The White Lily Blog

Another Ordinary Day

It was dawn in Chicago, in January. Seven-thirty, the pink was fading and day was showing its fangs: low grey clouds everywhere, and ugly.

There’d been two days well above freezing after Christmas, and the season’s first snow had melted away except in gutters, where the remainder was hard and black as iron. Then it froze up again, and the wind attacked. The bared sidewalks released their secrets: discarded pop bottles and plastic bags that swirled along in the wind like undead creatures in a nightmare. It felt way colder than 12°. Nothing to sweeten this corner, with its filling station, the pancake house, the pharmacy—and the abortion clinic.

Two women and a man stood outside the clinic. They prayed the rosary to keep warm. The man was a priest, but you could not see his collar under the parka. He liked it that way. He liked to begin his thirty-second chance (from when they opened the car door to when they entered the “clinic”) by speaking of pending lawsuits and breast cancer, not God. They are not thinking of God, he says, when they come here in sweats, dressed to kill.

Nor does he offer pictures of a fetus. They aren’t thinking of the baby, either, he says. If they were thinking at all, he says, it’s about their health. That’s what he advises the other sidewalk counselors. That’s what they call themselves.

But in the summer, when a coat doesn’t obscure his collar, Father simply doesn’t mention this theory. He doesn’t take off the collar. It’s illogical, but there you were. Father says one thing in the winter, nothing in summer.

In fact, Father always talks about God. He just worries about the other counselors; they might talk about God too early. It was delicate. You only had those thirty seconds, tops. So Father hurries through the lawsuits against local “clinics” for perforating this or that female body part, then hurries through the research linking breast cancer to abortion. Then he says something, almost always, about God. Or about love. The same thing.

Father’s good talking about love because he’s handsome, with fair skin nipped pink by the cold or the heat, either one, and bright blue eyes, and one thing about some women at the clinic—they have been known to fall for a handsome guy, or two. Okay, or three. Father’s handsome when he talks to the women about God. There’s something about a young priest. The most sin-shellacked women (there are a few of those for sure with tattoos running up and down their extremities, and pierced cheeks, and broken hearts), still listen to a priest on his knees pleading for their unborn kid.

The clinic’s a dramatic place, with contradictions. Sex for fun, versus sex for the purpose the body keeps insisting on, that’s one.

Another example, there’s inside the fence, and outside. The sidewalk counselors are outside. They’re not allowed inside the parking lot with the large sign proclaiming Private Property/Keep Out/This Means You. Clients can enter, of course; they have permission.

Those outside the fence look like felons gripping the bars and thrusting their literature through it, calling out to the women entering the clinic. They choose their own literature. One will have leaflets with a baby picture and something like, It’s not a Choice, It’s a Child, or another a leaflet with Cease Fire on the top, and a fetus sucking its thumb in the middle. They pay for their own leaflets, eight cents apiece.

Father counsels against the premature use of one particular brochure with pictures of tiny dismembered bodies discovered in inappropriate places like discarded refrigerators or trash bins, and thus minor sensations at the time, so that pictures were taken. Tiny heads the size of a dime, tiny hands flung up as if in defense, dismembered legs, torsos gouged and bruised. Most of the time pictures are not taken, though. Most bodies are disposed of “appropriately,” you see, in red bags labeled Dangerous Waste.

Father says ‘don’t use these brochures because it might harden the women’s hearts against contrition, afterwards.’ Father himself dares use them, however, if he sees a certain soft expression cross a woman’s face. He risks it. Father sometimes thinks with his head and acts with his heart, and knows it; he, too, must confess his sins. He doesn’t hate the women entering the clinic. Sometimes he knows one thing, and does another. So do they.

But some sidewalk counselors use the brochures anyway. And Father keeps not just that very brochure in his pocket, but a little dvd player on which he has the disk that shows a tiny, perfect twelve week old fetus swimming happily in a miniature, tear-shaped sac in his own mother’s soft, warm womb and then—how did they get this picture?!– a whooshing sound sucks him out; you can see his little flesh begin to tremble and then flatten just at the instant before he disappears!

And Father will get down on one knee, if he can induce a woman to come over to the fence, to hold the player up at just the right angle so she can see. And he looks exactly like a man proposing marriage, and not a few have been touched to the heart, and relented, and let him drive them to the crisis pregnancy center. And yet he still counsels against using that particular brochure. Because it’s all in the timing and he can’t find a way to teach the timing. He thinks it every Saturday and during the week, too, if he can get time to come.

