You have to be a pretty interesting person to be able to write three short, funny and spiritually wise biographies before you’re terribly old. Heather King is onesuch. She describes herself as “an ex-lawyer, ex-drunk Catholic convert” and upon reading her book Redeemed, I promptly fell in love with her work.
Then I actually began to correspond with Heather, (and corralled her into sharing some great stuff with Patheos) and came to love her person.
Barbara Nicolosi has called her a “Catholic Annie LaMott” and I can see that comparison, but I think Heather is even more searingly honest than LaMott. She is simply a very fine writer, and a fierce Christian who has really worked her faith through the wringer of her own damaged places and emerged as something of a mystic with a bit of a mouth. It’s a powerful combination.
I have been such a poor friend to her, though. A while back — around the start of Lent, in fact, she sent me a copy of her new, short e-book, POOR BABY: A Child of the 60′s Looks Back on Abortion and, well you know, my Lent was really all about forty days of spiking fevers and sore throats that was so weird we have decided to call it a Lenten Virus and just forget about it. But fevers keep me from reading (or writing) as much as I like and I had Heather’s book at my fingertips for all this time, but only finally got to read it.
All I can say is, oh, my! I thought I would read just a few paragraphs and ended up gulping this important, staggeringly honest (I said she was honest) short book in one sitting. Heather writes here with such immediacy that you feel like your friend has just walked into your kitchen and starting talking to you while pouring herself a cup of coffee, and she’s telling you that, yeah, she’d managed to pull together a life she was pretty happy with but she’s been carrying this heavy ache and you know, she looked up the word keen in the dictionary and found it meant “a prolonged wail for a deceased person” and yeah, that’s it, that’s precisely what has been emanating from her heart and psyche, even through all of her successes and joy.
And she sits down at your table, coffee mug in hand, and you don’t want her to stop talking; you don’t want to interrupt this:
We’re very concerned these days that everyone is given a “voice,” but one person nobody wants to hear from is the woman who’s had an abortion. One side says: What I do in bed is my business; the other side says: You made your bed; now lie in it. The left doesn’t want to hear from the woman who’s had an abortion because to feel remorse, shame, or doubt is to betray “the cause.” The right doesn’t want to hear from the woman who’s had an abortion because you’re going to burn in hell so why should you matter? The priest doesn’t want to hear, particularly, from the woman who’s had an abortion because the issue is way too complex, multi-layered, and potentially time-consuming; women, as we all know, get weird around sex, men, and children; the priest, being human, probably hasn’t worked out all those things within himself; and besides, you’ve been forgiven, so let’s forego opening that can of worms and move on.
Even women, who will talk about anything, don’t talk about abortion. Women, who within five minutes of being introduced will know each other’s career and relationship status, family situation, taste in clothing, food, movies, books, and men, don’t talk about abortion. I think this is because women, of all people, know that abortion is a failure of love. Women know that if the guy with whom you were sleeping loved you enough, chances are you would have had his baby in a heartbeat. Women know that no matter how superficially relieved you may have felt immediately afterwards; no matter how financially, emotionally, and logistically impossible having a kid just then would have been; no matter how much sympathy they may (or may not) have for you and your situation, you’ve still gone against your deepest soul: against everything in you that is most precious, most worthy, most inviolate.
She takes a breath and you say, “keep talking, Heather, keep talking!”
Beneath abortion lies the split between men and women depicted in the story of the Garden of Eden; the rift decreeing that henceforward, we would all be baffled, bewildered, longing to connect; all aching for each other and afraid of each other. But how, as women, can we possibly expect to heal the split by overprotecting men; by bearing in our bodies, souls, and nervous systems a burden that should be theirs to share; by remaining silent; by pretending that sustaining this almost mortal wound doesn’t hurt and doesn’t matter; by confusing the private with the secret and furtive?
If abortion is so wonderful, why are we so reluctant to expose it to the light? Why, at the clinic, do they use the word “procedure?” Why, when gazing into the bassinet of our friend’s newborn baby do we not tend to exclaim: “Adorable! I aborted mine!” Everyone’s on board for the sex, but no-one likes to think of what transpires afterward for the woman who aborts. No long, hot kisses then. No delighted tandem gaze at the ultrasound: Oh honey, look at his tiny feet! Afterward does not bear looking at, thinking about, or in any particular remembering. That’s why for so long I had not wanted to know. My mind would go so far and no further.
The fact is you get crucified if you have the kid; you get crucified if you don’t. Fire or fire. The redemptive suffering of taking responsibility for your actions; the neurotic (because avoidable) suffering of failing to. I just don’t see any way around this. I don’t think there is a way around it: hence, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The cross—which I mention partly because as I said, I’m a Catholic (I converted, for the record, after my abortions) and partly because we claim to be a Christian nation—is a picture of the human psyche. Jacques Fesch was a Parisian who shot a cop, was sentenced to death, and had a conversion experience in prison. “It’s only a short time since I really understood what the cross is,” he wrote before going to the guillotine in 1957. “It is simultaneously miraculous and horrifying. Miraculous, because it gives us life, horrifying because if we do not bring about our own crucifixion, we have no access to life.”
This is one hell of a read. It is brief but unique in voice, unique in insights; it is brutally honest in precisely the way the world needs to encounter a bit of brute honesty, right now, and it is something of a treasure because it flings about realities that every pro-choice and pro-life person — and everyone who thinks they’re “on the fence” needs to confront.
It is in a word, brilliant. Thank God it’s only 28 pages long. More truth we might not be able to bear all at once.
Keep talking, Heather King. Keep talking.