Tim and I finally arrived at Corfe Castle camping site one Spring Bank Holiday Saturday in the year 2000, after driving me there in his car. Camping was never my ideal of spending the night, but I knew that Tim loved it, having spent his youth as a member of the Boy Scouts, as well as being a keen rugby player at school. A typical Brit of the times, one who is not given to emotionalism, perhaps rather unlike me. As one of his mates who spent his post-college days residing as a lodger, Tim was described "as sensitive as a brick." It wasn't long after arrival at the rather attractive-looking campsite when each of our tents was fully assembled and secured in place, one beside the other.
But that night, the roof of my tent was resounding with the heavy clatter of raindrop impact, the loud noise keeping me awake. Such torrential downpours are typical in Dorset, a coastal region on the West Country peninsula of England jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. However, this time the heavy rainfall lacked the flashing lightning and crashing thunder which shook the area whilst staying at Lulworth Cove Youth Hostel four years earlier in 1996.
Tim poked his head through my tent door and asked whether he could share my tent for the rest of the night, as his had sprung a leak and was letting the rainwater in. Of course, I had no objection, he was welcome.
We spent the next day hiking the West Coast Path towards Kimmeridge Bay. It was during this hike that my foot sunk into a mud puddle created by the previous night's rain, and as I pulled my foot out, the puddle protested with a loud squelch. I then complained why I always preferred the city streets. His response to my excess emotionalism was akin to saying, "Don't be so wimpish! Man up!"
I then told him of my experience as a young boy, when my primary school class made a weekly coach trip to Richmond Park, west of London. On one occasion I found myself sinking to my ankles, with both feet, in mud. I was terrified and cried for help. This was not long after watching a Western on our monochrome TV at home with Dad. The film ended with the villain sinking into a patch of quicksand until he was fully submerged, head and all. I asked my father whether quicksand really exist in real life. He said yes, quicksand exists, but what he didn't say was, "but not in this country". It was after my explanation that Tim had a far better understanding of my fears. Which led me to thinking that childhood is the most vulnerable time of our lives when fears and phobias are quickly established, and can last a lifetime.
There goes two hikers heading west towards Kimmeridge Bay from Corfe Castle Campground, with the car left behind and the two tents remaining upright next to each other. Both of them married. One an Englishman - stoic, stiff upper lip, unemotional, father of three children. The other with Italian blood even though legally British, prone to panic, a trembling lower lip, emotional, and having no children. And oh yes, having hiked alone into the Grand Canyon and through the rainforest of Blue Mountains National Park, having stood on the rim of the crater of a live volcano, and snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef. Yet panics over a patch of mud in rural England. Such is the likes of me, I guess.
As we husbands are enjoying a weekend away at the glorious and spectacular Dorset coast, our wives are also together back at Tim's house. My wife Alex had more in common with Tim than with me on this one issue - like him, she too enjoys camping, having camped during her childhood too. But none of us were any of the wiser. That is, something else was taking place during that Bank Holiday weekend. I wasn't to know about it until about two weeks later.
It was a Thursday morning, a typical working day. Alex was sure that she was pregnant. So the day before she went to a nearby pharmacist and bought one of those home test strips. Dip it in urine, and if only one coloured bar show, then she isn't pregnant. But if both bars were to become visible...
She went to the bathroom with it and within a few minutes returned. She showed me the result. On the strip both bars were visible, one more stronger than the other, but the difference in intensity did not matter, according to the instruction on the box. Suddenly everything had changed. A new status was awaiting me - fatherhood. I had never forgotten that morning, two weeks after that camping weekend. I wanted to shout out of the window, and I nearly did. The first thing I did, in sheer excitement, was to phone my parents.
Ultrasound scans at our hospital revealed the age of the embryo. They proved that conception had taken place some two weeks before that Bank Holiday weekend. And so, whilst I accommodated Tim in my tent under torrential rain, hiked the coastal trail, and panicked over a patch of mud, back at home a new life had already began in my wife's womb. To me it was a miracle, a fantastic miracle! Eight months later there was I, sitting in a side room at a maternity ward, with my first daughter asleep in my arms. As I looked upon her cute face, her eyes closed in peaceful sleep, it was as if the whole of my life was in preparation for this one event. To add to this, I wasn't in my early to mid twenties but already 48 years old, an age when many are already grandparents.
