Searching for Love and Truth

normamccorvey6The world is filled with interesting stories, some more than others. So it is with Norma McCorvey, AKA Jane Roe. Norma grew up in the same era in which I lived. In fact she was very close in age to me. She was born in Louisiana to parents who seemed ill prepared to raise children. Her father was an abusive alcoholic and her parents’ union ended in divorce not long after Norma was born. Some women have a very unfortunate habit of falling in love with bad boys and so it was with Norma’s mom who forged a second relationship with a man who sexually abused Norma on a regular basis. By the time that Norma had reached her adolescence she was continually at odds with the law and ended up in juvenile detention centers and foster homes. Hers had been a confusing childhood without guidance, loving protection or opportunities. Little wonder that she was married and pregnant by the time that she was only sixteen.

Norma, like her mother before her, made many bad choices and was left by her husband to raise the child on her own. Realizing that she did not have any of the resources needed to care for herself much less a youngster, Norma gave the little girl to her mom. After that her life became a continuing series of unfortunate events. She became pregnant again and decided to give the little one up for adoption. She repeated her mom’s mistakes, seeming to be unlucky in love and life in general. When she became pregnant a third time she wanted to have an abortion but it was still illegal to do so in the state of Texas where she resided. A couple of lawyers who were looking for a test case to challenge the law took Norma under their wings and fought all the way to the Supreme Court for her rights and those of others to abort fetuses that were unwanted, claiming that particularly because Norma had been raped she should not have to have the baby.

The court case took well over three years to complete so Norma was forced to bear the little girl that she carried all the way to birth. She gave that child up for adoption just as she had with the earlier baby but ultimately won her case in the famous Roe vs. Wade decision that forever changed the way many women would view unwanted pregnancies. Norma never again became pregnant nor did she ever require or receive an abortion but she nonetheless became a celebrity in the pro choice ranks and even worked for many years in an abortion clinic. She seemed to find finally find her footing when she settled down with another woman in Dallas continuing to fight for women’s rights on a regular basis.

Along the way Norma met members of a Dallas pro-life group. They discussed with her their own beliefs that a fetus is a human being with its own rights as a person. Initially she scoffed at their arguments and in the feisty way that was her trademark made fun of their religious thinking. Somehow in an unlikely alliance they began to respect one another and Norma was taken by the way in which her opponents seemed to love her in spite of their differing opinions. Nobody had ever treated her with so much respect. She began to listen to what they had to say and to consider the possibility that perhaps their thoughts were valid.

She found herself feeling bothered by what she saw happening in the abortion clinic where she worked. Finally she renounced her pro choice position claiming that she had been used by the two lawyers who represented her in the landmark case. She even insisted that she had lied about being raped in order to make her situation appear to be more worthy of sympathy. She was baptized and in a stunning reversal became a spokesperson for the pro-life movement. Eventually she even left her long term partner and became a Catholic.

Norma was living in Katy, Texas not far from where I live when she died a couple of weeks ago. She never again saw the two children that she had given up for adoption but she is said to have thought about them often. The daughter that her mother had raised was by her side as she breathed her final breaths.

I was particularly taken by the sadness of Norma’s life. I encountered so many young girls like her when I was a teacher, sad souls who were forced into adult roles long before they were ready because their parents were unable or unwilling to care properly for them. I have taught twelve year olds who were raped by family members and became pregnant. They were angry, confused and fearful over what had happened to them. Their children became more like younger brothers or sisters than someone for whose life they were responsible. They were totally unprepared for the difficulties that lay ahead of them.

I have seen the loving results of children who have been saved from such situations through the process of adoption. When paired with genuinely caring adults they generally thrive and lead incredibly wonderful lives. There is something quite special about the realization that they have been chosen that helps them to grow to be strong and confident. I’d like to think that Norma’s adopted children found happy homes and that they were able to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that had been the definition of Norma’s lifestyle.

The question of abortion is a complex one that will not soon go away. There is much disagreement about when an unborn child becomes a person. We are inching further and further into the developmental cycle of the fetus in determining where the line is drawn in determining what state defines viability.  There are now places where abortion is permitted all the way up to twenty four weeks. Many consider it a form of birth control and each year millions of women end their pregnancies not because they have been raped or have health issues but because they do not want to have a child.

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that conception is the defining moment of personhood and that abortion is murder of a human being. They find the practice to be barbaric and morally wrong and fight continuously to outlaw the abortion once and for all. Many consider such individuals to be little more than religious zealots but they see themselves as soldiers in a battle against an evil that must be stopped.

