be scientific, be intellectual
lecture me on cirrus aviaticus
how hot exhaust and particulates
condense and dance and disperse
over seconds, minutes, days, weeks–
tickle my brain with explanations
of contrail climate change
be magical, be mysterious
whisper to me how the ghosts
of every airline disaster
float behind those jets
billowy white fingers reaching
stretching for miles
clawing their way aboard
be ignorant, be earthbound
explain to me how you never once
look up to see those water lines
raking fingernails across a chalkboard sky
never bother with things so far away
when each spring’s preoccupation
is that the creek will rise too high
flooding out the garden sprouts
each summer is spent fretting
that it will run too low
and all the corn will wither
be lyrical, be poetic
write lines that catch my breath
before i exhale into the winter air
my own vapor trail that marks
if only for an instant
my passage through your life
By J. Lewis

J. Lewis is an internationally published poet, musician, nurse practitioner, and the editor of Verse-Virtual, an online journal and community. When he is not otherwise occupied, he is often on a kayak, exploring and photographing the waterways near his home in California. He is the author of five full-length collections, plus eight chapbooks. Learn more at

Good Morning – Goodbye

Good Morning – Goodbye

I say good morning to them all…by name. Do inanimate objects have names? Perhaps even souls? I think so. I greet them in order. First the stuffed animals. Thackeray the sloth is always first. After him, I make the living room rounds. Bloomie, also a stuffed sloth—this one looking like the businessman turned politician—never responds. On the other hand, I refuse to greet his Samoan imaginary followers who somehow live with us—six original delegates to the Democratic convention plus one born here, all he has to show for $500 million spent campaigning. I don’t know their names, only that they insist on ordering imaginary spam for which I refuse to pay.

The list goes on. I won’t tell you all the names, not the categorizations of their being except to mention the last two greetings of each morning. Delores del Rio and Rive Gauche sit beside our comfortable chairs, the ones in which we watch television and in which we plan to die. Delores and Rive have a lot to do with that last statement; they are the means of our self-exiting. Tanks of inert gas, one for my wife and one for myself.

I won’t spell out the methodology for our exits. Suffice it to say that we have studied up and that we are strong supporters of Final Exit Network and a related group, Choice and Dignity, in our home city. When it comes time to exit, I don’t know if I will say goodbye to Thackeray, Bloomie, or any of the other beings, real, imaginary, or in-between, with whom I interact each day. Indeed, at that point I may not remember their names. No longer remembering is one of the metrics I have set out, the measures of when enough of life is enough.

To me, life is a thing of choice and of dignity. I want quality, not quantity. When I can no longer live with the joy and sense of accomplishment that has become my expectation, I will use Rive, my tank, and the accouterments which are stored nearby to end the downward trajectory. Those metrics are the method by which I will measure when the last day has come. Remembering all those names is one of the metrics.

Another might seem rather simple: bending over and picking up a small piece of debris from the floor. That’s a simple act, but when balance and coordination go, the simple becomes difficult. I don’t have to drop something on the floor to test myself. There are enough bits and pieces floating through our lives to provide the test kit without having to think about it. Just pick a bit of paper or a crumb of food that has found its way to the carpet, bend over—albeit with the sense that a can of WD-40 might be in order—and pick it up.

A third is doing my on-line banking. I have three linked accounts. Each morning, I go online and quickly add them. The grand total is my goal. Not because of the money it represents but because it requires some quick mental calculation. Can I estimate the sum or am I befogged by numbers?

For now, just one more daily test. What will I have on my bagel? Today, it was butter and some bacon on the side. There are usually four or five cheese options plus that butter and then there is lox in addition to the bacon. Quick, Ken, what are you having today? Can your mind work that flexibly?

One day, I won’t pass all the tests. Then there will come a day when I fail two. When that happens, it’s time for goodbye. I will give Thackeray a hug. I don’t know if I will remember his name. I won’t hug Bloomie. As for the rest of the crew, well, I have no idea. I only hope I can remember how to hook everything up and how to turn Rive’s valve.

No doubt, you are wondering if I will have Thackeray on my lap when I turn that valve. No. He might try to talk me out of it. I will have my stuffed moose, Potty, on my lap. I know that he won’t try to intervene. He will say, “Whatever,” and kiss my nose. Potty understands that life and death are waystations on an adventure and who are we to know where souls may be found.


