Their passing didn’t draw anything like the attention and mass mourning that came with news of the deaths of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, or Mary Tyler Moore. But among the many thousands of women who died in the last few months – the great, the good, the gifted, the others – were some whose lives and accomplishments could prod us to a little reflection on our times.
And on the relentless patterns of human nature.
Clare Hollingworth was 105 when she passed away on January 10, in Hong Kong. One of the world’s premiere war correspondents, she came to fame more than 75 years ago – in late August, 1939 – when she happened on evidence that the Nazis were massing on the border of Poland.
The Germans had taken great care to hide their invasion intentions, blocking the Polish view of a valley full of tanks behind a huge tarpaulin. But Clare – still in her first week as a reporter – was more observant than most. Driving along a border road, she looked up as a gust of wind lifted part of the canvas … saw the Nazis poised for action, and alerted British and Polish authorities that World War II was upon them. (Imagine having proof of Pearl Harbor on December 3, 1941.)
There’s always something to be said for people who know which way the wind is blowing.
Wonder what zeitgeist Ms. Hollingworth might discern from some of the zephyrs now blowing across our cultural landscape. A woman who watched the West dither over what to do with Hitler might feel a familiar breeze today, seeing so many hoping ISIS will somehow just … go away.
It’s been more than a year since Congress and the then-U.S. Secretary of State recognized the atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq as genocide. But the United Nations still hasn’t made that designation – and no ISIS militant has been tried for genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. Efforts are underway to get the Trump administration to stoke the fires of international conscience, but meanwhile, ISIS moves with impunity … while more and more Christians die.
Hard to blame the politicians, though, when aside from some prayers and hand-wringing, even most churches in the West are doing little to focus attention or galvanize action in response. This time, it’s the good guys, not the bad guys, who’ve put up the big canvas – hoping we won’t have to see or think about what’s massing out there.
Norma Leah McCorvey was 69 when she passed away in February in Katy, Texas. Ms. McCorvey made her enduring fame by another name: as the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade.
|Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) and her lawyer Gloria Allred
on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1989
Hers was a complicated, difficult, often sad life, before and after an unwanted pregnancy led her to seek out an abortion. Trying to find a way around Texas laws prohibiting the killing of her child, she fell among pro-abortion activists, who made her the poster child for their movement. She was by no means an unwilling accomplice, and even though she never managed to actually abort her own baby, she helped make it possible for millions of others to kill theirs.
An unlikely friendship with a pro-life pastor and activist eventually changed Ms. McCorvey’s sympathies, to the considerable embarrassment of the abortion crowd. She became as outspoken against abortion as she had been for it. If the great miracle of life is birth, the second must be rebirth. Against all odds and pride, people change.
I thought of that recently, listening to former gospel singer Katy Perry – now richer and more famous for belting million-sellers like “I Kissed A Girl” – accept the Human Rights Campaign National Equality Award. Ms. Perry was recognized for her outspoken support for LGBT causes, and used the occasion to denigrate her Christian upbringing.
“Truth be told,” she said, “a) I did more than [kiss a girl], but b) how was I going to reconcile that with a gospel-singing girl raised in youth groups that were pro-conversion camps?” But, she smiled to the approving crowd, “People can change.” Maybe, like Ms. McCorvey, she will.
Lynne Stewart was 77 when she died last month in Brooklyn. She started out a schoolteacher, but was so moved by the poverty of the neighborhood she taught in that she took up the law … and embraced the Dark Side.
Convinced American society needed “radical surgery,” Ms. Stewart gave her life to representing cop killers, drug traffickers, hijackers, mobsters, and international terrorists. While defending the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing, she tripped over her own enthusiasms; she was convicted of abetting her client in orchestrating terrorism from prison. Unfazed and brazenly unrepentant, her contempt moved an appellate court to urge an extended sentence.
Ms. Stewart must have felt so courageous, spitting into the winds of what seemed to her an outmoded moral code. Wonder if that’s how Bill Condon feels. Condon, director of the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast – now almost as famous for its homosexual subtext as its songs – says that, upon entering hotel rooms, his first impulse is to tear pages out of the Bible. “But,” he says, ruefully, “there don’t seem to be Bibles in the hotel rooms I stay in these days.”
Putting up canvas. Taking on a pseudonym. Embracing evil in the name of doing good. Priding ourselves on our immunity to persecution … Christian morals … biblical truth. We try so hard to convince those around us that some lines, some lives, some laws don’t matter.
We try harder to fool ourselves. And, too often, succeed – enslaving ourselves to our own illusions, delusions, confusions, and fears.
“If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves,” Harriet Tubman said, “I could have freed more.” She’s been dead 104 years. But Harriet Tubman knew what Nazis and abortionists and anarchists and so many others of us, looking in our mirrors, do not: a slave, when she saw one.