A Solitary Tear
by Denny Hartford
I remembered her tear. One solitary tear that formed in the corner of her eye, a tear of which she was unaware. One tear, a tiny pool borne of genuine sorrow and compassion. It was a stranger's tear, yet her face, glowing with an unearthly love, was imprinted on my heart. And always as I see her, she has that single tear which fell unashamedly onto a blushing cheek. Oh yes, I remembered her tear and that magical moment has made all the difference in the world to me and well, to others too. It's been several years now since this moment occurred but there's hardly a day goes by that I don't think about it, hardly a day that I don't stop to thank God for that lovely face, that sweet passion - that single loving tear.
I was seventeen years old and enjoying my last year in high school. My friend, Jill - my very best friend - had come over to our house to spend the weekend. My father had left only a few weeks before taking my two brothers with him when he moved to Oklahoma, and so our house was pretty lonely. I was thrilled that Jill was going to come out and spend a couple of days.
I had planned a shopping excursion at the mall, lots of girl talk and even some riding. (Mom had lost custody of my brothers but won the battle over the horse!) But things turned out a lot different than what I planned. There was no shopping, no horseback riding, and, strangely enough, not even much girl talk. The reason? Well, as soon as we finished dinner and Mom left for the club, Jill dropped the bomb. She was pregnant! And then came the second "pow" - the whole reason she had engineered the weekend at my house was because she had made an appointment for the next morning at an abortion clinic across the river.
I was stunned but, in all honesty, I think it was only the combination of surprise and disappointment that the fun-filled weekend I had envisioned was falling apart on me. Certainly the news of Jill's pregnancy wasn't much of a shock in itself. She had already experienced a couple of scares that I knew of just that school year. Apparently her boyfriend wasn't always too careful providing protection and Jill, always the nature girl, said she wasn't too keen on artificial things between lovers like condoms or chemicals anyhow. I couldn't help but wondering just how natural abortion was supposed to be, but I dropped the thought. I didn't want to be judgmental to my best friend, especially since my own sexual past was pretty active. In fact, I'd been playing around since my mom first put me on the pill and that was when I had just turned fifteen.
Well, anyhow there was a little crying as we did the dishes, mostly over the wretched timing of the thing and the unfairness of the girl being the one to bear the burden of responsibility. But, as long as we had abortion clinics around, we could escape the worst. So I threw my previous plans in the wastebasket and joined Jill in preparing an alternative schedule.
We both knew where the abortion clinic was. It was a Planned Parenthood facility and we had taken a tour of it when we were Girl Scouts a long time ago and then just last year as part of our high school health class. I knew they were open all day Saturday and probably started early. But Jill surprised me by saying that before she actually went to Planned Parenthood to take care of things; she wanted to drop by another place. I was curious but as she told me more I was downright astounded. You see the other place that Jill wanted to go to was a religious place - a pregnancy center that we both knew was anti-choice. There they tried to talk you out of abortion decisions, no matter what your situation was! "Why on earth do you want to go there?" I asked. "You know what they're all about, don't you? Remember what Mr. Fletchman-Harris explained to us in sociology about those kind of people?"
Oh yes, Jill remembered and she insisted there was no danger that she would be faked out by any anti-choice gimmicks. It was just that she had made a promise to Jack (that was her boyfriend) that she would check out both sides. It turned out that when Jill broke the news to him about being pregnant, he reacted differently than...well...what Jill had seen in other situations. I guess different! Jack had proposed marriage on the spot! He told her how great things could be even if the timing wasn't what they had planned. When Jill responded, though, that she had no intention whatsoever of going on in her condition, Jack became distraught and even begged her, in his own words, "not to kill our baby." The only way Jill could calm him down was to promise him she would check out all her options, including even listening to the Christian center's rap that Jack wanted her to hear. So she had made some calls and found out she could go to the pregnancy center and still make it to her 11 o'clock appointment with the Planned Parenthood doctor.
I argued that she didn't have to really go through with the first visit because Jack would never know she hadn't listened to what they had to say. But no, Jill insisted quietly that she owed him at least that much. Then she became very quiet; it was really the only time in the whole evening where she was pensive, acting even a little bit afraid. After awhile she said, "You know, my mind is made up; I can't really say why. But I know that when I go through this, I will be killing not only a baby but also any chance that Jack and I have of making it together. That's the real bummer here. What I saw in his heart last night was actually very sweet, very manly even...but I know as sure as I'm standing here that our relationship won't survive what I'm going to do tomorrow. I guess that's what makes me know more than anything the anti-choicers might tell me tomorrow that this isn't the right decision. But, there you have it; it's still my decision and I'll live with it no matter what."
