I’ve been thinking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And my grandmother.
My grandmother raised 9 children. When she was pregnant with her second, she was out one sunny afternoon with girlfriends when their car ran up under a semi truck. They all lived, but my grandmother suffered severe facial damage: her nose was badly broken, her teeth were shoved up into her face, and her lower lip was all but ripped off.
Her pregnancy remained intact, but my grandfather would not allow a plastic surgeon to touch her. An intern crudely sewed her lip back on. They pulled all of her teeth and ordered cheap dentures. Then my grandfather took my once-stunningly beautiful grandmother home with an admonishment, “Maybe this will keep you from going out running around.”
My grandmother was 22 years old.
I’ve been thinking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And Otto Warmbier.
Last week, in his final press conference before returning home from his summit with North Korea, the president absolved Chairman Kim of any wrongdoing in Otto’s death. “Some really bad things happened to Otto,” he said. “Some really, really bad things. But he tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
I never thought I’d hear a president of the United States—an allegedly pro-life president, no less—defend a dictator for the torture and death of an American citizen. And yet, here we are.
Does the term “pro-life” not extend beyond birth, to a kid like Otto?
A college student, Otto had just finished a guided tour of North Korea when he was arrested at the airport and sentenced to 15 years hard labor … for taking a poster from his hotel. Nothing like this happens without Chairman Kim not only knowing about it, but sanctioning it, and our president knows it.
And yet, when speaking with Sean Hannity of Fox News, the president said about Kim, “He likes me. I like him. Some people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t like him.’ I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I like him?’”
Why? Because he tortures, starves, and imprisons his own citizens; because he lies to you and continues to develop nuclear weapons; and because when he released Otto Warmbier into U.S. custody, Otto’s father described his son’s injuries like this: “bottom teeth that appeared ‘rearranged,’ a large scar running the length of Otto’s right foot, and hands and legs best described as totally deformed.”
Otto died 6 days later. He was 22 years old.
I’ve been thinking about the words pro-life a lot lately, and about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because I often see these phrases commingled on social media. “The Constitution says life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the first of these is life for a reason!” Facebook posts read, followed with a screaming, “I am proudly pro-life!”
I’ve been thinking about my grandmother’s life, how my grandfather—highly respected in his church community, vocally pro-life, rarely home—would not allow her to drive a car or sign checks. Is this liberty?
How my grandfather would come home drunk, screaming for his children and all the neighbors to hear that his wife was a whore, and how he would throw her out the back door in the middle of the night, no matter the weather, and sit inside with a shotgun aimed her direction, daring “the whore that she was” to try, just try, to come inside. Is this happiness?
When she was pregnant for the sixth time, my grandfather pushed her down the basement stairs and she delivered too early. The baby survived, but he was blind, deaf, and nonverbal, and though he grew to be the size of a man he remained at home in a hospital bed, with a feeding tube, diapered and curled into a fetal position, for two decades.
My grandmother had 9 children; she was rarely able to leave her house; she had no life.
I’ve been thinking about Otto and my grandmother at 22, about teeth and torture and forms of imprisonment, about who gets life, liberty, and happiness, and who doesn’t.
And I’ve been thinking about what “pro-life” means, if anything, beyond birth.
If you have an answer that doesn’t involve screaming or a Facebook meme, I’m listening.