And I am not speaking up

Sienna has a sweater that makes me sad. It’s a really pretty sweater that my mom bought for her this year at Old Navy. Here’s a picture of her in it:

For some reason, this sweater reminds me of sweaters from the 40′s. Specifically, every time I button it around her, I think of little children who died in the Holocaust.

I realize this is a bizarre association, and I can’t explain where it came from. I don’t know if it’s the big buttons, the coarse fabric, or the multiple colors, but it reminds me of a sweater that someone would make for a child out of scraps. A sweater made from anything and everything a mother could find, sewed by candlelight with numb fingers by a mother desperate to have something that would keep her child warm against the rapidly approaching winter.

Every time I put this sweater on Sienna I feel a wave of sadness. I think of the many mothers throughout the centuries who have clothed their children, and of all the mothers who have suffered the tragedy of losing children, but especially of those mothers, the ones who were helpless to save their children or themselves from the evil of the last century.

It seems that there is a collective fascination with the Holocaust. We are drawn to it, drawn to the history of that time. I’ve spent hours poring over articles about Treblinka and Auschwitz, horrified and yet unable to stop reading. Is there something in us that can’t believe it actually happened? Is there some part of us that must prove it to ourselves, that must bring ourselves to face the utter depths of depravity that humanity is capable of?

I think that’s part of it. But there’s something else, too, at least for me. The Holocaust was never as real and as poignant in my understanding until I had children. All those lives lost didn’t compute. Who can fathom six million? Who can understand that many, so many souls snuffed out? I certainly couldn’t. But then I had children of my own, and suddenly the monstrosity of the concentration camps took on a whole new meaning, because just this one life, this one little girl, she was everything. She was my world, a child into whom I poured more love than I realized I could feel. A child whose cough could stop my heart, whose cry could make my blood run cold. And every single person who was killed was that, if not to anyone on earth, to God in heaven.

When I think of the mothers with their children, smashed into the cattle cars, desperate to soothe and feed and give comfort and with no recourse to do so, I can hardly bear it. I’ve stood in the shower and held Charlotte in my arms under the running water and thought of all those mothers in the gas chambers, clinging to their naked children, shivering and half-mad with panic. I’ve sat in bed and nursed Liam and thought of the mothers in Treblinka whose babies were drowned as soon as they were born.

How could they bear it? It’s almost merciful that most of them didn’t live long. How can you bear the pain of a lost child, especially one lost to violence?

And how could God allow it to happen? I know the problem of evil has been hashed out again and again, and I’ve come to an answer myself that satisfies my intellect, at least. I believe that God can’t stop evil from happening because He’s given us free will, and He won’t take that gift from us, no matter how it’s abused. But that answer certainly doesn’t satisfy my soul, especially when such mass evil is concerned.

Some people have said that the Holocaust was allowed to happen because of the good that came out of it; not only the political restructuring, but the saints whose lives have become such an inspiration. But that doesn’t satisfy me either. It seems such a little bit of good next to the millions of children murdered, their mothers and fathers standing helplessly by, powerless and frantic.

I’ve often thought that the entire country of Germany was to blame for allowing this to happen. But a documentary about the Rise of Nazism was on last night, and it made me realize that they didn’t…really…know. They might suspect, but the Nazis went to great lengths to keep them in the dark. A German woman who accidentally boarded a train to Treblinka with her two children, a woman whose husband was a Nazi, fighting in the war, was gassed just the same because she had seen too much. But even if they had known, what could they do? Any attempt at revolt was snuffed out, and brutally. Were they culpable for standing idly by, keeping their noses to the ground while their countrymen were murdered in droves? I think so.

And then, I ask myself, what does that say about me? After all, in this country babies are murdered by the thousands every day. I’m against it, of course, but I don’t do anything about it. I just take care of my children and vote for politicians who stand against it. That’s all I can do, I tell myself.