As cars pull up to the gate, the trio rapidly assesses the nationalities of the occupants. “Americano!” Father exclaims. “No,” someone says, “Honduran!” Another exclaims, “No, no! Mexicanos!” It’s entertaining and besides, necessary. Ever since Babel.

Naturally, they are often wrong. Like today. The young couple with the noses they bet to be Peruvianos turned out to be from suburban Pallentine, and drove oblivious through the net of Spanish Mina had thrown up around the car as it slowed down for the gate. And the Asian-looking women, apparently a mother and daughter, turned out to be from Yucatan, and workmates. Eyes drawn slant-wise in their sorrow, one accompanying the other on their shameful errand.

All the counselors speak English and Spanish. Mina’s from Mexico, in Chicago for twenty years, her whole large family with her. A lucky one. Father’s Polish, and besides speaking that and English, speaks good Spanish he learned in seminary. The English-speaking woman doesn’t speak good Spanish. She learned from the poor, knows only their rhythm and rhyme, and uses it, innocently.

So, when the guessing game fails and she gets Spanish-speakers, she’s magical, for she’s a well-dressed woman, well-kept, and then to talk like that! Slang and bad grammar! She doesn’t know how heavily this weighs with the women from Honduras and Columbia and Mexico entering the clinic; it’s as if the Virgin of Guadalupe herself stepped down from her niche beside the altar and slapped them and called them putas like their mothers would, if they only knew what their daughters were doing this cold morning across the border, over there.

Thus the English speaking woman has this luck with Spanish women; sometimes they pause, listen. Sometimes they even turn around. Father analyzes this phenomena. He doesn’t consider that her crude Spanish might call out to some crudeness in them. Because he doesn’t think them crude. Because he loves them.

Still, the English-speaking woman always lets Father and the other woman, Mina, approach Spanish-speaking clients first, and she approaches the English speakers, especially the African American women, for they have, or feign, difficulty understanding a Spanish accent, just as the Hispanic-speakers sometimes pretend not to understand any English thrown their way outside this place of death.

Just this particular ordinary Saturday morning as they were beginning the third decade of the joyful mysteries, a road-salted Plymouth rolled up to the gate, an attractive African- American behind the wheel, her chubbier, plainer sister-in-crime in the passenger seat. Or maybe the other way round. No clue which the mother, which the accomplice, but the language was easy to guess, and the English- speaking woman approached the car. She motioned for the driver to roll down the window, her face saying please. Usually they won’t, but nothing ventured and all that. The woman hesitated, and then yielded and rolled it down an inch.

The English-speaking woman held up a brochure. “Hi,” she said. “My name is Mary.” Father always reminded them to smile and introduce themselves, even if it used up a whole two seconds. “Abortion is dangerous. This brochure has the addresses and phone numbers of centers that help pregnant women, with clothes and baby furniture and stuff. See, right there on the front.” She had circled the nearest one. “They’re open right now. I’ll go with you, if you want. They have free ultra-sound. They know about housing and financial help. So take this and read it? It’s free.”

The woman tossed her pretty fake hair. “I made my mind up,” she said. “I already made my choice.” But she did not raise the window.

Mary nodded. “I know you did. I know you thought about it.” She put her hand up, in a mitten, on the window, close to the other woman’s hand inside. “But just take this brochure inside with you.” She leaned forward. The woman was looking into her eyes, and she leaned forward, too. Mary could feel Father watching. But she went for it. “Let God help you,” she whispered.

The woman broke the eye contact. She began to raise the window, and snarled, “God! Huh! Like He’s gonna raise my kid! Look: I already thought about it! So stay outta my business!”

Mary leaned down a little more toward the window. “Please,” she whispered. “He’s trying to talk to you!”
It sounded ridiculous (sure He’s here with us, in this place; in this world, sure He is!). A mistake! She’d blown it! Come, Holy Spirit! She flapped the blue brochure hopefully.

The woman hesitated, just one second, and then she sighed dramatically, rolled her eyes, and lowered the window again, saying in a world-weary voice filled with exaggerated patience for all the annoying old white ladies in the world, including this one standing right here: “Oh, alright! Just give it here to me!” And she took it with the tips of her long, red-lacquered nails, and accelerated through the gate.

Mary returned to the group. Two more Mexicans, an older man and woman, had joined them. The wind blew, and they prayed. It sure was an ugly day to kill a child, they were all thinking then. Not that there’s any good day. This is what they always thought outside the clinics, as the women, day after day and year after year, drove in, or more likely were driven in, to kill their children. Fifty million since abortion was legalized, and there was never a good day.

