Henry Morgentaler: dark hero lost at sea

June 7, 2013

To be a hero can be a strange thing, something we were reminded of in recent days with the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the man – the hero to some – credited more than anyone for liberalizing abortion in Canada.

It’s a death that has led to the spilling of much ink in the papers and, these days, of many pixels too, which is how you now get the truth, or something like the truth, not just with your morning toast and coffee anymore, but while on the run with the sum of the world’s information in your back pocket.

The attention to this story has spoken of others things also, not the least of which has been blood; blood, to be sure, because this is the nature of medicine and life and death — it is bloody.

Morgentaler was a hero who knew his own pain. He had seen the Holocaust as a child, had lost his closest family in the horror of it. It haunted him every day. But if only every child were loved; this is what he grew to believe.

And so he ventured out on a certain sea, a sea of blood and tears more than anything, and said, ‘Follow me. I know the way. Come this way.’ If only every child were a loved child then there would be no concentration camps again. There would be no murder, no brutality among human beings. Aborting children would somehow ensure that there was room for this great love from all the world’s wanted children to heal all the world’s brokenness.

We – that is ‘we’ in the sense of our culture’s brightest minds and most influential decision makers – believed this with him. And other things. We believed that this hero loved women and that this love moved him to devote himself in the service of women while no one else was willing to serve with such courage.

Even Morgentaler knew better. No, his love for women was not as perfect as that, which is why one day he said simply, “I have it all: The wife, the mistress, the son and daughter and house.” This is how he saw family, at least his family, at least one of his several wives and at least one other of the women that were his along his chase for his own happiness.

As time went by he grew to mythical status – there was the Order of Canada — but it became painfully clear that despite a lifetime of trying to bring such happiness to others, despite his work to ensure that only so-called wanted children were born, this hero was an increasingly unhappy man.

The brokenness he was trying to heal in the world was really his own brokenness, a crack in his own soul that, if it were a ship, would not withstand the storms that commonly come to even those who have never seen a Holocaust.

And the further he sailed on those bloody waters, the further he traveled from the home for which he really longed, the home any of us really want, a home of peace and acceptance.

And now he has left us, sunk at sea. This is the nub of it. We are always looking for heroes because we live in an uncertain and difficult world and we want heroes to help show the way to something better and safer. But it’s good to choose our heroes wisely.

Because sometimes even heroes can get lost in the thick of it, the thick of the darkness. And we too can then be left without our own bearings to find the way out. Like now, hopeless and helpless, apparently, Canada, a nation after all these years unable to come up with even the most basic of restrictions on abortions and keep us from modern barbarism.

Yes, the country has a lost a hero. A dark hero at that. And the bloody waves rise and crash around us all the more.

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June 7, 2013 • Posted in
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