The Post-it said, "AT-TI-TUDE" all caps. The young woman was in traditional Muslim dress, African-American, and bristling with...with something. I guessed that it was my job to find out what.
It turned out to be not so different from many women who feel like they are caught in a trap of their own making. She got pregnant, then "did the right thing and married at age 16, to a man she did not love. She had 2 more children with him, still didn't love him, but clearly did not wish him pain either. She had fallen in love with another, someone outside her culture. She knew it could never work. It was a mess, but a compelling mess.
Her self contempt, her anger at her situation and everyone around her, seemed to spring from the great divide between what she wanted and what she knew was right. Her religion guided her in everything--it was her rock. She accepted the finality of it, as a guilty person accepts a punishment.
"It's against my religion," she said defeatedly as though there could be no further discussion. I said, "Well, it may not be as clear as that. Muslims believe that the soul enters the baby at 120 days--about 16 weeks. You are about 5 weeks." Then I pulled out the Pregnancy Options Workbook (www.pregnancyoptions.info) and read her the section about Islam and abortion. It does not offer a free pass, by any means, but it does put Mohammed's proscription about killing your children in some historical context. He decried the killing of female infants, a widespread practice in his time. It also listed the acceptable reasons for abortion. It talked about atonement.
When I read the part about atonement meaning fasting for two months, an invisible veil fell from her face and there was a beautiful look of hope radiating out. "I can do that," she said. This launched us into a wonderful discussion about forgiveness, compassion, the condition of women, and other topics.
I confess that sometimes I find Muslim women unapproachable, even American Muslims. I am sure their wariness is justified, particularly in these times. There was no such feeling with this woman. We talked about life, love, sex, kids, books, culture, and of course, religion. She said, "I was raised Muslim but I know that if I lived in a Muslim country I would be stoned. How does that help you get better or learn?"
One of my favorite factoids in talking about religion is that in the original Hebrew, the word "sin" means "missing the mark" not being stoned to death. She liked it too.
PS: I want to address the inevitable comment that I somehow made her feel "OK" about abortion, or encouraged her to have one. It was clear to me that she would have one no matter what. What I offered was a way that she could "be" with it that did not further cripple her life and the beautiful contribution she could make to life.
PPS: My apologies for being MIA on this blog. It's moving work, but there isn't always time, or the will to find time, to step back and write about it.