Ironically Norma McCorvey was the face of both sides during her lifetime. She believed that she had seen the light in her later years when she became a pro-life advocate. She felt that she had been used and abused for most of her life and that it was within a community of faith-filled individuals that she finally found the love and respect for which she had been searching since she was a child. She died convinced that her part in Roe vs. Wade was flawed and terribly wrong.

It appears that Norma somehow found a modicum of peace and even built a loving relationship with the one daughter with whom she still had contact. She found friendships that she enjoyed and her life became bearable. I would like to think that she is now enjoying the peace that had been so elusive for her for so much of her existence. Hers was a search for love and truth that is now at an end. May she forever rest in peace and may those of us still here find the answers to the questions that she posed and the strength and wisdom to work for what is right just as Norma tried to do.

A Good Ole Gal

buffalobayousunriseHouston is a good ole gal with a heart of gold. She’s a hard worker who doesn’t mind getting dirt under her nails but she also has an inventive mind. She’s had some crazy ideas that actually worked, like building a channel from the Gulf of Mexico to her landlocked home creating one of the busiest ports in the world. She got it in her head to establish a university that would rival Harvard, a medical center that would attract the best doctors in the country and a space center that would explore the universe. Her ideas came to fruition even as her critics laughed at her. She is fearless, unafraid to risk everything. She is exciting.

Houston is a chameleon. Sometimes she appears to be very plain, maybe even a bit homely, but then she flashes her brilliant eyes and suddenly becomes quite beautiful. Perhaps it is her undaunted spirit that makes her so attractive or maybe it is her generosity. She provides opportunity and security to anyone willing to work with her. She offers a shoulder to lean on when times get tough. She will be there to help after storms devastate or tragedy steals joy. She is ever faithful, always willing to lend a hand. She welcomes strangers and provides succor to her ever growing family.

She angers us with her unpredictable moods. It’s difficult to know what to expect from her from one day to the next. She may cry enough tears to fill our streets and our homes and then respond with a smile of brilliant blue skies and sunshine. She wears her lovely bayous like silky ribbons in her hair and then strangles us with their fury. She bears down on us with her fiery heat and just when we think that she is unbearable she brings us a day so lovely that we fall in love with her all over again.

Houston has many faces. She is a wealthy patrician with deep roots in her aristocratic heritage and a newcomer with dark eyes and brown cheeks filled with hope and optimism. She loves the rodeo and the opera, a honky tonk bar and a symphony hall. She likes ballgames and art museums, fast food and fine dining. She’s quite accommodating which is perhaps her most enticing quality. She wants to please and works hard at making everyone happy. She is the quintessential hostess.

Houston is always so busy, sometimes to her own detriment. She invites everyone to her party but doesn’t plan for all of the traffic and commotion. She seems unaware of how aggravating her haphazard tendencies can be. We wonder how someone so bright can also be so clueless. She is wild and unfettered, tendencies that we both enjoy and loathe. She is a whirlwind, a tornado, a contradiction.

Houston is a conundrum to those who do not really know her. They can’t imagine what her appeal might be. She seems simple and unattractive to the unschooled. She is a mystery that confounds reason. Her detractors wonder why any of us give our hearts to her. She seems so unworthy of our affection and yet we feel an unflinching loyalty to her. We love her even though we are sometimes hard pressed to explain why. Our feelings for her are among the grandest mysteries of life.

We sometimes consider leaving Houston and her irritating ways. We may even temporarily act on our emotions and take a break from her, seeking another to satisfy our needs. Somehow we find ourselves thinking of her in our absence. We actually miss her with all of her quirks and idiosyncrasies. We recall her openness and uncomplicated ways. We remember all of the culinary feasts that she provided us. We call to mind how unselfish she generally was to us. She was there when we needed her most with offers of education, work, and solace. We enjoyed her welcoming nature and her willingness to accept us just the way we were. She never put on airs nor did she expect us to do so. She worked her way into our very souls and no matter how far away we have travelled we find ourselves wanting to see her again, to be with her. She has a power over us that we somehow can’t escape and so we return, lingering near her and feeling the calm that being with her seems to revive in our souls.

Houston is a good ole gal, the salt of the earth, the joy of our lives. We love her and always will.

These Are The Good Old Days

il_340x270-1167766621_5l2mBack in the nineteen seventies my mother and one of my brothers took a Sunday afternoon ride to Galveston Island which was about fifty miles away from where I lived. I was recovering from hepatitis and it was meant to be a relaxing excursion. My mama always believed that the ocean air was good for whatever ailments one had. Going down to the sea was one of her most frequent destinations.

