I have been struggling with writing something about the anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s murder. I am not an abortion doctor, nor did I know the man personally, so I feel somewhat removed from the grief surrounding his death; and yet, I felt grief then and I still feel it now. How do I express this unattached mourning? So I have been putting it off.
I don’t know why, but that was the key for me. I stopped and stared at those letters for a long time, and particularly the heart. It wasn’t until I had gone into the clinic that I thought I should take a picture, and I went back outside to do so.
I know that if the same thing had happened to our building, I would be mad. I know graffiti is a pain in the ass for business owners. I know we will be blamed, if not in the official finger-pointing then at least in the minds of the staff next door. There is nothing positive about this. And yet…
Some person put themselves at risk to stand on a downtown street and spray paint that message. They didn’t need to put a heart, but they did. Some person believes in us, believes in what we do and why it is important. Some person believes that making a choice is an act of love.
I remember about a week after Dr. Tiller was shot, we organized a candlelit vigil in front of the clinic. It was put on by the Rebelles, a grassroots feminist group to which I belong. People showed up who I had never seen before – not at the clinic as patients, not at Rebelles meetings. People who I haven’t seen since, at any feminist event or pro-choice rally. People who slipped out of the shadows to hold a candle with us, to stand solemnly with us in mourning a man in another country, who most of us had never met. A community of people touched by his loss, by our loss.
Dr. Tiller was more than an abortion provider. He was a symbol of something even greater than himself. I can’t tell you exactly what that was, but I know that we lost something both bigger and smaller than the man himself when he died. But speaking personally, I gained something. The knowledge that beyond the statistics we see of how many people think this and that about abortion, beyond my friends and family who listen to me talk in anger, love, fright and passion about my job, beyond a sea of letters to the editor and hateful signs, there are people who came together to witness our sadness, and people who write a heart next to the word “choice”. A community I didn’t know I had but will always be grateful for.
On the anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s death, I will mourn him, another in a long line of abortion providers murdered for the risks they take to help people. I will think about the doctor at our own clinic, a woman I am proud to call a friend, a person whose goodness shines through the moment you meet her. I will think about Henry Morgentaler, our own aging hero of choice. And I will get together with my feminist friends and continue shaping a movement without hatred, start healing our wounds and building a world where nobody gets shot for helping women. A world where people say “choice” and see the heart.