly and anxiously into thought….(“My God…what did I do?).
I soon did see Cathy at Willy’s. I tried to talk to her. She was sullen, angry, and (I think) depressed. She was very cold. She would not talk to me, and never did again. Neither did Laura. I was needed, sought, acquired, manipulated, used, and discarded, in short order. I felt like dirt, even worse than before. This whole saga just refused to end. In the end, Cathy got what she wanted, but she obviously regretted it, but apparently, not for long. A few years ago, I told this story to a buddy of mine, a retired cop from town. I moved out of town long ago, but as my buddy told it, unbeknownst to me, Cathy had a uniform fetish. He said that she hit on him and several other cops on several occasions, and while he turned her down, many of the other cops (as well as many other local guys) did not, and her abortion on that eventful day was supposedly not her last by any means. The added irony to this tragedy is that I went through it not with my girlfriend, but with my girlfriend’s older sister, and I was not even the baby’s father. I was just trying to help. I was a naive kid who felt sorry for a girl who cried. In men, and particularly in younger men, a woman’s tears can be as powerfully mesmerizing as her physical attributes. I was allured by emotions of the heart, and not by logic of the brain. I got drawn in and crashed on the rocks, just like an enchanted sea captain in Greek mythology, myopically and foolishly navigating his ship to impending destruction and doom in response to a seductive and deceitful Siren, who completely captured his attention and focus with her charm.
After the damage was already done, I finally caught up with my parish priest. In Confession, I told him the whole story. I recall really feeling bad for him. I could tell he felt awful that he was so busy that I kept missing him, but I never blamed him. It wasn’t his fault. Anyway, he heard my confession, and gave me absolution. That wasn’t good enough. This ugly incident stained me like a spot of red wine on a white shirt. Nothing could make me clean again. I was dirty. I was evil. In the following years, I would confess this same sin again four or five more times. In the Catholic faith, when you confess your sins to a priest, receive absolution, do your penance and repent, you are forgiven. I believe that God forgave me, but I could not forgive me. It would not go away. My history kept stalking me in my own, troubled mind. It sunk its teeth into me like a pit bull into its prey, crushing and unyielding.
I actually put it out of my mind for few years, and seldom, if ever thought about it, but as years passed, I thought about it more. I don’t even remember if the baby was a boy or a girl, but I could not erase the event, and as I aged, it revisited me with more frequency and intensity, ironically, in a manner similar to pains experienced by a woman in labor. To this day, I still think about what I would gladly give if I could just go back in time and change that entire, hideous day. As every August came around, I pondered what the baby would have done at that age, when he or she would have graduated high school, or perhaps gone to college, what career choice he or she would have made, and whether he or she would marry and have (live) children of his or her own. As time progressed at intervals that would be at various progressive stages of typical, human life, growing, and development, that we otherwise take for granted, I pondered more and more, and with increased burning agony, “what if?”. Sometimes, during such thoughts, I would find myself instinctively and aggressively shaking my head, as if to ward off a chill, or to try to make those thoughts and memories leave my mind, but that dog just won’t hunt.
When my wife and I lost our only child, I blamed myself. I was convinced that God was punishing me. In counseling, I told a priest about my feelings and that throughout my later life, I have confessed this awful, indelible sin several times to no avail, at least, in my mortal eyes. The priest empathically told me that God gives us free choice to make good or bad decisions, but does not “punish” us, at least, not here on earth. We lost our son because it was simply God’s will, and for reasons that for now, only He knows. The priest also firmly told me to never, ever repeat this sin in Confession ever again. He said by virtue of the fact that I repeated the confession of this sin without having committed it again, my action, although unintentional, was itself sinful, because it showed a blatant lack of faith that God forgave me, which He did, the first time I confessed partaking in the abortion.
For those of you who still insist on calling an aborted baby “a fetus,” all I can tell you is that had Cathy or I made a different “choice” (as you folks like to say) that day, that “fetus” would be 28 years old this August. Now, older, wiser, more experienced, principled, and mature, I know fully well what significant magnitude of insidious evil I performed on that eventful day. Now I truly grasp the meaning of the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss,” but ignorance, despite the temporary comfort it may provide, is also blindness, and blindness is as equally dangerous in our lives to our eternal salvation, as it is to our earthly salvation if we are driving a car. I still suffer, and on occasion, I still struggle with forgiving myself. I helped snuff out the God-given gift of a human life of a person that threatened no one, harmed no one, and was as innocent as he or she was defenseless. That’s pretty tough to swallow. I have never forgotten. I can’t, and to a certain degree, maybe I shouldn’t. I still have scars, although through time, and faith, they are somewhat more bearable than they once were, and I do now cope with this event better than I once did. We are all a work in progress, as one priest once recently told me. Even Father Pavone said in his sermon that Project Rachael is not a “magic wand,” but a beginning of opening one’s soul, and beginning a process of healing. Perhaps some day, I will attend a Rachael’s Vineyard retreat. One step at a time. Until today, I was never sure when, or even if, I would ever write this article, and I certainly would not have done it today, had I not been so inspired to do so by God, speaking through Father Pavone, who spoke the truth. The truth needs to be told, and the truth will set you free. For that reason, telling and spreading the truth must never wait.
My Irish/Italian roots make me a passionate person. I have written more than once about defending life. Sometimes, I have done so with an angry tone. That’s not passion. That’s weakness. I was wrong, not for what I said, but for how I said it. None of us are all good or all evil. To one degree or another, we all fall somewhere in the middle, and this is a very highly charged emotional issue on both sides. My wife and I have been involved in Catholic Engaged Encounter retreats, in which we speak to newly engaged couples. In our talks, we tell them, “God doesn’t make junk.” People aren’t evil, deeds are. I can’t save the baby that I helped Cathy kill that day. I wish I could, but it’s too late for that now. All I can do is maybe, with God’s help, save at least one more baby from the same fate. Some of you readers were planned abortions, but you are alive today only because your mother suddenly changed her mind and chose life instead. Do you regret her decision? Even if I can’t save one more innocent, and completely defenseless baby from abortion, maybe to at least one of you, I have struck a chord. Maybe you had, or were involved with an abortion, know someone in that situation, or, maybe you are even contemplating one now. Organizations like Birth Right, at www.birthright.org, and others will give you counseling and resources to help support you in your decision to choose life, but for those who are hurting right now, men, as well as women, with tears silently streaming down your cheeks as you read my heartfelt words, I am asking you to please be stronger than me, and get help, now. You don’t have to go through what I have been going through. If I have now helped at least one of you, then it is also now your turn to go help someone else in the same manner. Every grain of sand forms a beach. Every link makes a chain. Every hurting person you reach out to, and help, makes a difference.
The same priest who counseled my wife and I regarding the loss of our son also told us that it is still possible to be “motherly” and “fatherly” in other ways. If you need help, get help. If you can help, then please help. As I write this article now, tomorrow, Sunday, May 14th, 2006, will be Mothers Day, What will you do then, and beyond?