We rode along the seawall built by heroic Galveston residents who refused to be chased away by the 1900 storm that killed more than 2000 people in one dark night. It was a lovely early spring day and it felt wonderful to escape from the confinement that I had endured for many weeks. My mother always knew exactly how to nurse me back to health.

Mama wasn’t much for driving on freeways so we took an old highway back home that was less traveled at the time. Along the way her car broke down, a not so uncommon occurrence for her because she tended to keep her autos until the wheels fell off. There was no sign of life anywhere near where we were and of course there were no cell phones back then. We had to rely on our own ingenuity to find a way out of our dilemma.

For quite some time we pushed the car hoping that either it would spontaneously come back to life or that we might encounter a phone booth or service station where we might find help. I soon grew quite weary. I had been instructed by my doctor not to over exert myself and the effort of moving a heavy object down an asphalt runway soon sapped what little energy I had. We decided to simply get the car out of the road and walk until we found signs of life.

It felt as though we had to travel several miles before we finally found a place of business where we were able to call my husband who rescued us quickly after that. He drove us back to Mama’s car and noticed that she had run out of gasoline which he remedied as well. The incident became one of those laughable family moments and a memory of life in times past.

I can’t help but think of how much easier it would have been for us to find the assistance that we needed if only there had been cell phones back then. It is highly likely that at least two of us would have been able to take care of the problem with a few keystrokes. The modern world with its many inventions has made our lives so much easier than it has ever been.

I often see photos of what it was like when I was young on Facebook. My friends sometimes reminisce about the good old days. We even had a politician who won the presidency with the promise to make America great again. The problem that I find with such nostalgia is that going backwards in time is not generally something that we should want to do. I like the progress that we have made and I see little point in turning back the clock. Instead I try to enjoy the days that I have right now.

My grandfather was born in 1878 and did not die until the nineteen eighties. He often laughed when people asked him to tell about the good old days. “These are the good old days,” he would always insist. He easily recalled the hardships of living without refrigeration or electricity. He remembered the first time that he saw a town lit up with lights and the sense of wonder that overcame him. He read the headlines cheering the first flight of an airplane and watched with elation as a human walked on the moon. He remembered how his grandmother treated illnesses with herbs and  what it was like watching people die of terrible infectious diseases that were eventually eradicated by modern medicine. The level of comfort that he experienced in his later life had been unimaginable when he was a child and he appreciated all of the advancements that had made the world a better place to be.

I hark back to the nineteen fifties and sixties, a time of great scientific exploration that changed the way we live and work at rocket speed. I am able to tell horror stories about attempting to type a long research paper without mistakes on an old typewriter with keys that would stick and smear ink on my fine white paper. My efforts were always so homely because I had to cover my errors with blobs of liquid paper that dotted my manuscripts like droplets of snow. If I had to have multiple copies that meant using carbon paper that left purple stains on my fingers and anything else that it touched. Creating documents was a time consuming and onerous task for me that thankfully is a thing of the past.

Like my grandfather I might list hundreds of examples regarding the difficulties that existed simply because the solutions to the various problems had not yet been invented. Any of us who did research of during the nineteen sixties shudder at the thought of spending hours combing through a card catalog in a library only to find that the very book that we needed had already been checked out by someone on a similar mission. Almost everything was in hard copy form back then. Sometimes documents were photographed and stored on little reels that had to be read using a machine that invariably broke in the middle of the process.

If I were to begin to list all of the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime it would require pages and pages. Man’s ingenuity has indeed been an engine that has driven progress inevitably forward and there is little reason for us to wish to turn back the clock which, by the way, we don’t have to wind anymore like we did in the past. The history of mankind is one of advancement with a few hiccups along the way but inevitably we seem to find better and better ways of enjoying life. I suspect that my very wise grandfather had it right all along when he would insist that these are the good old days.

The Conversation

early_summer_morning_513429I had a long conversation with my grandson this past weekend. I had traveled to visit him and his family during the long holiday day weekend. One morning he and I arose before the rest of the household and we had an opportunity to quietly talk about this and that.

He is a serious and sensitive young man who only recently became a teenager. He thinks long and hard about a number of things. He loves to build with Legos and his room is filled with Star Wars spacecraft and enough buildings for an entire town. He has bridges and cars and trains all made from the tiny blocks. He is quite proud of his collection. He assembles the pieces and then displays the intricate items that he has but together on bookshelves and table tops. His room is a veritable Lego museum. It’s fun just to browse all of his creations.