The American Divide by Kenneth Weene

The American Divide by Kenneth Weene

The American DivideEarly in my life, my father decided—correctly—that while I was quite intelligent I had some serious perceptual motor limitations. To put it quite simply, I was pretty much uncoordinated. The only question was which was worse, my fine motor skills or my larger muscle coordination. Over time the answer became clear: both.

To address that deficit, Dad bought me a special present for my seventh birthday. What made it special was the cost, far more than he usually spent. It was a Gilbert Erector Set—the fancy one complete with electric motor. His plan was that by building things with me he would get me interested in fine motor activates and that in turn would lead to improvement. Great plan except for fate; fate determined that I got chicken pox just before my birthday. Now, in most homes that would not have been a problem. Since Dad had already had Chicken Pox, there was no reason he and I couldn’t have sat on the floor and built bridges, houses, and especially those wonderful looking grain elevators that decorated the cover of the instruction manual.

However. reason had little to do with our lives, not when my mother was concerned. She decreed that I couldn’t sit on the floor to play until I was completely cured. A draft would assuredly do me in.

So, the alluring red metal box sat unopened for a few days, on each of which my older brother whined that it was unfair that he couldn’t play with this great new toy just because I was sick. In the end, his whining won my mother over and he—not I—got to open the shiny box, unwrap its treasures, and try—Dad happily participating—his hand at building things.

The drawbridge was not the first project, but it was the one I remember. They had finished building it a couple of days before I was pronounced well enough to play. It sat in a corner of the room where my brother could raise and lower the deck to allow imaginary boats to pass beneath or toy cars to pass over the river below. I, of course, wanted to take apart that bridge and build something of my own. It took two more days before I was finally granted permission to disassemble my brother’s bridge. No, he was not about to help.

By that point, Dad had tired of playing with this new toy. He no longer had interest in helping me. I struggled with a couple of simple projects—none anywhere near what my brother had accomplished—and put the Erector Set away. My occupational therapy having accomplished only frustration and a feeling that my brother was the favored child.

To be honest, I have no belief whatsoever that if I had played with that Erector Set, if our father had spent time with me screwing those little girders and plates together, that my perceptual motor skills would have improved. To this day, it feels somewhat miraculous when I accomplish any manual task.

In Boy Scouts, tying knots was a naught. At camp making lanyards from “gimp,” that plastic lacing so popular in those days, resulted in mess. In Junior High School, shop classes were a frustration and source of fear for my teachers; in metal shop I was given a minimum passing grade for staying seated on a stool.

“Kenneth, just don’t touch anything,” was a constant instruction in my life.

On the other hand, I was book smart. I read, read and read more. Also, I loved to discuss ideas. Abstractions lured me the way that balls and, yes, Erector Sets lured other boys. Academic teachers loved me even as shop and gym teachers echoed that mantra, “Kenneth, just don’t touch anything.”

It wasn’t a big problem in those days to be book smart, no stigma attached. Most people earned their livings doing hands-on work. Relatively few people went to college so the possibility that I would end up working with my brain didn’t upset anyone, especially not my Junior High classmates who relished those shop classes. While most of them spent print shop—yes, we were supposed to learn how to set type—happily learning a trade that might end working in the printing plants of publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers, I spent those class hours thinking about the novels I might someday write.

To be fair, I would have to hunt and peck them on a typewriter because nobody could read my scrawl: just another side of that psychomotor nightmare.

Of course, all this happened before what has been called the Third Industrial Revolution, the one driven my micro-electronics. During those earlier times, hands-on was the sine qua non of every product. Machines could not work on their own. Then came transistors and beyond that integrated chips. Just to add an icing on this new industrial cake lasers added even more precision to machine functions. Those talented hands were no longer so necessary. Even in more back-breaking work like mining and agriculture, mechanization was reducing the number of hands required.

If machines were taking on more of the skill in work, lower paid workers overseas could do the jobs at reduced cost even if shipping was required. And, yes, those same circuits made shipping cheaper as well.

Yet another factor diminishing the demand for skilled labor was market saturation. If the roadbuilding splurge of the Eisenhower years led to more automobile demand and sales, soon there were more cars on the road than we needed. And, with those integrated circuits and computerized quality control cars were being driven longer. Air conditioners were soon in every home; which meant that the demand for new equipment dropped. Worse for the skilled workers in America was that the new computerized equipment, cars for example, required less skill in making repairs. Circuit boards were snapped in and out. The fabulous American knack for tinkering was no longer needed be it in the garage or for appliance repairs. Who now, for instance, repairs televisions? Radios? And the list goes on.

