My mother was 21, a simple Irish Catholic kid from Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. She was married to a handsome, good natured, young, non-Catholic fellow, my father. A high powered relative was pressuring her to resolve a very touchy situation: Mother had already delivered, two years previously, a beautiful baby girl who was baptized a Christian. This was difficult for Dad’s parents to accept since they had vivid and painful memories of their hometown, Bialystok, in Poland/ Russia. Discrimination. Pogroms. Insults. Permanently burned into their wounded psyches. “Christian” connoted too much unforgettable pain.
One Christian in the family, it was thought, with our blood, was enough. To put the grandparents to more suffering was out of the question. The conspiracy of silence in the family, up to this point, was stressful and, in hindsight, ridiculous. Everyone avoided the subject. They pretended they knew nothing and practically denied that my Dad had fathered a “Christian”. Even years later we kids were not allowed to even see our non-Catholic grandparents lest the fiction of our non-existence be ruthlessly dissipated.
But while Mother was “carrying” me, there was a huge elephant in every room. This time it could not be avoided. There might be another one. Really one is enough, they said. But what to do? To my high powered relative, the answer was obvious and immediate. Terminate. We will carry all the expenses. There will be no publicity. No one need know. Quick. Clean. Crisp. And we carry on as before. Problem solved. Everybody will be satisfied and protected. Just plain common sense. They were a young couple with little money and an unpredictable future. Another kid would be too difficult for them to handle. From a secular, narrow and selfish point of view it could be common sense to get rid of the child.
Except for two factors. One was me! I would not be euphoric with my own early destruction. I would clamor for justice in some Celestial Supreme Court with my aborted voice. And, the other factor was the conscience and feelings of the little Irish girl who would have to undergo the terrors of the “procedure” and who was thought to be so manipulable. Looking back from the perspective of ninety one years of life I am appalled and I shiver when I think of what I would have missed if Mother had been overwhelmed by the powerful emotional barrage she had to resist.
I have had a wonderful, meaningful, productive life filled with appropriate fun, laughter and excitement. Though Mom and Dad, both actors, never made much money, they managed to give my sister and me the basics of education allowing her to become a college professor and me to become a Ph.D in psychology as well as the astounding privilege of becoming a priest in the Catholic church with all the dazzling opportunities of that role. We lived in near tenement housing with Catholic relatives, unsure of meeting our monthly rent, but were always well fed. We had no car. We had one small radio which we shared with relative ease. But we laughed easily and often. We learned how to “make do” and we learned about God, how to pray and what life is all about. We heard over and over again the pragmatic mantra “God will provide. God will provide.” Now I can give a name to our emotional and spiritual climate. It was a blind trust in a loving God Who always supports us when we do His Holy Will. Do the right thing and He will reward and aid you to do whatever it is you must do.
Both of us learned, viscerally, very early in life, how valuable we were, how much we were loved—almost to a fault. We were encouraged, hugged and appropriately praised when we brought home high level report cards. It was fundamental that life was to be properly enjoyed and fun was an experience worth seeking. Though there was neither Social Security nor Food Stamp safety nets into which we could collapse, we had the confidence that we would “make it” somehow. And we always did. A pox on the kind of “common sense” which presents no options.
The “common sense” so urgently presented to my mother seems so distorted in the light of my personal History. It also makes me quite angry! Common sense would have meant that I would never see the Sistine Chapel or the beauty of the David in Florence or the Moses in Rome. I never would have had the joy of South Africa where I luxuriated as the young priest bringing Christ to hundreds. I would never have known the fun on the streets of New York with pals who spoke New Yawkese and with whom I was deeply friendly for decades. Common sense would have prevented me from seeing and enjoying the beaches of Spain with my closest friends. From relaxing on a summer’s night at Las Ramblas in Barcelona. My years on Television at NBC in New York where I met and enjoyed so many good friends and carried the Catholic banner with pride and enthusiasm. The joy of Graduate school at NYU where I had such exciting times explaining the Catholic message and the late night coffee with classmates in the little Italian bistros on MacDougall street.
I would never have known the glory of the Sisters of Life or the Holy Cross sisters who taught me reading and writing and computing. I would never have experienced the admiration I have for the Courage members who have striven so valiantly for Chastity. I would never have seen the Northern Lights or the beauty of Lake George or Victoria Falls or the southern coast of Australia. Or Ireland or France or Austria. I never would have known the ecstasy of celebrating the Holy Mass. Nor would I have ever known the thrill of baseball and basketball and ice skating. The joys of beautiful music, the soaring of my soul at good theatre, the elation of a walk in the Fall. The profound happiness of having loving friends. I would have missed it all in the name of Common sense. I can even, confidently, with real humility, articulate that my life, through God’s Grace, has meant much to scads of human beings. Common sense would have deprived them of what gifts I could offer them in Christ’s holy Name. Oh, I need at least a year to write all the joys and love and fun I would have missed if that little Irish gal wasn’t so spunky and Faith-filled.
Yeah! Common sense. I have read and studied the psychologic and sociologic data. I have heard the carefully planned pitch of Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Obama. I’ve seen the classy, expensive, slick promos in the debate. But because my experience has been what it has been, I don’t need to listen anymore to the phony arguments of those who advocate or tolerate the killing of millions of kids—in the name of Common Sense. If you have been where I have been, it is a No Brainer.
No matter how you slice it with Madison avenue pizzazz, if you are looking for me, you’ll find me, a 91 year old priest Dinosaur, right in the middle of the Pro Life Camp. I have really enjoyed being alive. I eternally thank my Irish Mother who, without a college degree, figured out the “Right” way with the help of the Rosary and a loving heart.