They were only in the middle of Dios te salve in the last decade of the joyful mysteries, daydreaming sadly of that attractive African-American woman who would have had such a beautiful child, when the Plymouth came back through the gate, pulling out of the clinic, and caught them napping.

“Are you — leaving?” Mary asked in surprise, walking once more toward the car, whose passenger side was now before her. “You’re not going to do it?” The accomplice rolled the window all the way down. The African-American woman shook her head. Her extensions bobbed.

“I’m going home. Right. I’m not going to do it.” She looked straight at Mary and for one second she dropped the mask. Woman-to-woman, the real deal. You stood with me, now I’m back. Then, flippant again, “I read it,” she said. “You were right, I guess. No, okay, I know you’re right. It’s not safe. And it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. Nobody has to tell me it’s wrong.”

Mary didn’t answer, because she was crying. The priest and the Mexicans had the car surrounded and they were all crying. And they were all smiling. If the wind had not been so bitter, they might have only been smiling. This baby had cost!

Mary blew her nose. “Promise me –call that Women’s Center on the front of the brochure.” She noticed then that the woman was looking at the bunch of them with wonder. What a scraggly bunch of riff raff they must seem, standing crying in the wind. “Don’t mind us!” Mary tried to excuse them. “We can’t help but – be happy! A life spared! That’s how it is for us. Thank you so much! Thank you!”

The Plymouth rolled on out then, and the group re-formed by the fence and sang a cheerful song to the Guadalupana, the dark little Madonna of the Americas. Father was distracted, though. He was analyzing and analyzing, and finally concluded that along with timing, you just had to count on grace. He was going to write that down as soon as he thawed.

“What a bunch of weirdos, huh! But I guess, well I guess it proves they’re not the KKK, right? Out there saving ” the woman joked to her companion as they approached their turn onto the interstate. “Yeah, not them,” her friend played the sidekick, and privately considered what that meant about her, who’d not protested her best friend’s decision to kill a black baby, not even once, and she winced.

But the driver let her go. She was somewhere else. She was smiling. Really smiling. Because she was thinking, not about the snow beginning again, not about the scary potholes, or her rotten job. She was remembering what God told her, right after she’d turned off the engine to go in. The words, out of nowhere (although she’d just said to herself or– Somebody, I’m not listening, hear me?). The words. Clear as a bell. I sent this baby to love you. Out of nowhere, like snowflakes. I sent this baby to love you. And then her surprising body had put its arms around her baby. That’s how it felt. It was love.

13 Comments so far
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It made my cry, in spite of (or maybe because of) the happy ending.

I loved the “Pierced cheeks, and broken hearts” sentence.

In Spain there have been around one million abortions since they were made legal. It’s really sad when we start talking about tragedies in millions, it somehow makes them unreal. That’s one of the reasons I liked your personal approach of the story so much.

Comment by Bruno (Spain)

Bruno, I know it had a happy ending! But it really happened! Just last Saturday! And we did stand there and cry, blooming idiots.

Maybe it’s because of the crisis pregnancy centers, where they really do help women, but we usually have at least one save every time. At first I cried at every one, but now I take it a little bit for granted. But one things for sure never gets old: I always have the strong feeling that at that moment God is very happy with me (I’m the English-speaking woman in this piece). And there’s no feeling like that!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

I’ve translated part of the story in my blog, but I’ve suggested that any readers who speak English should come directly here to read it.

Thank you again for this wonderful story!

Comment by Bruno

The White Lily Blog, he leído la tradución de Bruno. Me gustaría que me dieran permiso apra ponerlo en mi de http://www.adopcionespiritual como testimonio. No hablo hablo inglés…

Las rescatadoras conocen muy bien el poder de la oración.

Muchas gracias.

Comment by Adopcion Espiritual

Estimado Toñi,

Gracias para su comento y su bendición. Claro que si, puede poner mi cuenta en su sitio–en cambio para unas oraciones, si? (Domingo mi Padre dijo de oración efectiva: tiene la humildad, la confidencia, la persistencia, y la resignación a la voluntad de Dios.) Y verdad, los sidewalk counselors [Las rescatadoras?] saben muy bien como pedir! El rosario–es nuestra pared contra el horror, es nuestra calor contra el frió.

[Toni asked for permission to put this piece on the site Adopcion Espiritual, in translation, and I answered Claro que si, or ‘Sure!’ I also said that on Sunday Father said that effective prayer has four characteristics: humility, confidence (that God is listening), persistence, and resignation to the will of God, whatever His answer to the prayer may be.

My Spanish is terrible! I am the person with the crude Spanish in the post. This might give you, reader, courage to try to learn another language.]

