At the end of the church service Sunday night, our pastor John told us that he had a special picture that he wanted to share with us at dinner. It was taken by a photographer who travels around China and tries to capture through his lens the Christian Church. When John explained that it was a photographer’s view of the Church in China, the typical rice paddies and weathered old woman in front of a cross came to mind. Or 20 young heads bent together in prayer and study, in a dimly lit room in an undisclosed location. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. As we all gathered in Pilgrim’s Hall for dinner there was a general sense of confusion as John held up the black and white picture. He pointed to the man, “This is her husband and their young boy. They are placing their hands on her belly. Saying goodbye. In a couple of days this wife, this mother, will be taken away to have a forced abortion. The authorities found out she was expecting her second child, and now she must deal with the consequences of breaking the Chinese law. You can see the symbol of their faith in the background, cut out in their wall.” We all wait in line to get a closer view of the picture. My turn, and I find I’m holding my breath. I blink away the mist.
It is rare that I cry, especially in public, at the sight of art. Cinematic, literary, musical or tactile – very rarely have I been know to shed a tear for something created. At most, I well up. Yet I barely made it back to the safety of my flat before the sniffling and shedding could resume. This isn’t art, it is life. It is life threatened – life treasured.
I talked with John after dinner about the picture. In China, one child per family is a strictly enforced law. Some women manage to hide their pregnancies until the point they can give birth. If they can get that far, they can keep the child. But they cannot register the child. A non-registered child means that child can never go to school, or have access to health care. There was a village in south China that received free polio vaccinations for every child. Two months later that village had one of the worse polio outbreaks, crippling hundreds of children. People were confused – if every child received a vaccination, why were there so many cases of polio? Turns out, only the registered children received the vaccine. All of the polio cases were second children. Now the families are faced with a life of caring for a child that the government refuses to admit exists. There can be no formal medical care, and home care is more expensive than these families can dream to afford. All because they had another child.
It makes our debates, our rallies and picket lines, the politics of it all – the fighting, the red tape morals and American standards – makes it all seem so…..so stupid. It angers me that while we are arguing about lower taxes, more affordable health care, even the “right to choose” – there are women with no rights. No right to bring her unborn child into the world. No right to choose to add more love into a home with a new baby. No right to choose to give her son a younger sister or brother. Please do not think that I am saying that the things we fight for in America: taxes, health care, benefits, etc – that these are not important things. They are. It just empties my heart to see this woman’s face, the somber look of her husband, the weary look of their son – and to know that she will experience a kind of mourning none of us could ever imagine. Forced mourning. I think of Stephanie and Emily L., and others who have experienced the pain of losing a child – yet who have the opportunity to try again. I think of my friend Leslie and my co-worker Uut, who are preparing for the gift of life for the first time. The excitement and anticipation that is building with each new stage of development growing inside of them. I think of Asher and Sam and Cody – three precious boys born to dear friends in the last year or so. They will always know that they are treasured gifts. They will always know that they are the pride and joy of their parents lives. And they will never know the guilt being the treasured gift, because their moms and dads will not have to choose them over a potential sibling. I look again to the picture. And I weep. I weep for a family I will never know. I weep for the child the mother will never know.
John let me bring the picture home. It is a copy of the original. I have to hold the picture at a distance for fear of staining it with my tears. It is a picture of the Church as I have never seen it. As I have never imagined it.