Sadly, workers like those kids I went to Junior High with, the ones who excelled in metal shop, print shop, electric shop, and less so but even wood shop, are now less valued. In fact, such skills have become so less valued that those shop classes have been replaced. Another class I was forced to take—and in which I did spectacularly badly—was mechanical drawing. Making blueprints was considered an important, even crucial skill. Today computer programs quickly turn out blueprints that a skilled person would take weeks to draw.

While this computerized degradation of skilled labor was going on, other groups were demanding entry into the workforce. Women, Blacks, Hispanics, and immigrants were all looking for their places at the economic table. White men whose families had for generations earned their way with their hands and backs found themselves being displaced—not gradually but seemingly overnight. Threatened and in fact losing ground, it is no wonder that they were and are still angry.

On the other side, people like me, the ones who went the academic route, have for the most part been at least able to tread water. Perhaps, at some point doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and even clergy may be replaced by computers. But, that hasn’t happened yet. Still, it might and even some of us live with that threat hanging over us.

The sense of threat and anger fuels politics. When people are comfortable, they don’t bother with voting. Satisfied people simply go on from day to day, at least that’s true of the average satisfied person. But, the times are a-changing and people are no longer contented. Especially those people with that long tradition of hands-on working.

It is those people who have formed the swing vote that threw the last presidential election to Donald Trump. They are not “deplorable” nor inherently hateful, anti-feminist, or racist. They are threatened and angry because their world is getting smaller. They want that sense of satisfaction back. That sense that their lives will be good and their children’s lives even better.

Traditionally, the Democratic Party has tried to speak for those people. It has been the party of Social Security, minimum wage, and unionization. However, it has failed to address this new sense of threat. To a small degree Bernie Sanders tried. He spoke for free college for everyone, which sounds like it should help. However, there are many working people who have a sense that they and their kids don’t belong in college. When Donald Trump speaks of community colleges as a place for vocational training, he is coming closer to the comfort zone of many workers than talking about their kids taking more math, science, English, or especially foreign languages.

Quite simply, the Democratic Party has become the party of the intelligentsia, people like myself with our college degrees and graduate educations. It is not by chance that Bill Clinton presented himself and his wife as two brilliant minds for the price of one or that Barack Obama and his wife had such outstanding educations. The Democratic Party has become a party of thinking and theorizing.

The problem is that for those threatened and angry hands-on workers—yes especially white but those of other hues as well—intellectual arguments are just more proof that they are under attack. To add fuel to that flame, we have the Core Curriculum, a well-thought-out approach to better educating the young to work with computers and in the modern age but a clear threat to those who managed to survive school through rote learning and good shop grades. Another symbol for such people is the disappearance of cursive writing. While that may be a relief to the fine-motor-challenged like myself, it is just another way of telling those workers that their hard-won skills no longer matter.

Clearly, 2016 was the moment when political leaders could address the chasm between intellect and hands, between theory and praxis. I don’t know if Donald Trump understood what he was doing or simply stumbled into it, but he keyed in on just that issue. He positioned himself—no matter how illogically it may be—as the hands-on working stiff whose life was under siege. To her clear discredit, Hillary Clinton never saw the issue that was dividing the country. Since she had taken considerable time off to ready her presidential campaign, her failure to come up with positions that addressed the concerns of that significant portion of America, the part that had so strongly supported her husband, really speaks to her inadequacy as a candidate.

So, where can the Democrats go now? Better yet, where might a new political party go? The best answer may well lie in history. But, it is a side of history that most Americans don’t know and that many big businesses don’t want us to consider. Much of the growth of the American economy has not been a function of private investment. No, that is a myth. The government—often state as well as federal—has been the force—often indirectly but also directly—that has driven our growth and the development of new jobs and opportunities. I’ve already mentioned the road building of the Eisenhower years. However, everywhere we look there is the hand of government. Even the growth of semiconductors and integrated circuits would never have taken off were there not both pressure and investment from the military. Of course, perhaps the best example was in the nineteenth century when federal lands were used to finance and give purpose to the railroads.

