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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My Abortion 5/15/19




In the early 1960s, I was young, and innocent but not too innocent to get pregnant due to (I believe) a faulty diaphragm. At the time living at home in the Bronx, I was a student in history and political science at CCNY with a sweet boyfriend who was Co-Captain of the Basketball team. Life was rushing at me in fits and starts - as I began to examine my own sexuality and the world around me, inquisitively comprehending the damnable fact that the globe I inhabited was larger than the moon and its satellites revolving around my tiny insular orbit.

Realpolitiks slowly invaded my consciousness.

The obscuring veil that had shielded me through my boy-crazy teen years was ultimately penetrated by enrolling in college classes in Economics, Nationalism, Southeast Asia, Russian Area Studies and reading some of the world’s great literature (taking courses in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies)  lifting a fog of ignorance that had enshrouded me. My “beloved country” was not what I had been taught to believe it to be; untainted and pure - the savior of democracy worldwide. Yet, my entire childhood had shown this to be true for my German Jewish refugee family, granted asylum in this country, saving my parents, and maternal grandparents (but not my paternal grandparents who died in Theresienstadt) from the horrors of a monstrous dictator’s genocide by allowing us entry through the ports of NYC. The world was more complex than my inexperienced self had yet apprehended.


The dawning awareness of life’s complexities had now invaded my body with the possibilities of motherhood. I did not realize that I was pregnant until my 10th week. There were no easy color-coded pregnancy tests to directly give me the news - instead, I would have to make an appointment for confirmation with a local Doctor which I was reluctant to do - not wanting my parents to know what was happening. I kept procrastinating with the hope that this was a false alarm. I knew that I needed to maintain control over my body and wanted an abortion, which was illegal and punitive - participating “shadow” doctors were criminalized. I realized that I was unable and unwilling to support a child both financially and psychologically.

My boyfriend concurred with getting this procedure. He knew a doctor in New Jersey who performed abortions charging  $500 in cash - the going rate in the 1960s for those of us who could scrounge up the money. He drove me to a small town in NJ and waited in a car a block away. I remember walking up the porch of a suburban house, greeted by a sloppy looking woman who met me at the door. She was the nurse. I was given no anesthesia, no antiseptic preparations that I recall. My legs were strapped into the stirrups with a middle-aged man peering into my vagina, tools in hand. There was no conversation. There was only the silence of anticipation. 

Having your uterus probed and cut without any numbing agents to relieve the wrenching pain which radiated throughout my body was unforgettable, but I remained silent with eyes tightly closed to the instruments of “purging” and the colors of clotting blood. I did not cry out, nor did I scream. I was mute. Instead, I maintained my secret quietude comforted by a memory that my father told me when I was 5 years old - “anytime I feel sad I should think of a birthday party with hot dogs, balloons and an ice cream cake.” That is what this teenager did for the hours it took to complete the “operation.” My mind participated in the parties while my body was in distress; I was at a birthday celebration - ironic of course - but those dreamlike flashbacks carried me through this experience. Though bruised and battered, I walked out the door alone and up the hill to where the car was waiting for me. I was exhausted, relieved, saddened and ready to move on.

To this very day, I am a strong advocate of a woman’s right to choose. I never want any woman to endure medically an unsanitary, unsupervised, non-hospital abortion. I was one of the lucky ones who did not get an infection or die. In 1973 Roe v Wade was passed and a vital right for woman and choice was codified into law.

In 2019 Georgia and Alabama legislators are reversing years of legislation. Women are under attack again...

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

CAPERNAUM 2/12/19


Extreme poverty is pervasive around the globe and CAPERNAUM (CHAOS in Lebanese) directed by Nadine Labaki gives us a searing portrait of one 12 -year-old boy who is struggling to survive the circumstances in which he was born into. His family can barely feed their many children, who dash out and play on sewer run-off streets in the slums of Beirut along with starving dogs. The games are those of any child on any street anywhere in the world - boys wielding swords and make-shift guns experiencing the authority and violence of the powerful through imitation and play.

The film moves along at a slow, mesmerizing pace, the depiction of how one endures along with the sacrifices families make to subsist are brutal. There is not much dialogue - images alone often give us a sense of place - but our focus is riveted on the young, sensitive boy Zain (a beautiful performance by Zain Al Rafeea) who is wily, angry and inventive in the methods he devises to cope. Despite the horrific conditions of life, his humanity and sense of justice is unbroken.

Zain’s loving sister who is 11 years old, is sold off to marry an older, lecherous man in exchange for a brood of cackling, fluttering hens. He tries to save her, but the family slings the fragile young girl - her thin limbs flailing in frustration - into a vehicle and drives away leaving him deprived of his life-long companion. At this point, Zain boards a bus and leaves home traveling into a world of impoverishment and the enigmatic unknown.


The film moves back and forth in time; the present is a courtroom where Zain is suing his parents for the “crime” of giving him life”, while weaving back into the past where facts are seen in the context of a young boy,  attempting to subsist by finding food to eat, a place to sleep and  a crime committed avenging a loved one. Relationships are formed and through them, we become even more aware of the bureaucratic nature of displaced people, the necessity of having “papers,” and becoming a refugee in a land where scarcity is often equal to the home from which you have fled. 


There is a touching link formed between Zain and an Ethiopian mother and her baby whose care he is responsible for when she is out working. Zain builds a makeshift wagon to tow this beautiful baby around; two children moving through the crowded dust-filled streets of a city avoiding the oncoming traffic of trucks and the scores of duplicitous people devising schemes to take whatever little there is left of their few coins, thereby diminishing their resolve and courage. CAPERNAUM would be heartbreaking to watch if not for the strength of Zain, his fierce single-minded willpower conferring  buoyancy to what would seem like a hopeless situation into glimmers of possibilities.. He is lovely and so is this raw and delicate film.