Sunday, 8 March 2009

The black and white riders...

"But his [Will's] attention was on the two tall riding figures starkly outlined ahead against the soft green of the park. In a few moments, the White Rider, as he felt he must call him, dropped aside and quietly trotted away. The coach went on, following the black upright form of the other.

"Bran said, 'Why should some of the Riders of the Dark be dressed all in white and the rest all in black?'

"'Without colour...' Will said reflectively. 'I don't know. Maybe because the Dark can only reach people at extremes - blinded by their own shining ideas, or locked up in the darkness of their own heads.'

--Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree (p. 652 of the Dark is Rising Sequence, London: Bodley Head, 2007)

That is one of my favourite quotes of all time, and I've been meaning to blog it for a while, but today's discussion in the Social Club really pushed me to do it.

Nick came in and dropped down in the seat across from me. After mutual complaining about the rain, he nipped up to the bar to get a G&T and sat back down.

Then, the real conversation began.

One of the things I treasure about our friendship is that Nick and I really *listen* to each other. It may seem that we should spend the entire time using the phrases *traddy twit* and *liberal bitch*, but actually, our core principles/values are very similar, though how we express them politically can be vastly different. Passionate and headstrong in our convictions we may be, and hands will fly and voices rise (we both have cultural backgrounds that lead us to gesture a lot), but there will also be a pause as heads are tilted and ears opened. It's never just black and white.

Today's subject, twixt the odd funny story and teasing retort, was abortion, which moved into Bush's and Obama's conscience legislation. Not a subject I could usually discuss at the Oratory. But I knew I was safe with both Nick and Adrian (the raconteur), and so I was honest. And that meant a lot of emotion.

It doesn't get much more polar and emotional than abortion; and good friendships can be at risk over it. It hits on huge issues that can make it hard to listen to someone on the other side: "When does life begin?" "What are the rights of someone over their own body?" "Does a man have a say in whether or not he becomes a father?" "If a woman is raped or a girl is sexually abused, can you force her to carry the child of the aggressor for nine months?" and so many more.

The Black and White Riders run rampant across this road, with each side believing that it holds the shining ideals of life or of freedom, neither one willing to look to the other and acknowledge the complexity of their reasoning, the struggle that may have led them to their stance, the validity of some of their points. When Barack Obama said, "Every abortion is a tragedy," almost every pro-choicer I know jumped down his throat, despite his 100% NARAL rating. They felt 'betrayed', or 'Well *I* don't think it's a tragedy.' Fine. That's your position, but it is fascism to demand that it must be mine.

Allow Barack and the rest of us our more nuanced positions. Just because we find this side of the fence difficult sometimes, just because the necessity for abortion makes us sad, doesn't mean we are betraying the cause. We are one of the many shades of colour that make up the pro-choice side.

If I allow the pro-choice side many shades of colour, then I must assume that the pro-life side, made up of the same variety of human beings, has the same. That as angry as members of that side can make me, they are worth listening to.

The problem with both sides is that we make assumptions about the other; as a pro-choicer, I'm certainly guilty of that. When I hear someone is pro-life, I think "SPUC wacko" or "clinic bomber". I don't think "Nick, my friend, who always thinks things through and has good reasons for what he believes."

He probably stereotypes pro-choicers as liberal wackos who see abortion as just another medical procedure. He doesn't think, "Irim, my friend, who thinks things through and has good reasons for what she believes."

Today, I heard the words "love and support them" from him, and he heard me say, "I KNOW. I find it hard, but..." There were times when I could hear the unspoken "I hear you; I understand, but I can't agree," and times when I'm sure Nick and Adrian could hear the same. I've always wanted to be a mother, I've always been deeply aware of the immense potential of each life the moment sperm meets egg, but I simply *cannot* demand that a woman who has been raped or sexually abused carry a child to term. I cannot demand that a woman who finds out that her pregnancy endangers her life carry that child to term and risk leaving him/her and possibly other children motherless. I know that women will die if abortion is made illegal.

That means that no matter how hard it can become whenever I hear of a woman using abortion as birth control for the umpteenth time, I will stand for every woman's right to have an abortion. Because I *know* that it cannot be an easy decision. My position will always be far closer to the more nuanced Jewish position than to the absolute Catholic one.

People are not absolutes, and the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. When we believe the latter, the Riders drag us between them, leaving no room for humanity.

But as absolute as the topic of abortion may be; as heartfelt our disagreement, the Black and White Riders had no place in this discussion.

We found ourselves in the middle, passionate, on opposite sides of the fence - but leaning across it to listen. And that's as it should be.

Our conversation ended with Nick saying that the extremists on the left wing terrified him more than anything on the right wing. I said the opposite - that the right wing extreme frightened me more than the left. And I think we both have enough sense to be afraid of the extremists in our own wings.

We both fear the Black and White Riders, knowing that those blinded by shining ideas are locked in the darkness of their own heads. We know that in that direction lies the loss of the balance, compassion and love of neighbour we both hold as core values.

Maybe that's why our discussions are always in Technicolour.

May it ever be so.

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