The problem with the American economic system is that we have come to regard corporations as gods. We have this fantasy that they create jobs and new ideas. We want to believe that the pursuit of profits will always determine good decision-making. When there is a clear market, corporations do an excellent job. Why wouldn’t they? Years ago, when studying economics, I read about how in Russia the state-run businesses couldn’t make intelligent decisions. My favorite example was the production of only one size bra. Obviously, a private corporation would have been making a better decision as it tried to increase sales and profits rather than presumably limiting costs.

But, when it comes to seeing the future, existing corporations often are too busy playing it safe. Even when they do research and development, say in the drug industry, they are more concerned that every new product ends up making money than taking real development risks.

Looking to the future should be the goal of government. Of course, if there is too much link between existing corporations and government—certainly the case today—that function is compromised. Maintenance of the status quo becomes the goal. That is what has happened in America. As a result, instead of new growth in hands-on employment in manufacturing equipment for renewable energy and faster transport systems in America, those areas are being developed in other countries. There is no development of new techniques in damming, something that will be essential as sea levels rise. Nor have we been investing in new localized and indoors methods of agriculture as have the Dutch and other European nations.

Instead of calling for a new wave of American driven technology and resulting manufacture, the intellectual politicians of the left have focused on a more just society, one in which everyone receives at least minimal levels of freedom and purchasing power. Quite simply, justice—while one of the highest goals for any society—can only be pursued in a state in which people do not feel threatened. When humans feel under siege they are less willing to worry that the other person be treated fairly and more concerned that they not lose ground themselves.

Whilst I may not be able to do much with my hands or back, I do know that my fellow Americans who can deserve the opportunities and recognition that they desire just as much as those of us who hold PhDs and other degrees do. For now, that is the divide that must be addressed

Spinoza and Me by Kenneth Weene

Spinoza and Me by Kenneth Weene

It was Tuesday afternoons, two-fifteen almost every Tuesday for the school year – for my seventh-grade school year. They would leave – dismissed early from school to attend religious instruction. Most, the vast majority of my classmates would leave to learn about God, to learn about faith, to learn about dogma. Almost universally they were Catholics. The city in which I grew up was almost entirely Catholic – half of Irish background and half of Italian ­– but all Catholic and all scheduled for confirmation.

​Off our classmates would go in mass exodus, and we – a small number – would huddle in our respective homerooms while being watched – as questionable minorities must be.

​The remainder of the school day was designated a period for “guidance and moral education.” We were given neither guidance nor moral education. Instead, we huddled in our minority and did homework. My homeroom teacher taught English so we did English homework. Next door was a social studies teacher. His minority worked on geography and memorized facts about our city, Somerville, our county, Middlesex, and our commonwealth, Massachusetts. On the other side of our room was a math teacher; there fractions and equations held sway. Therein lay one of the basic moral lessons of my youth – free will may exist, but free choice does not.

So we, in our suspicious minority status, sat quietly and tried to appear compliant – to appear as a well-disciplined and obedient unity. There was only one problem: we were not a unity. For within our small number there was yet another division, another even smaller minority, a minority of one, of me, a Jew. The Catholics were gone; the Protestants ­– undifferentiated from the vantage point of the Vatican – had become the majority. I, I alone, was left – left to be different. “Hebe,” “Kike,” “Shylock”: I heard all those epithets and more while growing up; but the worst was “Jewww” pronounced with hash J and drawn-out W – pejorative in its correctness. Make no doubt about it; I was the hated “Jewww,” the killer of Christ, wearer of devils’ horns, killer of Christian children and consumer of their blood – ah, blood-libeled matzoth.

​It was not easy being a Jew in that classroom, in that school, in that city. There had been a time when the numbers had been different. If Jews had never been the majority, they had once been a serious minority, but that had changed. Most had moved away – across Boston to Brookline and Newton – on the other end of the transit system. Only the temple remained to let the world know that they, a number of them – us, had once lived there. It was a solid building of granite and cement, a building as substantial as one of the many churches that serviced the rest of the community.

But, inside, within the people, within what survived of the congregation, little substance remained. Commitment had gone with the members – gone to those newer and wealthier communities. A few stragglers, a few professional men whose careers required them to stay, a few old people with neither the means nor the will to move: this was the congregation. And, it was led by a rabbi whose lack of standing was consistent with the temple’s ever diminishing stature.

