My wife likes to tell this story whenever she can. It usually comes up when we visit a friend or family member’s newborn baby for the first time. She tells it with a mixture of delight and “can you believe I married this idiot?” in her voice. But let me set the stage first, and then I’ll share the story.
Growing up, I was never around babies. My younger sister was born before I turned 2, so there was never any memory — and certainly no experience — in caring for, playing with, holding, changing, feeding or loving a newborn baby. I had plenty of baby cousins, but they had caregivers of their own, and there was no need for me to insert myself in between that relationship just to learn future life skills.
So fast forward to when my loving, lovely wife became pregnant with our first child. Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect before, during or after the baby came. But I was nothing if not teachable — and curious. At some point during her pregnancy, I asked a simple question that, to this day, I’ll never live down.
“So when will he or she open their eyes?” I asked, honestly.
“When will who open their eyes?” my wife shot back.
“The baby,” I said. “Will it be a couple of days, a couple of weeks?”
Erin, my wife, who stuck with me through five more living children, looked at me like I had suddenly grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead. I could see she was confused — or maybe, more accurately, concerned. She didn’t say anything, giving me more time to perhaps better explain the insanity that was coming out of my mouth. And then I uttered something that I thought would clarify my question but, in hindsight, turned out to be … regrettable.
“You know,” I said, “like a cat.”
You can imagine the laugh that came out of her mouth.
But here’s the thing. I wasn’t embarrassed then, nor am I embarrassed now. You don’t know what you don’t know.
I thought about that story — my youthful innocence (and ignorance) — as I listened to TV commentators discuss the leak of what appeared to be the Supreme Court’s majority opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which, if it holds up for another month or so, would overturn the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.
The folks on TV banged the drum that the Supreme Court was taking away a woman’s constitutional right to manage her own health care, without any sense of irony that it was the Supreme Court that invented this “right” in the first place. SCOTUS giveth, and SCOTUS taketh away. Nor did they mention the health care rights of the poor living human child.
But, again, I thought about my own ignorance and tried to give them the benefit of the doubt; I tried to be charitable. Maybe they simply don’t know what they don’t know. Maybe they’ve been swept up in the cultural current and have never thought deeply about what abortion truly is — what it truly does.
Maybe they have never read Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which he quotes the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith: “From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. … [Modern genetic science] has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well-determined. Right from fertilization, the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time — a rather lengthy time — to find its place and to be in a position to act.”
Perhaps this is our time to act, as a new day dawns — to be charitable, to teach those who don’t know what they don’t know about the dignity and sacredness of life. Perhaps it is our duty.
And if we do it well, with courage and charity, maybe one day we can stop asking when the world will open its eyes.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.