He is a rather interesting fellow. He collects elements and put them in little jars attached to a magnetic board in the shape of the Periodic Table. He has models of the planets hanging from his ceiling. He’s rather sentimental about his possessions, many of which date back to the time when he was a toddler. He could name the planets and their moons when he was only twenty months old and he has always had a curiosity about the world and how it works. He enjoys mathematics and appears to have a profound sense of numbers. He is a deep thinker so it didn’t surprise me much when our early morning talk turned to ideas about the world and the seeming unfairness that exists in the distribution of food and wealth.

My grandson was feeling a bit guilty because he desperately wanted a new Lego set but would have to wait until he had earned enough money doing chores around the house. He was feeling impatient and had even felt a bit sorry for himself but now he was sensing that his greed was inappropriate. His guilt was couched in the knowledge that he has had a very good life from the moment that he was born. He thought of all the young men his age around the world who live in terrible conditions both because of economics and political situations. He knew that his impatience in wanting to purchase those Legos right now was somehow wrong but he confessed to sometimes wishing that he had even more resources so that he would never have to wait to gratify his wishes. He even admitted that he had never really known any people his age who were poor. He had only read and heard about them.

We spoke of children that I had taught who literally lived in cars or garages or homes with dirt floors. I mentioned a little girl who had only wanted a bed for Christmas because she was tired of sleeping on the hard wood of her living room. He said that he often thought of the children engulfed in the civil war in Syria. He found it difficult to even imagine what it must be like to have an entire way of living torn asunder. He wondered what he might do at his age to help to right some of the wrongs that occur around the globe.

We spoke of change and how difficult it often is to break from comfortable routines. He is a creature of habit who prefers the quiet of his home and familiar friends. He has a certain way of doing things but he realizes that the demands of the world are such that he will have to learn how to adapt. I spoke to him of my own fears of the unknown and how we all worry more than we probably need to do.

It was quite nice having the special time with him. We are usually surrounded by a house full of people and rarely have the occasion to just talk and let the conversation go wherever it may lead. It was a treat for both of us, confirmed by the especially big hug that he gave me once our little soiree was interrupted as the rest of the family began to awaken.

I so often hear negative assessments of today’s young people. It is sometimes suggested that they are self centered, lazy, prone to feeling entitled, unthinking. My experience with them is just the opposite. They are as concerned about our world and its future as we were when we were young. They are feeling pulled in hundreds of different directions including attempting to become accustomed to their changing bodies. They constantly feel the pressure of the high expectations that adults have for them and desire more than anything to make their elders happy while also being true to themselves. Like my grandson their concerns are not always about themselves. They are very aware of the inequalities that exist and they are desirous of finding ways to decrease or eliminate them. They are curious but frightened about how world events will unfold and what effect they will have on them. They want to be brave and strong and good but sometimes wonder if they are up to the challenges that they face. In other words they are much like youth have been throughout history.

I have always believed that each of us have multiple duties in life. We must fulfill our own destinies but we also have responsibilities to both those who are too old to care for themselves any longer and those who are young. We have rights but with those rights come duties that we can never neglect. The lessons of childhood must teach our kids how to be proud of themselves as individuals but also how to care about the people around them. Nobody exists in a vacuum. Each of us has to consider the needs of others. Our lifetimes are filled with ups, downs, triumphs, tragedies and we must be able to cope with whatever comes our way. All of us are constantly modeling behaviors to the children around us. They will mimic whatever they see us doing. If we show respect to all people they will as well. If we are willing to sacrifice now and again so too will they. By the same token if we are abusive or selfish they will come to believe that they don’t have to care about anyone but themselves. Behaviors are learned and very difficult to undo once they have been ingrained.

I feel quite optimistic about the future. I have seen damaged youngsters for sure but more often than not I encounter teenagers who are experimenting a bit but never wandering very far from the beliefs of their families. For the most part parents continue to do their jobs quite well and their children continue to grow into happy and healthy adults just as people have for centuries. We all have a stake in how things will turn out. Hopefully each of us will do our best to provide our young with the support and models that they need. It’s also a good idea to have conversations with them now and again. They can be quite enlightening. 

Generations

leadership-generationsWe have a tendency to name and classify entire generations of people. I’m not sure whether this trend was started by social scientists or journalists but at least during the twentieth century and beyond we have created artificial designations meant to describe the general characteristics of groups of people born within certain eras. Thus we have the men and women born and raised during the twenties and thirties who became “the greatest generation” due mostly to the contributions that they made during World War II. Then came my group, often known as the baby boomers, because “the greatest generation” lacked effective birth control methods and had one child after another, creating one of the largest increases in population in the history of the world. Of course modern medicine allowed more of us to stay healthy after we were born as well so we have tended to hang around longer than our ancestors. We boomers have gotten a bad rap for most of our lives. We annoyed our parents with our rebellious spirits and our own children who became Generation X often struggle to understand what makes us tick. Currently we are in the age of the millennials who are vastly different from any group that has come before them. They are idealistic even beyond the dreams of those of us who once ran with the hippies and anti-war crowd.