​Leo Shubow had nothing to recommend him. He wasn’t particularly learned, he lacked charisma, he spoke poorly, and, just to make things worse, he sprayed spittle with every sibilant. There were those who opined that Rabbi Shubow would not even had merited our small congregation were it not for his brother, a well-known and highly respected rabbi who not only led but also dominated one of the most important temples in all of Greater Boston. This successful rabbi had demanded a congregation for his inadequate sibling; presumably, it had been decided that he could do the least harm in our already failed flock.

​My father, one of those professional men who felt that they needed to stay in Somerville, insisted my brother and I attend some religious education. For their part neither of our parents ever went to the temple except for those rare but socially mandatory bar mitzvahs and weddings. Very few adults did go to temple. At most services the required minyan was a last-minute miracle.

​It was probably just as well that almost no adults attended services; Rabbi Shubow had only two topics on which he could comfortably sermonize:

​The first was the need to support the just-born nation of Israel. He would particularly exhort us to give coins to plant trees there. Presumably he thought it would be too political to ask us to help buy weapons for the fledgling Israeli army. Nevertheless, underlying our understanding of the importance of those trees was our dread of the incomprehensible hatred that had become the irresistible tide of the holocaust. Even in our small community, each of us in some way was connected to the dead of Europe and to the precious saved – that minority who had survived the camps – and to those among them who were trying to make a new home – a refuge – for themselves in Eretz Israel.

​His second topic had nothing discernable to do with Israel or Judaism. He was passionate about the threat of icebergs in the North Atlantic. I never learned if he had lost somebody to an iceberg-related sinking or had simply been traumatized as a very small boy by the end of the Titanic. Whatever the reason, he would speak at length – poorly, but at length – about the need for a better warning system to protect sailors.

​His preoccupation seemed somewhat silly to those of us who bothered to think about those icebergs. The world was still reeling from the war. Oceans of blood had been spilled. Even if one were to think of death in the North Atlantic, it made more sense to focus on the torpedoes of the Nazis than on the icebergs breaking away from Greenland and Iceland.

​I would probably have no adult thought of Leo Shubow were it not for a book that he suggested I read. That year – that year of confirmations – I read the book he had suggested. It wasn’t a very sophisticated book, but it did raise an interesting question. Could one be a bad Jew and still be a great Jew? Felix Mendelssohn, the great composer, was one example. Shabbetai Zvi, the false messiah, was another. But, the most important example was Baruch de Spinoza.

​That book didn’t teach me much about Spinoza – the brilliant Sephardic Jew who had been expected to become an important rabbi but who, instead, was perceived by his community as doubting the very existence of God. Still trying to come to grips with the Inquisition that had driven them from Spain and that had killed so many of their fellow religionists, the Sephardic community in Holland was deeply religious, strongly observant, and extremely intellectual. Spinoza’s perceived apostasy was an outrage.

​Ostracized and (very unusually for a Jew) excommunicated, he had made his living as a grinder of lenses, some of the best lenses available in Holland. He had also written brilliantly in his attempts to understand whatever he could of the essential nature of the world and to define mankind’s ethical obligations. Although he had remained outside the Jewish fold, Spinoza had become the spiritual father of the modern age. His simple abode was to become a place of pilgrimage for modern thinkers – perhaps most notably Einstein, who stopped there during his flight from Europe to America – his escape from the Nazis.

​Spinoza ground lenses, at that time one of the purest mathematical activities. Using mathematical formulae, light could be forced into orderly behavior. Einstein went beyond that; he applied mathematics to the understanding of light and to the fundamental physical nature of the world. Shubow was not so brilliant. He could only worry about seeing the physical dangers in the natural world, but he, like Spinoza and Einstein, understood that the physical world could be known – that the dangers inherent in it could be understood and perhaps overcome.

​Precision of mathematical and scientific thinking could give mankind control over nature. It was not necessary to invoke God, nor was it meaningful to think of God as intervening in that nature – given by Him or perhaps more properly synonymous with Him. To appreciate that order, to truly appreciate it, was to love God, to be – in Spinoza’s phrase – intoxicated with God.

​But, mankind is often more intoxicated with itself than with God. It is our nature that we see threat in the mirror of existence and turn on our fellow humans over and over again. Human nature is not so predictable nor so beautiful. It turns us against minorities and thereby against ourselves. We may call it prejudice and hatred, for my part I call it Evil.

