(warning: far more political than usual)
Two weeks floating without any kind of routine. Yesterday I cried when I read the news about leaked documents from the Supreme Court. I was embarrassed for crying and wondered for a second if this was it – the tipping into the irrational. Was it the vestiges of Covid fatigue?
But what was there under the tears was my grandmother’s voice. This was the one political issue I ever heard her speak passionately about. She had a lot of opinions but kept her passions to herself. I wasn’t even a teenager yet, and thought my grandmother was the most conservative woman in the world. (There were a lot of things I didn’t know about her then.) She told me about her friend dying from a back alley abortion.
My grandmother didn’t call many people friends. She had built a lot of walls. Maybe because she lost a lot of people in her life under differing circumstances. But this loss was unnecessary. A young woman died for no reason. Sacrificed to the puritan, performative idealism of the privileged. My grandmother would raise her voice on this issue: There was nothing to discuss.
I live in a country where “self-chosen” abortion is only occasionally an issue up for discussion. And this is in a country where children’s health is prioritized (sometimes to a fault). We have generous maternity and paternity leave and universal health care. So why does this matter to me?
Whether I am an “American” or not – whether in my own view or in others’ views – shifts according to the most useful perspective for the sake of the argument. I can say that I can’t go more than five minutes after meeting someone before they ask me where I am from. In that sense, I will always be an American.
I think it is the least interesting thing about me, but I am stuck with it.
The truth is I am absolutely removed from the culture now. Though I remember, in 2016, the surreal experience of waking at 4 am to see the election results on my phone. I tried to go back to sleep. I grieved for a long time. I think I am still grieving all that is slipping away. Feeling ashamed of all that I didn’t see when I lived there. Now helpless to do anything about it.
You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.
But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.
My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.
I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…
America is not known as a compassionate country. No one even knows how many people died in the dust bowl. In the building of bridges and railroads. Reagan (probably wasn’t the first) said that the responsibility of taking care of the citizen’s well-being and caring for those who need it should fall on the churches.
Just like it was in the colonies, I suppose. I don’t think that the issue is a separation of Church and State, because from the beginning the people who ruled America saw Church and State as two branches of the ruling power. Separate, but equal. America didn’t want the Pope to have a say in America, because the Puritans were already there to keep the status quo of the oligarchy. A legacy of Cromwell.
Maybe? I’m not a historian.
I cry for the destruction of what was my illusion of America. I cry for my grandmother and for her friend. For all the women this will hurt. Kill.
But I also worry because American culture is like a virus in the world. And women’s reproductive rights are a domino that will knock over so many other human rights we have been cultivating.