Our conversation lagged after that and the evening became a pretty somber affair. So much for the party I had hoped for. We watched a little of a Julia Roberts movie but even before it ended, Jill said she was going to bed. I stayed up a little while before heading off to my own pillow. My sleep was uneasy, full of dreams of Jill and I riding horses. In one of them though, Jack was running along behind us, unable to catch up or to persuade us to come back and get him.
The alarm rang at 6:30 and with showers and some fruit juice behind us, we rolled into the parking lot of the North River Center for Pregnancy Counseling right at 8 o'clock. Jill had been super silent all morning. But I got the feeling that it wasn't a matter of fear or sadness - certainly not guilt. Instead, for Jill this abortion mess had become an issue of freedom. Jill was steeling herself, creating out of her own strength as a modern woman the resolve to see this thing through on her own terms. I thought of trying to talk her out of the visit to the anti-choice place, but I sensed even this was part of her plan. She had to fully experience the opposition in order to secure a complete triumph of her liberty. We walked in.
The office was very pretty; I had to give them that much. Contrary to the rather sterile atmosphere of the Planned Parenthood that we had visited, this place must have hired a competent interior designer. The young woman at the desk was also nice and crisply professional. There were a couple of other girls sitting there and one woman who was probably in her forties. There was also a little boy of about four. I had the impression they were like me, supporting friends of women already in one of the back rooms. They were reading magazines and doing a little chatting. I don't know exactly what I had been expecting at this place but it sure wasn't the pleasantness of this scene. There were no bloody pictures on the wall, none of the more clever pro-life slogans that I had seen before. No, the whole atmosphere was friendly. Maybe it wouldn't be quite so ugly after all.
Jill was called in to meet a "counselor" just a couple of minutes after we had come in. The woman who asked for her was an older woman, maybe even retirement age. She was pretty, very nicely dressed, and exuded warmth. She even flashed a smile at me and asked Jill, "Would you like your friend to join you?"
That sure surprised me. I figured these people knew they'd have a better chance going against just one person instead of two but hey, that was fine with me. I grabbed my purse and started to rise. But then I heard a very icy, "No" come from Jill's lips and as I looked up, I saw her stride quickly back into the hallway. I felt hurt. Was this the price of individual freedom, I wondered? In order to work up your resolve to be independent, does a woman have to push aside her best friend? The older woman in the doorway seemed to sense my discomfort and she gave me a penetrating (and somewhat disarming) smile and a subtle shrug of her shoulders. I appreciated that gesture, coming even from one of these anti-choice people, and I settled back in my chair.
Was that the beginning of the doubts? I had hardly thought about the primary issue of pregnancy; namely, a child, but nevertheless I was experiencing a dawning realization that abortion might be more a complex thing than I had thought. Already, Jill's decision had deeply hurt her lover - as she admitted, probably destroyed their relationship - and now she was even alienating herself from me. Oh well, I dismissed my second thoughts and concentrated instead on the wide variety of pressures being exerted on my friend because of her pregnancy. Surely, I told myself, when we get this day over with, Jill will be back to her old self. I was willing to bet that even Jack would come around and everything would get back on track. How wrong I was. It turned out that nothing was ever the same again.
What changed Jack forever was Jill's double rejection of him and his baby. What changed Jill forever was her rejection of all human connections whatever. It seemed to me that her abortion decision required an independence that was to forever keep others well distanced. She ended up building a fortress of her life, complete with ramparts and moat. We were never close again, nor am I aware that Jill was ever really close to anyone ever again, including her two husbands.
And what changed me forever? It was that single tear on the cheek of that Christian counselor when she escorted Jill to the door. Oh yes, I'm sure that my doubts had begun to emerge even earlier as I sat in that waiting room. Feeling Jill's rejection had started me thinking that liberty did indeed have a price - one that was more expensive, and perhaps even uglier than the rhetoric that we had been taught truly revealed. There were also the embraces and pledges of support I witnessed when a young Latino girl emerged from the back rooms of that counseling center to her mother and sister waiting across from me. Her pregnancy test had been positive and she was scared and ashamed but she had apparently experienced some genuine support - and not just from her family. I overheard her counselor make an appointment with an OB doctor, promise to drive her to his office herself, and before that to take a run through their brand new pregnancy clothes that they kept downstairs for their clients. No doubt about it, this Christian center had a lot more than I had imagined. They had the wrong position on abortion, sure; but they certainly were not anti-woman. They were kind; they had relevant help; they were affirming their client's dignity by showing some real compassion. As I sat there, it began to emerge that in the whole abortion controversy, I had been given only one side of the debate.