​The Inquisition was rooted in Evil as was the Holocaust. There was Evil in that classroom, too. Sitting there on those Tuesday afternoons so acutely aware of being a minority within a minority I was at once both a victim of that Evil and a participant in it.

​Rabbi Shubow had lived with enough Evil to appreciate the goal of goodness – to understand nature and use that knowledge to save man. Now I am older. I have lived with enough Evil to wonder if man is worth saving. And I have lived with enough of mankind to wonder if mankind can save itself. Perhaps it is enough to appreciate human nature, to study the psychological world, and to accept that our species may well reach its own self-doomed end.

​There is creation, there is nature, and there is man. For all these there is order, that most divine of all possibilities. Order exists. I revel in that fact and I am too intoxicated with God to think of praying for heavenly intervention.

Joshua – How One Boy Changed my Thinking by Kenneth Weene

Joshua – How One Boy Changed my Thinking by Kenneth Weene

Summer of 1968, just before I went back to graduate school, I did fieldwork for the “Canadian Association of Retarded Citizens.” Our team was doing a cost-benefit analysis of services for children who had been diagnosed as “retarded—a diagnostic term that is no longer accepted, but which was then used.  One of the facilities at which we did observations was a unique hospital operated by the Province of New Brunswick. It was dedicated to serving developmentally handicapped children: a mixture of many diagnostic categories. Given our specific charter, we knew exactly which kids we would want to study, only those with a primary diagnosis of retardation, and arrived prepared to make our requirements clear to the staff.

What a lovely staff they were. Not only dedicated to the children in their care and close-knit as a group but also warm beyond belief. We were welcomed to their facility and given every assistance…except for their one request. “Certainly, you can observe just the retarded children,” we were told individually. “However, we do want you to appreciate the full range of what we do here. So, would you spend some time with—” And each of us was given the name of a youngster who didn’t meet our research parameters. The boy with whom I would be spending time was Joshua.

“He isn’t retarded,” I was assured by the physician who was in charge of the eleven-year-old’s care; “but at this point he is functioning at the level of an infant.”

I was shown to a room, where Joshua lay. The room smelled slightly of elimination, but not badly. His diapers were clean. His body had been bathed.

Slight and of average height, Joshua’s light brown hair had been carefully combede. His eyes were also brown, but they somehow lacked a sense of life—a dullness as if covered by cataracts. He didn’t move except for occasional episodes of seizures, during which I saw visions of a cold hell as his pupils— contracting and dilating randomly—darted aimlessly. Joshua could not eat unless carefully fed with especial precaution to help him swallow when necessary. Given the level of the boy’s function in contrast to the cleanliness and decoration of Joshua’s room, it was clear the staff expended a great deal of energy caring for him.

I sat next to Joshua’s bed, talking to him—as I had been instructed—as if he were a normal child. It was perhaps forty-five minutes, but it felt more like hours. Talking, pausing, no response, talking more. I rambled on about sports, weather, television, movies, and about my own life.

I knew each member of the team was similarly engaged, also dealing with an experience which seemed so futile and yet incredibly important. The staff members, who from time to time stopped in to see how I was doing and to say something to this inert child, made me aware of that importance.

Finally, the doctor came back to get me and to explain Joshua’s condition. The boy suffered from a genetic disorder which produced inevitable deterioration and death. “It’s genetic, like Tay-Sachs Disease,” he said; “except it’s much worse because the onset is later, which means the kids get to have some quality of life before… Then, they lose it all.”

His eyes misted over and it took a few moments for this dedicated professional to regain his composure. Then he shared some of Joshua’s life since he had come to this facility.

A loving parent fondly remembers the landmarks of their child’s development: first words, first steps, toilet training, first day of school, first sleep over, and on the list goes. This doctor had what might be called a reverse list. “When Joshua first came, he was a pretty normal kid. Most parents would have been pleased with him. But, his folks had already seen what was happening. They had been told the diagnosis. With great sadness, they were staring at the abyss of an hereditary horror.

“‘Our son used to be the star of his baseball team,’ his father told us. ‘Now he can’t even catch a ball,’” the doctor related.

“‘School’s worse,’ his mother insisted. She told us about an A-student slipping into minimal work and less comprehension.” He shook his head as he continued. “The worst thing, and they both agreed on this, was Joshua knew it was happening. They would find him crying. And, he would ask them what was wrong, what he had done wrong. God, it must have been awful.”

