NRL News

A “foreignness upon the pavement” and the shock of recognition

by | Feb 2, 2024

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This look back at one of the stories that ran previously reflects on an essay that was as instrumental as any in molding how I think about abortion and why, like you, I will spend my life combating this scourge.

The wonders of the Internet and stories you’ve forgotten you saved hidden away on your hard drive.

I was researching my response to yet another puff piece hailing abortionist Willie Parker when I ran across a column I’d read awhile back. It was by Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, and the title of his superb piece was “Looking Away From Abortion.”

Bless his heart, Mr. Douthat began his column with an excerpt from an essay that appeared in “Mortal Lessons: Notes On The Art Of Surgery,” a magnificent book written by Dr. Richard Selzer published in 1976. 

The title of the essay is “YOU SAW AND YOU KNOW.”

What Selzer saw is as vivid and compelling an example of the shock of recognition as you will ever find. He tells us that after a garbage truck left his neighborhood, Dr. Selzer found foreignness on the pavement.

But the “it” is not an “it” at all. A bag containing the remains of aborted babies’ had fallen off the garbage truck and broken open. They had 

accidentally got mixed up with the other debris instead of being incinerated or interred. “It is not an everyday occurrence. Once in a lifetime, he [the hospital director] says.”

It was very important to the hospital director that Selzer understand what had happened—and to himself as well, it appears. 

It mattered to him that Selzer know that “aborted fetuses that weigh one pound or less are incinerated. Those weighing over one pound are buried at the city cemetery.”

Why the need for the meticulous detail? Selzer speculates that it is an attempt to offer a rationale—an assurance—that contrary to your lying eyes, the world has not gone crazy. The hospital director’s explanations are to assure us so that

Now you see. It is orderly. It is sensible. The world is not mad. This is still a civilized society…

But Selzer did see, in the only way that matters.

“All at once you step on something soft. You feel it with your foot. Even through your shoe you have the sense of something unusual, something marked by a special ‘give.’ It is foreignness upon the pavement. Instinct pulls your foot away in an awkward little movement. You look down, and you see… a tiny naked body, its arms and legs flung apart, its head thrown back, its mouth agape, its face serious. A bird, you think, fallen from its nest. But there is no nest here on Woodside, no bird so big. It is rubber, then. A model. A joke. Yes, that’s it, a joke. And you bend to see. Because you must. And it is no joke. Such a gray softness can be but one thing. It is a baby, and dead.

But Dr. Selzer is not the only one overcome by the horror:

“You cover your mouth, your eyes. You are fixed. Horror has found its chink and crawled in, and you will never be the same as you were. Years later you will step from a sidewalk to a lawn, and you will start at its softness, and think of that upon which you have just trod. Now you look about; another man has seen it too. ‘My God,’ he whispers… There is a cry. ‘Here’s another!’ and ‘Another!’ and ‘Another.”

As he ponders what he has seen and heard—and what it means — Selzer concludes

“Now you see. It is orderly. It is sensible. The world is not mad. This is still a civilized society… But just this once, you know it isn’t. You saw, and you know.” 

And once you see and you know, you can never stop fighting to save unborn babies, their mothers, and our culture.

Categories: Abortion
Tags: abortion