Thanksgiving Day. The little community of which I'm part doesn't have a Thanksgiving dinner. We disperse to the homes of friends and families. I go to a dinner with New York priests, hosted by a bishop at an Italian gun club. It's great fun and not as sinister as it sounds.
Several years ago I was on a national television show on Thanksgiving Day and, following the show, I mentioned to the interviewer that I expect few people are watching on Thanksgiving. On the contrary, he said, it is one of the days with the highest ratings. "Families get together to watch television." If true, that is rather sad.
I remember reading an interview with novelist John Cheever, author of The Wapshot Chronicle and much else that is still worth reading. Cheever's personal life was something of a shambles. For years he fought against alcoholism and depression, but he went to church regularly. Asked why, he said, "I don't know what else I would do with my gratitude."
Which is not a bad summary of the Christian life: gratitude, as in thanksgiving, as in Eucharist.
The following are a couple of items of possible interest from the last few days.
I've noted several blog rumblings to the effect that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has not really resigned from the Court and will be actively involved in cases in which she may again be the swing vote. In her letter to the president, she said she is resigning "effective upon the nomination and confirmation of [her] successor." Does that mean she has only resigned conditionally and may, in fact, change her mind?
Out of curiosity, I asked a couple of friends who are distinguished constitutional scholars. No problem, they say. While most justices leave the Court feet first or resign at the end of the term when, before their successor is confirmed, they continue with summer work that is out of the public eye, there is nothing irregular in O'Connor's case. Legal instruments routinely stipulate a certain passage of time or the occurrence of a specified event as being a "condition precedent" to the instrument's having the intended legal effect. As I was told, "O'Connor has not yet resigned and thus is fully authorized to act as a justice. She has, rather, acted to create a legal situation such that, upon the occurrence of a certain event (the confirmation of her successor), she will have resigned without further action on her part."
So, there is one more question of great public moment that it seems we need not worry about.
"If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Years ago that bumper sticker was seen with some frequency in this part of the country, and I suppose it is still popular with the real hard core of the pro-abortion cause. More radical feminists were adamant that abortion be viewed not just as a solution for women in trouble but as a positive good, something like the sacramental key to a fulfilled life in which woman-power triumphs over biology and behavior.
In 1976, Magda Denes published In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital. For all its attention to ambiguities, it was a brief for the abortion license, if not for an unlimited license. It was fiercely attacked by feminists who insisted that abortion is an unambiguous benefit and an abortuary is no more controversial than a hair salon. Apart from the hardcore ideologues, pro-abortionists today, such as Senator Hillary Clinton, are becoming practiced in saying that abortion is surrounded by sadness, that it is always a tragedy, but that they support its legal availability.
This is a line that seems to poll well, although those who take it are usually inarticulate about why it is a tragedy or why they are "personally opposed." Presumably it goes without saying that there is something deeply regrettable about killing babies.
The other day I picked up at the local bodega a copy of the free newspaper The Village Voice, which had splashed across its cover "Abortion: Television's Last Taboo." The author, Rebecca Raber, says that the sitcoms and the soaps routinely evade the question of abortion. When their women have unexpected pregnancies, they choose to accept responsibility for their children or else they have very convenient miscarriages. I don't know if Ms. Raber is right, since I don't watch the many shows she mentions, but I'll take her word for it. I rather hope she is right.
She concludes: "Real women have had decades of hard-won reproductive freedom in this country, but their televised doppelgängers do not have the same options. Why aren't our real-world choices reflected in our pop culture landscape? If the networks can show violence against women, teen sex, and rape (shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are predicated almost entirely on those topics), why can't we see the outcomes of those actions? Abortion is not a dirty word, nor is it simply a political topic. It deserves a place on TV."
Maybe the "outcomes" should be shown on television: Women spread and strapped to a table with an abortionist cutting up baby parts and carefully counting limbs removed to make sure that the womb is empty.
I'm not sure that that's what Ms. Raber wants. But she remembers with nostalgic fondness when, in 1972, Norman Lear's Maude had a character blithely announce that she had had an abortion. Everyone thought it was terribly avant-garde.
In my one and only extended conversation with Norman Lear, he went on about the great achievements of his life. The thing he was proudest of, he said, was a radio show he did as a young man in Nebraska. It was the first ever broadcast in America in which a character went into a bathroom and thenbrace yourselfthe sounds of a flushing toilet were distinctly heard. Of such stuff is the creativity of artists who boldly defy taboos.
It may be said that the Village Voice is hardly the mainstream press. It is given away for free and is financially sustained by thousands of ads and "personals" promoting diverse forms of sexual pleasuring. On second thought, however, Ms. Raber's article might well have appeared in the New York Times of these days, surrounded by page upon page of elegant advertising by Lord & Taylor or Bloomingdale's.
In those worlds, abortion is something like a sacrament of liberation, and they deeply resent television executives and others who pander to backward Americans who persist in believing, and grow ever more convinced, that abortion is not only a tragedy but an unspeakable evil.
Thanksgiving Day. What are you doing with your gratitude?