Taking out a folder, to which he never actually gave any notice, the doctor went on to talk about the first night Joshua had wet the bed and how he had sat in a corner on the floor and sobbed when the nurse came into his room. About when he soiled himself. When the boy stopped talking. Stopped swallowing.

“The hardest time for us on staff was when the parents stopped visiting. Joshua had been here about a year. At first, they visited every week. Then every two weeks. Then… Finally, they came one last time. They really didn’t want to see him. ‘He won’t recognize us,’ they said; they hoped. But the charge nurse insisted. She practically dragged them. They were wrong. He did. The three of them sitting in the dayroom crying.” The doctor wiped his own eyes with the sleeve of his white coat. “And the rest of us crying, too.

“They told him they’d be back soon, but we all knew they were lying. When we got back to my office, they said they couldn’t—not anymore. That was almost a year ago. Who knows if he’d remember them now? Who knows what he remembers? Or knows?!”

Suddenly, the doctor slammed his hand down on the desk. Pencils, papers, photographs: everything jumped. “It’s so damned unfair,” he yelled. “He was a good kid. He didn’t deserve this. Nobody should have to suffer this way.”

Our research team stayed at the facility for almost a week before moving on to our next destination, Prince Edward Island.

Nobody told me I had to do so, but I found time to go back to Joshua’s room, to sit with the boy who was there but no longer present. Talking, pausing, no response, talking some more. Each visit I shared more about myself, what I hoped for in my life, what I feared.

I have no idea how long Joshua lingered in a state of limbo. I hope it wasn’t too much longer.

For years, I spoke to no one about Joshua. I couldn’t imagine what I would say.

When a few years later Roe v. Wade brought the subject of abortion into great public debate, I realized my views had changed. While I had been in favor of a woman’s right to choose, something was now different. It wasn’t the autistic or intellectually disabled children I saw that summer who changed my life. It was Joshua. Maybe somebody could make a case that his existence brought out something better in others. Certainly, he touched me.

But, how could anyone justify what Joshua went through? Although it was never a question for us, I knew then that were my wife and I to be pregnant, I would want to know what lay ahead for our potential child. I would demand genetic screening to discover hereditary disorders. If our fetus faced a fate like Joshua’s, I would want to terminate the pregnancy. I do not believe children should suffer so, that they should suffer such a sense of personal loss of self. I do not believe they should have to question what they have done wrong to deserve such a hell nor have to deal with parents walking away—albeit not in anger or desire but being unable themselves to deal with the pain.

In the memory of Joshua’s dead eyes, I see a reality that demands my acceptance, a realization that children have a right to death. Sometimes we forget how important it is that we, each and every one of us but especially the helpless and weak, have the option of the pain’s end, the option of avoiding the intolerable.

I cannot say abortion is a good thing. I know of no one who says it is. I cannot say a life is unimportant. I can, however, say, that suffering is a bad thing. I can say dooming a child to such pain as Joshua suffered is evil. I can say that offering abortion as an alternative in such cases is important.

Yet, who is to decide what suffering is too much? Who is to decide which child should face which slings and arrows and which should be spared a life that looms so painfully ahead? Perhaps, since death is inevitable for us all, none of us should see the moment of birth. As Otto Rank suggested, we are all only trying to return to the womb anyway.

Certainly, there is a slippery slope before us. While we typically start with an assumption that a mother has her child’s best interests at heart, those who would proscribe abortion make no such assumption. They think they have a much greater concern for children. While this seldom includes caring about the child after birth, a case could be made for their position, especially if one believes that a child has a soul and somehow every soul must see the light of day if only for a moment.

I make no such assumptions, not about who has the best interest at heart or about the existence of a soul. I start only with Joshua and knowing that while pain and death are the natural ends of human existence, they are not the natural end of childhood. Who among us would say Joshua’s suffering is acceptable?

The only reasonable position I can find for myself is that abortion should be considered a rational alternative to a life of pain and suffering. What constitutes sufficient pain and suffering to terminate a pregnancy? I would only ask that the mother seeking to end a pregnancy have thought through her decision having been provided all the relevant information and choices.

I never met Joshua’s parents. I cannot speak for his mother. What would she have decided if she had known he would—after a few years of being her delight—reach such a horrible end? Would she have spared him?

Would you?