And then there was that little boy, Hector. Maybe it was watching him play, seeing him dote on his mother and sister, enjoying his willingness to share his toy truck with me - maybe that touched my heart deeply enough to affect my conscience. This, after all, is what pregnancy led to, of course - beautiful little kids like this. I guess it was all this that took me to the edge.
But yet it was the tear that I remembered most. It was the tear, which became the symbol of everything I experienced that momentous morning. It was in the glistening sparkle of that tiny pool that I saw not only the compassion of that Christian lady who had failed to dissuade Jill from the abortion but I also saw the reflections of the faces of the Latino family in the counseling center and Hector offering me the use of his truck. As I lay in my bed the next several nights, I even saw in the light of that tear the faces of my dad and brothers who I missed so desperately - more than I had dared ever admit to myself. Oh yes, I remembered the tear. And in its profound depths, I found reflected a softness and love that I wanted for my own.
But I should get back to that morning. Jill had been favorably impressed with the Christian woman she had spoken to at the center but we both knew that Jill's mind had been made up before she ever entered the building. She went ahead and had the abortion later that morning at Planned Parenthood. I was still with her but the separation had already started, from my side now as well as Jill's. I wished I were anywhere else than that abortion clinic that morning. The atmosphere was so different...so inanimate and cold. It seemed to match the attitude of Jill's spirit exactly. And when I drove away with Jill sullen and in pain beside me, I realized that though I had started the day as pro-choice as one could be, I could no longer claim that title.
A few weeks passed; they were anything but nice. Jill and I spoke but she was clearly in her own world now. Our friendship went the same way that her relationship with Jack did - they both shriveled and died. Jack left school and moved to Ohio to live with his older brother. I broke up with my own boyfriend too. Sex had developed a lonely, painful feeling in me and when I asked him if we could cool that part of our love for a while, I found out exactly what I feared. For him sex was the relationship and he quickly took a powder. Even things at home soured. My mom was out more than ever and I was left alone with only the cruel memories of all my failed attempts of love to keep me company. But I hadn't forgotten that tear. It began to become a symbol of hope for me - a symbol, which held out the possibility of a true love from the source found by the people at that Christian pregnancy center.
It was exactly two months since Jill and I first had been there when I again drove into the parking lot. I really didn't know what to do or even if anyone was paying attention but I had tried to pray on the way over. I asked God to let the same lady be on duty that morning because although I wasn't pregnant, I sure had serious need of a friend and I was hoping she was the one. I know now that God was listening because Sandra was there that morning and she was more than happy to sit down and talk to me. I recounted my first visit, told her what Jill had done afterwards, and even told her about how moved I had been ever since by her single tear of sorrow. I ended up telling her my whole life story: my childhood, my own problems with sex, my bitterness over my parent's divorce, and my new desire to find a purpose for my existence.
Sandra then told me a story of her own. It was the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Who died an unjust and tortuous death to pay the price of man's sins and restore him to a clean and empowered relationship with God. I saw tears in Sandra's eyes again - more than one now - as she explained that she had taken Christ as her own Savior when, as a teenager like me, someone had told her the same story. And as my heart broke and my will submitted to the truth of the gospel, my tears joined Sandra's. Freedom was mine at last, but not one that separated me from others. No, this was a liberty that actually connected! In fact, it connected me to God Himself and to His "forever family" of all nations and all times.
Oh yes, I remember that tear. Even though many years have passed since that awesome morning, I could never forget how the life and love that glistened there on Sandra's cheek led me, by the will of Almighty God, to the water of life eternal. It was a path that brought me my husband, my four children, and a richly rewarding ministry as a volunteer counselor at, you guessed it, the North River Center for Pregnancy Counseling, where the Spirit of God has let me help save lives, restore families, and see others turn their lives over to the same grace of Jesus that I did those many years ago. Oh yes, I'll forever remember Jill and Jack and little Hector, but most important of all, I'll remember Sandra and her loving, inviting tear of life.