Of course anyone with an ounce of common sense understands that it is all but impossible to paint an entire generation with a broad stroke and be entirely accurate. Each of us is a product of our genetics, our home environment and the happenings of the wider world. Had there been no World War II “the greatest generation” might never have earned that designation. They were hard working men and women for sure and mostly had good hearts and pure intentions but they were often unconcerned with injustices that did not directly affect them. They tended to go about the business of daily living without much notice of problems with race or poverty. It was the role of their children to challenge their thinking and ask them to consider questions of fairness, race and feminism. Their rowdy kids demanded that they begin to question the status quo.

To be fair my parents’ generation somehow raised me and my contemporaries to be openly critical and defiant. We didn’t just suddenly hatch out of an egg with our revolutionary ideas. Our elders had insisted that we be educated far better than they had been. We were exposed to ideas that demanded creative thinking and it was our parents who encouraged us to take full advantage of the knowledge that we acquired. The result was that we were a bold generation that drew upon the theories of intellectuals and realized that we had voices that deserved to be heard. In some cases our youthful enthusiasm was chaotic but on the whole it began to change the world in ways that were sometimes frightening and confusing to many of the old guard who saw our impertinence as a slap in the face.

Still we did not march in unison as a group. Some among us maintained a more conservative approach to life just as some of our parents were even more liberal than we were. While changes were affected there were still tendencies to pick and choose past traditions that needed to be cherished. Each of us was a bit different while we clung to our individual identities.

I never liked the label of Generation X that was attributed to our children. It seemed so nondescript, as though this group had little to distinguish them other than the dates within which they were born. They enjoyed fairly peaceful childhoods filled with the creation of one innovation after another that we now take for granted. There was a kind of happiness and rainbows feeling during their era. They did not worry about the possibility of being sent to a war. The world appeared to be calm but that was little more than an illusion. Already there were stirrings in the Middle East that would come to haunt all of us. The economy had a tendency to slide up and down at inopportune times that sometimes left them without work. They were a bright and well educated generation, more progressive even than the boomers. They attended church less frequently and had fairly liberal ideas about sexuality and the role of women. Their children became known as the millennials.

Most millennials have little understanding of the impact of events in the twentieth century other than what they have learned in history books. The grainy black and white photos of mid-century America seem ancient and quaint to them. They can’t quite fathom what it was like to watch the civil rights movement unfold or participate in the Cold War with Russia. They have lived with a twenty four hour news cycle that brings stories of war and terrorism into their living rooms on a continual basis. They are one of the best educated groups in history but often have difficulty finding jobs. Unlike the boomers who were usually out on their own by the time they were twenty one years old, the millennials often stay within the family unit well past the middle of their twenties, sometimes out of necessity because they have been unable to secure work. They are less likely to marry at a young age if at all. They earnestly crusade for justice and equality, often spending time working in non-profits for free before launching careers. Many of them are more dedicated to the pursuit of science than religion. They often view the world from a very different vantage point than their grandparents and great grandparents whom they see as being out of touch with the realities of the new age.

The truth is that we tend to progress and change with each new generation mostly in concert with events and inventions that define how we see the world. Our perceptions are determined by the totality of our experiences. We show general characteristics based on the things that we endure as a society and our individuality comes from the less public aspects of our personal relationships. Truth be told it is our very humanity that affects our worldview. Television and social media have the power to impact numbers of us in ways that were unimaginable before the dawn of the twentieth century but we still react to more regional influences as well. Someone born in the nineteen forties in rural Texas will be different from someone who lived in a large eastern city at the same time. It is the amalgam of all that we see and hear and do that ultimately defines each of us, not a particular label. It is the nature of mankind to slowly evolve but often that process is an erratic curve rather than a smooth line.

Perhaps it would be best if we were to engage in conversations between the generations. Our table needs to be round and inclusive and open to a place for everyone. We need to eschew labels and stereotypes and learn to honor and respect the power of the journeys that each of us have taken. We are who we are not so much because we were born in a certain time frame but because we have lived. It is impossible to move from one day to the next over a lifetime without growing and changing in some way. Whether we accept it or not age and group memberships matter less than our common desire to improve our society with each passing generation. Our hope is to leave the world a bit better than it was when we first entered it. That is a worthy goal and one which we all can support.