It’s been two decades since I last was in a room consisting of nothing but murderers.
This situation, the setting, is almost absurd. Indulgent. An intimate fire dances in the periphery; plush furniture is arranged in a circle. Some of us cradle cups of tea in our hands, others a wad of tissue. A few sit motionless and stare out at the lake.
I count fourteen women in the circle, from early twenties to late sixties. An even mix of white and black. Four of the women are counselors, though we all share the same labels. Christian. Post-abortive.
We are each supposed to share our story. I’m next in order and my throat is choked with sand.
I find myself fidgeting with the ghastly black pouch dangling from my neck on a too thin ribbon. It contains nine stones with the names of those I’ve damaged, and the damage done to me.
The woman sharing her story beside me is crying as she extracts her words. When she was discovered to be pregnant at seventeen, her mother crushed two Valium and put them in her Cheerios. She barely remembers the trip to and from the clinic.
My turn is coming and I want to say, You’re lucky. I envy all of you that were forced by your parents, or manipulated by your pimply-faced boyfriends. Be thankful you have someone to blame. It’s a thousand times easier to live your life hating your mother than hating yourself…
But I can’t say that. I’m not that void of compassion. At least outwardly.
The woman next to me has grown quiet, and I am suddenly blinded by the spotlight that is warming my face. The anonymity among us lends me courage. Looking around the circle at no one in particular, I begin to move my lips as a faith offering to the syllables that I hope will emerge.
“When I was twelve I remember telling my best friend that I could never imagine killing a child conceived out of love. Six years later she drove me downtown to do just that.”
I take a sip of tepid tea to wash away the sand, “I wasn’t a believer, but I knew that it was against God. I was not forced, simply a coward. The baby’s father begged for me to keep it. Every day till the last.” They don’t know how hard it is to look at that same man, now my husband, knowing that I probably killed the only baby we would ever conceive.
“I’ve accepted God’s forgiveness…but forgiving myself comes in waves, ya know? Some people say it’s a slap in God’s face to not forgive yourself after He has forgiven you. Maybe they’re right. It’s not as easy as just wishing it so.”
A counselor speaks, “Nothing is too big for God.”
Platitudes. I nod in subdued agreement.
“And you will see your precious baby again in Heaven.”
I want to say, Really? How do you know that? Show me where the Bible says that. I was not a believer then. How are you surer than I that she is a child of the covenant? I’ve begged for a revelation…
But I can’t say that. So I nod and lower my head, “Phew,” signaling my finish. And for what it’s worth, I’m relieved to have told my story—finally made my public confession.
The head counselor excuses us for some quiet time. She recommends that we take a walk. Pray, and cast the stones from our necks into the lake.
As I walk the path around the water, it feels like an empty gesture. I pray for it not to be.
I toss the stones into the water one by one starting with those that my choice wounded: God. Baby. Husband. Myself.
Next, I pick through and throw the stones marked with my emotions: Guilt. Shame. Fear. Unforgiveness.
I stop on the bank as I pull out the last and largest stone. Lord, I am pounding on the floorboards, begging for a glimpse in. The stone says Heaven. With a question mark.
I lift my leg as I wind up and heave it as far out into the depths as possible. I imagine it sinking to the bottom.
Your will, Lord, not mine.
I turn back towards the main house. The pouch of stones is empty, and I feel a twinge of relief.
By the time I reach the door, doubt creeps back in. My albatross reassumes its noose.
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