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Mil Gracias. No sé inglés uso el traductor de Google en plan bilingüe. A ti se te entiende muy bien y sigues estupendamente el blog de Bruno (no vi el comentario antes, porque me vine directa aquí; soy Galsuinda, un nick por el que me reconocen muchos en LD) Me resulta curioso el nombre que se da en inglés a las rescatadoras. Es verdad lo que afirmas de la oración; tengo una amiga que dice “necesito” ir a hablar al Sagrario… y las saca en ese último segundo.

Dios te bendiga.


Comment by Adopcion Espiritual

What a story. How touching!

I replied to your comments on Amy Welborn’s site but came over here to post the comment, too, just to be sure you’d see it. (Sorry if that’s against some sort of netiquette.)

I don’t deny that there is a huge problem surrounding birthrates in most of the developed world, nor that a major reason for the drop in birthrates is the opening to women of educational and career doors that were not previously opened to them.

“They all deny that the primary social responsibility of women is to mother children, all other roles secondary.”

I think I’d even agree with you on this — woman’s nature is designed for mothering. However, I don’t think that the only way women can fulfill this role is by staying at home raising children. To be sure, it is a noble calling to raise children full-time, but there is more than one way of being a mother.

Have you ever read Edith Stein’s “Essays on Woman”? She writes about physical motherhood (the kind of full-time mothering that you are describing) and spiritual motherhood. Women can be spiritual mothers in various professions. Teaching and social work come to mind, of course — both professions that are dominated by women. But women can bring a feminine, “motherly” touch to many professions. A female doctor, for instance, may provide a different bedside manner than a male doctor. Many patients are more comfortable with female than male ob/gyns, for instance. The fields of public interest law are dominated by female lawyers — many of whom provide compassionate, caring representation to the poor and marginalized.

Women do bring something different to the career world than men do. I don’t think it’s any mistake that many women are drawn to these kinds of fields, and I think that women can indeed fulfill their roles as mothers in these kind of jobs. My job, for instance, involves working with vulnerable children and families daily. Though I am not a mother in a physical sense, I can provide a lot of compassion and guidance and spiritual “mothering” to my clients and their families.

Comment by Emily

Dear Emily,

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you come back here to read it, as netiquette might suggest I not use your email to reply to you, as I’m dying to do. I think I would feel funny if I entered my email to comment on a site, and someone used it. I hope you come back! For one thing, I’d like to ask your help. I’m writing a fiction piece, science fiction, about Catholics on earth’s first space colony, and have crammed a whole “woman question” solution into a couple of paragraphs. I agree with everything you said in your comment [other readers (all two or three of them!) won’t know what was in the Amy Welbourne site–it was about the role of women, en fin, the just role, as it relates to our current demographic problem]. I’d really like to know what you think of the kind of arrangement I sketched out in the piece.

I have not read the work you suggested, but will certainly take the reference! I planned to write about this very topic today, as I have found myself unaccountably siding with Bishop Williamson’s comments on the education of women (if you’re interested, google those words)–you know, he’s one of the bishops un-excommunicated Sunday, SSPX. I went to the site and it is true that he suggests that there are few women who should attend higher education. But his reasoning is way more empathetic with the actual situation of women today than I expected. There is a war against the very concept of motherhood! Of mothering! Whether spiritual or actual! There is a war against the concept of Holy Mother Church having the intention of supporting the kind of society that helps her children get to heaven! And thus there is a war against women!

I’m sometimes staggered by it. (Like now!)

If you’d read those paraagraphs, would you let me know?

If you’re interested in this topic, you might like some other posts here. Like, ‘Who Loves ya?’

I read your comments on Amy’s site, and I noticed I liked you. You think patiently and kindly. I apologize for my comments there, actually–too long, and too something–I’m defensive, I’m frightened of people’s thoughts on these matters, because I realize so deeply, this is life or death. The rubber meets the road on a baby’s face, and soon on the face of the elderly. That is coming like a freight train. Did you read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the increased need for ‘services’ now, with the crisis? ‘Too many mouths to feed: let’s kill some of them to cure them of the pain of their hunger. Oh pass me that steak.’

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) is my patron saint, so I’m a bit partial to her. She isn’t infallible, but she has quite a lot of good thoughts on women’s roles in the world.

Nancy Pelosi’s comments about birth control etc. really made me shudder. It’s just another example of seeing children as a burden, rather than a blessing. I work in family court, and I see far too many children already whose parents regard them as a burden. More promotion of Nancy Pelosi’s attitude is really the last thing we need.

All is not lost. There seem to be an increasing number of female writers — Christian and secular alike — who are raising concerns about the costs of delaying marriage and childbearing so long. Can they stop the cultural tide? They probably can’t do it alone, but their appearance on the cultural stage is a sign that we haven’t totally lost the war yet.

I share many of your concerns, although I don’t think the solution to those concerns is necessarily to discourage women from pursuing higher education or careers altogether. Women do bring something different to the career world than men do, and these feminine qualities can be a real benefit to everyone — both to their clients or customers, but also to their coworkers and employers. (Some of the best places to work that I’ve encountered are run by women who are more sensitive to questions of work/life balance and more family-friendly.)

I’d be happy to read that excerpt from your story if you’d like.

Comment by Emily

Emily, thank you! It’s below! Don’t worry about style things; the text is dense, too dense for fiction, but it’s surrounded by lots of dialogue, and I can revise later. What I want to know is, does this satisfy your thoughtful approach to the situation? Yours sums up to–we want it all. We want full access to every job there is (except the priesthood!), and we want to be wives and mothers. The question is, how? Under what economy? So I tried to answer that. Thank you so very much! I’m going to assume permission and email this as well, but am putting it on the blog in case any of my few commenters might like to give me some feedback (the fragment is from a novel I’m working on about the first Catholic bishop in outer space, who joins his twin brother an an ark, the Regina Coeli, racing to Alpha Centauri to bring back wheat to earth, lost here due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (this is happening now); as you may know, Catholics must have wheat, for the Eucharist, and so must the millions, for bread. There is another ark.

The arguments that preceded these unprecedented economic decisions were surprisingly short, once Earth’s predicament became clear: conservation alone is not the answer, not enough, get some form of alternative energy AND stop contracting and start reproducing, or die economically first, physically shortly thereafter, by the millions. That the earth was finite was beside the question. To try to go backwards economically, to step it down to a less energy-dependent civilization also meant the deaths of millions. And it was stupid. Then their eyes turned again to the stars, the dream they had abandoned just about the time the world had given up having babies. And hope returned. With some surprising conclusions.

Turns out the biblical Go forth and multiply was actually a thoughtful economic strategy, except women had stopped buying into it without some major repositioning of social policy. Surprisingly, they wanted support for traditional marriage. Feminists had found it the most pro-woman, after all, in the end. Somehow in the negotiations with the company women representatives found the courage to say so, and also to demand, off-world, an end to no-fault divorce, and an end to polygamy –the Muslim feminists among them, a sprinkling in their modest clothing, spoke up, and then you couldn’t make them shut up–and on-going support for their professional careers, which they planned to resume when their families could manage it—and women’s sports, and—increased investment in labor saving household devices—and subsidized daycare, and put porn back in the closet on the colony, no more of it everywhere you turn, shutting women out, shutting them into that role . . . .

In short, women wanted it all, and in an expanding economy such as could be predicted when humans finally got off-world, their particular product, which was small well-nurtured human beings, would be so much in demand that in a precedent-setting agreement in off-world free enterprise, they got it. The world had been preoccupied for decades with the many possibilities for economic gain through a space colony.

It was there, it was within reach, endless solar energy and endless resources, and nothing so simple like a woman wanting to get paid and be respected for birthing high quality future workers would stand in the way of it. So give them their bread and their roses! Let them be mothers and workers too, let them be anything they liked as long as they gave us! One little tiny meteor, like Amun, had six trillion US dollars worth of platinum, and once we’re out there, without the expense of lifting into orbit, mining it became feasible. Not that different from mining in the Arctic, say. Very, very difficult, that’s all. That’s not even considering the iron, the nickel, cobalt. And surely somewhere, gold. So give women what they want, and let’s go!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Sounds good to me. I’ve long been of the belief that one of the greatest possibilities for change in the workplace is women’s own activism. Groups like MomsRising are fascinating to me… I don’t agree with all of their positions, but they do a lot of good work.

Comment by Emily

Dear Emily,

Thank you very much for your remarks–and for your work in the world, as well, your spiritual motherhood of us embroiled in the legal system. Every time I pray the Joyful Mysteries, the Presentation, I ask God for extra grace for those mothers engaged with the legal system, and I’ll just add their lawyers. I love Edith Stein, too. Come back and vsit, tell me about good places to continue the work. I’m going to be working on a piece about motherhood soon. God bless you and your work.

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

I hadn’t seen your note. ¡Felicidades! Congratulations! I am really glad an editor has realized the value of your story. I hope it will be the first of many of your stories published by that editor.

Kind regards.

Comment by Bruno

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