At that time, I thought how wonderful it must be to create new life. To my mind, to have the ability for parenthood must be the greatest privilege anyone could have. To know that half of my chromosomes combining with the half of my beloved's chromosomes creates new life. Therefore one of the deepest mysteries that has ever existed on this planet is how could one have the nerve for an elective abortion.
And I write this on the same Bank Holiday weekend as the camping weekend eighteen years previously. It is also the very same weekend that a result of a referendum which took place in the Irish Republic only yesterday. The vote was on whether the 8th Amendment would be retained or repealed. The result has revealed more than two-thirds of the Irish population has voted for the Amendment to be repealed. That means elective abortion will become legal up to the age of twelve weeks into the life of the fetus. Perhaps not as bad as over here in the UK where elective abortions can be given up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but nevertheless still disdained by the Catholic Church, Ireland's official religion.
Early in my wife's pregnancy, our GP actually asked us if we would consider an abortion. I was horrified even to be asked such a question. I told him specifically that we don't believe in elective abortion. And after waiting for nearly fifty years, would I consider my wife to have an abortion? And as we went home, I watched her tummy gradually swell as the young one grew and developed inside. On one hand excited, yet on the other hand, terrified. Afraid of that dreadful possibility - spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage. And well grounded fears. Our third child died in the womb. We had it buried at a cemetery near the hospital. The impact that had on us was devastating. At least we were comforted by the thought that this person is already in heaven with Jesus - not as a baby but as a fully grown adult whose physical body never had the chance to grow and mature.
Therefore I consider this to be a sad day for Ireland. Even though far greater restrictions will apply. That is the maximum age of twelve weeks after conception, in contrast with our twenty-four weeks over here in Britain. Here in England and Wales, since 2012 there has been an annual average of 185,000 induced abortions.* Or for the last five years, around 955,000 fetuses destroyed in our country, mainly due to social issues or for convenience. Or in other words, the mother can now pursue her career and climb the social ladder, or even to go out and party, or even the father is relieved, now the "nuisance" child is taken out of the way.
As incredulous all this may seem to me, I can't help believe it to be the deepest mystery that can dwell in the human mind. Yet that is what I see and hear about within our modern British culture. And it's so unfortunate that I'm disliked by a few, even by regular church-going Christians, for my concern over our materialistic and social class-centred culture which allows legal abortions, a philosophy resting on the bedrock of Darwinism, along with its sister train of thinking which shares the same Evolutionary bedrock - eugenics. Coming to think of it, I am wondering whether there is any difference between elective abortion, acceptable in our present society, and eugenics, a terrible philosophy promoted by pre-War scientists to allow the Nazis retain their beliefs in racial and national superiority based on Darwinism.
Yet on the other hand, could I smell a whiff of hypocrisy among religious pro-life campaigners? Yes, I'm referring to those standing up against induced or elective abortions. The Roman Catholic Church, for one, may indeed make a moral stand against such procedures, but this tends to stand at odds with the Church's past, when so many were slain throughout its history - the Spanish Inquisition being one case in point. And to add to this, the Catholic Church (together with a number of Protestants) turned a blind eye from the Holocaust of the slaying of six million Jews.
How God sees it all, I cannot comprehend, as his thoughts are higher than my thoughts and his ways higher than my ways. But I can imagine God shedding a tear whenever an abortion is carried out. Furthermore, I do believe that every child who dies in the womb, either induced or spontaneous, will go straight to heaven to be with Christ. If that is true, then the heavenly kingdom will be populated by a majority who were never born to see the sun. But again, my thoughts does not necessarily reflect Divine reason, as His thoughts are above my thoughts. His ways is beyond finding out (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33).
Abortion is a dreadful procedure. And I don't want to say this merely from a religious perspective. Rather, my heart goes out to those who faced extinction through no fault of their own but through the selfishness of their mother, or even under the wishes of a reluctant father. As that, a symptom of a fallen world. A world only Jesus Christ can heal.
*UK Gov. Department of Health, Abortion Statistics, England and Wales, 2016.