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One human heart: Wordsworth’s old Cumberland beggar and the sweetness of being human

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By Anthony Esolen
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June 5, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - I am persuaded that the movement to demand that physicians corrupt themselves at the heart by assisting in the suicides of the superannuated is but a reaction of terror before a perceived inhumanity. We who have become the tools of our tools shudder at the last insult to our human nature, that we should be invaded by all the complicated paraphernalia of delay, to breathe our last in a dull white room, with the pitted panels of the drop-ceiling overhead (reckon up the chaos, O man, and count how many marks there are in one square), while the calls to the nurses come and go, and a television blares out the last few minutes of an inane comedy that was never once touched by youth or mirth or the milk of human kindness.

If I, old and dying, mean nothing at all, then let me mean nothing on my own terms. If I am to be swept out of consciousness, then let me ply the broom! But this is no argument. It is a cry of despair.

Such despair is inevitable, if we accept the notion that our humanity depends upon what we can do, rather than upon what we are. For the knees will creak, and the hands tremble, and the mind wander; and, whether for but a moment or for a year, we will be as helpless (though not as beautiful) as a newborn child, that most useless of creatures, who can do nothing but search for nourishment and love.

Then let us not try to fight unmeaning with unmeaning. Let us look again at the special beauty of being human, a beauty that is especially poignant in the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying.

One day the young poet William Wordsworth looked out upon the road and saw a figure from his childhood, a certain old man who trudged along the Cumberland roads, to beg from the villagers in their modest cottages. He stopped at a ledge at the bottom of a steep hill, placed there to help men remount their horses, and, taking his treasures from his bag,

He sat, and ate his food in solitude:
And ever, scattered from his palsied hand,
That, still attempting to prevent the waste,
Was baffled still, the crumbs in little showers
Fell on the ground; and the small mountain birds,
Not venturing yet to peck their destined meal,
Approached within the length of half his staff.

Such is the drama of the old man’s day. Wordsworth grants himself a gentle smile at the fellow, who doesn’t want to lose any of the bread he eats, but loses a little bit anyway, and who is so harmless that the small and timid birds manage to come within two feet of him, this mysterious creature, this man. We don’t know what is going on in the man’s mind. Wordsworth doesn’t allow himself that sentimentality. Whatever it may be, he is a part of both the natural world and the human village. There is a communion of sorts between him and the sparrows, he the more precious of that breed, and a communion between him and his fellow men.

For people are moved by him. Again, Wordsworth is not appealing to easy sentiment, but to action—the action of human souls. The sauntering horseman does not toss the beggar a coin, but stops, to make sure the alms are lodged safely in the man’s hat, and then, upon leaving him, “watches the aged Beggar with a look / Sidelong, and half reverted.” The exchange is not financial but human. The woman at the turnpike, when she sees him coming, leaves her booth and lifts up the latch for him to pass. The post-boy, harried with business, shouts to him from behind, but if the old man doesn’t hear, the boy slows down his horses and passes him on the roadside, “without a curse / Upon his lips, or anger at his heart.”

If the old man cannot earn his keep, can he at least behold with a full heart the beauty of the world around him? If we should insist upon it, then that, too, would reduce him to an object of utility. No, the man is so stooped, his eyes travel the ground at the same slow pace of his walk. He seems, quite literally, to make no mark on the world, as the world seems to make no mark on him:

His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
Disturb the summer dust; he is so still
In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
And urchins newly breeched—all pass him by:
Him even the slow-paced wagon leaves behind.

What good is such a life?

Here Wordsworth turns with a glare at those who reduce “good” to utility, and utility to those economic speckles that can be counted up:

But deem not this Man useless.—Statesmen! Ye
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
Who have a broom still ready in your hands
To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
Your talents, power, or wisdom, deem him not
A burthen of the earth!

What nuisances, one might ask? The poor, whose souls we kill, while keeping their bodies well fed and at a comfortable distance? The simple, who shatter our dreams of Harvard, and whose habits embarrass us? The dying, who remind us of our mortality? The unborn, for whose little lives we are personally responsible? What good are these? But the goodness of being, the poet affirms, is absolute. All things partake of it, even the meanest creatures that creep on the earth; far more, then, does man, no matter how lowly. We cannot scorn that Beggar, unaccommodated Man, “without offence to God.”

But there is more. The old man is not only an object of charity. He is a living memorial to that kindness. He endows it with a human face—what no detachedly benign philanthropic system can do; and so connects his benefactors with their own better selves long past, and with one another:

While from door to door,
This old Man creeps, the villagers in him
Behold a record which together binds
Past deeds and offices of charity,
Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
And that half-wisdom half-experience gives,
Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
To selfishness and cold oblivious cares.

For some few, for the sublime and saintly among us, that beggar may bring them their first glimpse into a world of their own kindred amid sorrow and want; so it is that a Mother Teresa, that most unsentimental of women, will say that the poor, when they are loved, give more than they receive.

One thing they give us is the rare chance to break those fetters that can bind us tighter than sin: the fetters of right living. The Poor Woman of Leon Bloy’s novel, as she lies dying, will say with a heart filled with gratitude that the only tragedy is not to have been a saint. It is no tragedy to have missed out at a partnership in a law firm, or to have let slip one’s “dreams,” whatever those fantasies of power and glory may be. Wordsworth puts the point bluntly: what is there in the “cold abstinence from evil deeds” that can “satisfy the human soul”? A man pays his taxes, does not violate the law in any flagrant way, keeps well away from the marches of evil as mapped out by the latest scientists of ethics, votes for the correct candidates, and sends a check now and again to a distant charity. Does that satisfy the human soul? No more, I say, than a speckled ceiling or the drone of a television, or the false paternity of a government, or any other measure that keeps us conveniently apart from one another and from the good creatures with which we share this world.

For we need to love as well as to be loved:

Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.

That last line says all that I have been struggling to say here. The medicine for our inhumanity cannot be compounded of inhumanity. We must learn to love again—even to know our neighbors would be a good and toddling beginning. We must learn to love those incomparably useless and precious beings, the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying, because they and we are one.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.

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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

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By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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