Saturday, August 26, 2006


Lately I've been plagued by memories of going fishing as a child.

Now, one might think that I'd have fond memories of family outings, of the bucolic beauty of the pond, of being with my parents and siblings, of gathering from the earth the food for our dinner table. But when I remember going fishing, it's always with a visceral horror that I want to run from. Because the memory that clings to my mind is of what I did, in my childish impatience, when a fish swallowed the hook. Rather than wait for my father to cut the line, I'd just pull it out.

I never meant the fish any ill. I had no sense at the time that what I was doing might in any way cause the fish any pain. I just wanted to resume fishing, and with my independent streak, I'd just fix the situation myself. Whether the fish was a large fish, to be kept for dinner, or a small one to be returned to the pond, my response to the swallowed hook was always the same.

I have a vivid, intrusive, physical memory of the feel of pulling the hook out. This memory fills me with revulsion and guilt, and makes me want to go backward 35 years, to explain to that little girl why we call Daddy to cut the line when the fish swallows the hook, to convince her never to do this cruel and needless thing. But it's no good. It was done, done habitually, done until the very nerves in my hands could recall, decades later, the sensations that flowed through the hands of an innocent child who meant the fish no harm. (And we'll set aside the fact that I intended to eat many of those fish; my dad always stunned the fish with a quick blow before neatly decapitating it when the time came. The fish were to be spared any needless suffering. Fish were below us in the food chain. Eating them was okay. Tormenting them was not.)

And since I'm awash with the memory, I wonder what the hell I'm supposed to do with it. What does one do with guilt and regret?

If I'm filled with such revulsion and horror for something I did to mere fish as a small child, what must it feel like when the conscience of somebody involved in abortion awakens? When the mother, father, escort, nurse, doctor has that awakening, as I did about my unintended cruelty to bluegills and bass, what must that be like? When the suffering innocent was no mere fish, but a human child, perhaps one's own child? When the act was done not by an ignorant child, but by a morally responsible adult? What sights, sounds, smells, sensations course through the now-aware soul? What wracking horror and revulsion? How are they to be borne?

I wish with all my heart that somebody had conveyed to me why not to just pull the hook out of the fish. I wish with all my heart that somebody had explained to me that I'd feel just dreadful about it later, when it was impossible to undo the deed. Better, far better, to bear the interruption, to go seek out my father and have him attend properly to the situation. And the women whose hearts awakened after their abortions try to warn others, try to tell them what a crushing thing it is to live with afterward, try to tell them to deal with the interruption of their plans in another way, one that won't leave the heart bleeding. But their cries, it seems, are as futile as my own mental cries back to the six-year-old Christina standing on a pond bank. "Don't do it!" But the deed is done, again and again.

Carol Everett speaks of how she used to do a quick pathology check after a doctor at her clinic had completed an abortion. Carol would go to the sink, empty the stockingette, and check to see that there was a head, spine, ribs, two arms, two legs. In retrospect, she said, what haunted her was the tiny intestines. Those little innards came back to haunt her, screaming to her now, after her conscience had awakened, that the broken body she was examining was the body of a fellow human being, intended for life, not for being pulled to pieces and sent to the lab. "Those are the ones," Carol said, "that I need to be healed from every day. Every day."

I don't have some neat way to pull this all together into something pithy and profound. I just have my own pain. I know it's a pale reflection of the pain of those silent no more, a pale reflection of the pain that led the centurions to lay down their arms. They can do something, warn somebody. Or rather, they can try. These unenviable Cassandras cry out to a deaf world, for the most part, reviled by the very people who one day will stand beside them, sisters in pain, united by their common remorse. A remorse they'd have been spared if only they had listened, a remorse that leads them to cry out to the unhearing the words they themselves had been deaf to in the moment.

All I can do is pray for those who would trade sins with me in a heartbeat, who wish that the only harm they had done was to fish. Who want their babies back.

It doesn't seem like much, does it?

No comments: