Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 10, 2009

A Letter

Here is what I am thinking about today. I am thinking about writing a letter to brand new Senator Jeanne Shaheen from my state, New Hampshire. Here is some of what I would say.

I would say that I knew her husband when he was the United States Attorney for New Hampshire, and liked him. I would tell her that I worked with some really good, smart fellows who were in his office. I’d write that they did good work when I knew them making the state a lot safer for ordinary folks. One of the things I liked about working with him and the fellows in his office is that I understood they really cared about what they were doing. They were interested in doing things so folks were happier. I’d also say that I was sorry I never got to meet her when her husband was the boss, and she was a young Mom all those years ago, making a name for herself, too, and keeping an eye on the kids.

She’d feel good about reading that part of the letter, I’m sure, because she would remember all of the juggling young Moms who have young kids, and busy husbands, and are making names for themselves in the bargain, have to do; all of the choices they have to make. It would be nice to know other folks noticed, and cared.

Now, here’s where the letter would get difficult, and possibly upsetting. I would tell her a story of a lady I knew a long time ago. This lady had five children, and a sad and tired face. She worked every day in a job making sandwiches to be heated in infra-red ovens that were placed in taverns. I know what she did because I cleaned the ovens after school. We would talk as she made sandwiches, and I cleaned ovens.

She didn’t make much money, but it was all that she knew how to do…and with five children at home, she needed the money, even a little bit. One day I came to work to find her looking even more sad and tired than normally she did. In answer to my question she told me she’d just been to confession. She was pregnant with her sixth child, and she had gone to tell God that she was sorry for that, and sorrier for thinking of having one more mouth to feed, one more child to worry about and one more reason to be tired. More than anything else, she was sorry for thinking of ending her pregnancy.

I was young, and did not think much of the conversation other than to wonder about the lady and hope that she would, somehow, stop being sad. She soon stopped working because she needed to take care of herself, and the new baby growing inside her. I did not see her for a while; not until the next summer, just before the beginning of school. I had quite forgotten about her, my own life and coming marriage being more important than someone else’s larger worries.

I was in the back washing oven parts when I heard some of the other workers exclaiming things heard around new mothers and new babies. Then I heard my name called to come and look at the baby. In a perfect world I could tell you that I saw a mother who was transformed into a radiant young beauty. I saw instead the same lady. She had the same sad face and the same worry lines. Only now, she smiled as she saw me, and smiled even more as she glanced down at the child in the carriage.

Not much had changed, but an awful lot had changed. She had brought life into the world, and with it, love. “You look good,” I said, “and the baby is very pretty.” “I feel good, I suppose,” she answered, “and the baby is beautiful.” Her eyes told the truth. They looked good, too. Her three younger children were with her. The older ones were back home in the small apartment, helping.

I would tell that story, and then tell another one, a fiction. You must remember “Sophie’s Choice”? In that story a young mother is told to choose which of her children will live and which will be murdered. The cruel choice eventually drives her mad, and she commits suicide. I understand that Meryl Streep could only shoot the crucial scene about choosing which child would die in one take.

What is the point of a letter like that you might ask? What is the point of writing to a Senator to talk about a woman who chooses to have her child, and a woman whose child is taken from her and murdered? There is no way to compare the two situations. Is there?

That, I think, is a very legitimate criticism, but I cannot help thinking about these two women, one real and one some author’s creation, when I think about this thing called the Freedom of Choice Act now hanging over us like some great and heavy steel blade above our bent necks. I guess it has something to do with the way they looked to me when I learned of the choices they faced, and the way they ended up. That and the reasons for their different ends.

You see, I think the first lady got two things, help and love…or loving help, you choose. The second lady got some kind of help, to be sure. The fellow who offered her the choice said it was between choosing one or losing both. There was little real help and cold hatred in place of love. No one, you and the Senator may say, is forced into making that choice these days, here, in America. Here we are interested, still, in everyone’s happiness. Is it belief in everyone’s happiness, I wonder, that encourages as a solution to someone’s problems the death of millions?

And there’s where I find myself disagreeing with that line of thought. The logic behind all of these “freedom of choice” decisions, statutes and arguments does not lead to everyone’s “happiness”, unless the peaceful repose of death is happiness. The woman I knew, burdened as she was by a new child was, nevertheless, happy with her choice because she had help, she had love. Poor Sophie was only “helped” to choose death; her child’s and her own.

I think I would put something like that in my letter, and ask the Senator to think about how peacefully happy Sophie looked on her deathbed. She had no need of help, there. She was beyond help, beyond love.

In death are all problems solved, or none?


  1. That’s great…I hope you write it and I hope it makes a dent.

  2. Very well written. I presume your Senator is pro-choice. You state the choice for life very well.

    And I sympathize with your point of view and applaude the lady who chose life. But my voice is a minority voice and all I can do is keep my head down. The zeistgeist of this time is one of ‘choice’ and birth control which is as Chesteron said a curious time since there is no birth and no control!!! But it is a religion for modernists. And as I catechist i feel we are fighting a rear guard action for Western Civilization. We must carry on, however, and hope a vital remannt will keep the fires of faith alive. We cannot command the youth to do anything but we can pray that they choose life.


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