I recently subscribed to America, Commonweal, and First Things: there’s nothing like attempting to cover all the ecclesial bases.
Last night, an article in First Things stopped me in my tracks. It’s written Nora Calhoun, who is described as a Catholic convert, mother, and future midwife.
If there’s anything worth reading today, this is it: it combines life, death, struggle and triumph, the travails of extreme youth and old age, and a recognition of our common humanity embedded in our very selves.
The baby in my arms lacks the majority of his brain. He was born just fifteen minutes before this moment, and he is likely to die before another fifteen minutes pass. He has taken no first breath and will give no first cry. He cannot see. He cannot hear. He does not feel the warm weight of my hand as it rests on his chest and belly. I quietly weep and pray as the last gift of oxygen his mother’s body gave him dwindles and his rosy newborn glow fades to gray. His soul gently slips out of his body, and his life ends.
Ability is not what makes death significant. At birth this baby had capacities below that of a healthy fetus at ten weeks. Holding his body, living and then dead, proves to me that it doesn’t matter how early the human heart beats, how early it is possible to feel pain, or when the senses develop. No ability or strength confers human status—not being viable or sentient or undamaged or wanted. Being of human descent is enough; you cannot earn or forfeit your humanity. If this baby’s death does not matter, no death matters.