But it’s not enough. It’s not enough, in the face of evil, to passively disagree. Millions upon millions of babies have been brutally murdered and dismembered simply because they are inconvenient, and here I am, saying, “Oh, well, you really shouldn’t do that, but after all, there’s nothing I can do to stop it.” I am reminded of, indicted by, the well-known quote by Martin Niemoller:

“In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

There must be something. I’ve felt for a while that I must do something, but I genuinely have no idea what. In principle I’m somewhat opposed to the culture of protest, so picketing abortion clinics is out for me. Should I stand across the street and pray? With my children in tow? I have my own pro-life story; should I tell it? How much to these stories really help?

I’m asking you, my readers, because I genuinely don’t have answers. I feel that every day I stand by silently as babies as precious as my own are torn from life I grow more and more culpable. When we ask forgiveness for things we have failed to do, this is always the first thing that I think of. By just standing here, doing nothing, I am failing to act. I am failing to protect these children just as surely as the mothers in the concentration camps failed to protect their own, and yet I am free to act. I am free to try, at least.

Where do I start?

Land of the Freeish, Home of the Tattlers
Little Girls Who Body-Shame
Streams of milk or tears to offer
Christos Anesti!
  • Anonymous

    standing outside the clinics praying – so many people leave because they saw that someone loved them and their baby on earth. Dad can tell you some unbelievable stories that are all possible because of prayer. I am trying to decide what to do, too. I'll pray for you if you pray for me.You are a wonderful writer.Lisa

  • Kassie

    Several of my friends stand across the better-known clinics and pray rosaries every morning. I don't have much else to offer. I'm in the same boat, with rights to life and adoption – there has to be SOMETHING that can be done, said, prayed. . .something. Anything.Kyrie eleison.

  • Daphne

    Calah-As always it is so wonderful to read your blog. I am continued to be amazed at your writing and how much I truly enjoy reading multiple posts when I log on. God has given you an incredible talent…continue to share it with others.I am really looking forward to seeing you, Christopher and the kids on Christmas Eve. Love- Daphne

  • Calah

    Lisa-thanks. I really want to get together with my most wonderful godparents and ask them where to start. Of course I will pray for you! I wish we lived closer so we could all go volunteer with your parents or something. At least here, I would have a starting point. Vegas is a nightmare. Kassie-I agree. I also think the adoption thing is huge, but there, too, I feel helpless. We'd love to take in more children, but we can barely afford to feed and clothe the ones we have! Maybe in the future, but the very process is so expensive! It's frustrating, thinking of the poor babies in cribs with no mamas to love them. I just want to go scoop them all up and bring them home, expense be damned. Daphne-thank you! I'm glad you enjoy it. I'll email you soon. I'm really hoping we can come out and see you guys this week if you're home!

  • The Rowles

    I just read the first chapter of Unplanned. (the book by the woman who resigned from Planned Parenthood after watching an abortion via ultra sound). I cried out loud while I read it, and since then, I can only think about how I cannot (or am not) actively doing something about it. I am praying harder though.

  • Anonymous

    Google Birthmothers. This is the way to help – through one on one nonjudgmental love and support to a woman that shows you really care about her individual situation. Before going around telling everyone you have the answers, try listening first. Praying outside clinics is a very confrontational stance that is received as freaky and impersonal, especially considering the many threats of violence the clinics receive all the time. How would you feel if there was a Muslim group waiting for you every week outside church, praying you would stop being an infidel? Women will just choose (if they can) another clinic that doesn't have a crowd outside.

  • Anonymous

    did you just compare a choice of religion with saving a human life…..hmmm ok here's one, don"t stand infront of a concentration camp and pray for jews nazis may find it freaky and impersonal….

  • Elizabeth

    I just found your blog and I've been reading old posts. I really like your style! On this topic, I'd suggest praying the rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy for abortion to end. Pray them even when you don't feel like it, even when you feel like it's pointless. They are strong weapons, and sometimes those of us with young children can't get out there and do as much practically, but it IS a spiritual war going on and in that area, we can fight.