Thousands and thousands of shoes: some small enough for little girls, some big enough for grown men. Most were dark, giving the mound of shoes a certain eeriness. I stared at the mound blankly for a moment, wondering whose shoes these were and why they had been preserved in a pile at this museum. But all too quickly, my mind began to grasp the piercing truth of what these shoes had in common.
Their owners were murdered together.
I was thirteen when I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It was a haunting, life-changing experience, and I can still vaguely picture some of the displays and remember the horror and indignation I felt as I walked through the museum halls. But the display of shoes – thousands of shoes of Jewish people who had been systematically murdered and stripped at a concentration camp in Poland – will always be clear in my memory. One does not forget thousands of shoes that were never worn out by pattering, walking, running feet.
The day after I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, I had a ten-hour car trip home, during which I was boiling inside. The museum had clearly presented the fact that the apathy of the German people and world leaders before and during the beginning of the Holocaust was largely to blame for the searing horrors. To put it bluntly, most people were drunk with their ignorance. And as I pondered that deadly satisfaction with ignorance, I became haunted by a question: what are we choosing to be ignorant of today?
When I arrived home, I started some research. I began with abortion – a topic I had vaguely heard of and about which I felt strangely uninformed. I was dumbfounded at what I discovered. Fifty million children had been legally aborted in the United States. Over ten thousand abortions were performed every year in the third trimester. Infants who can feel pain – who have fingers and toes and heartbeats – were being killed every few seconds. After ten minutes of research, I sat at and wept, greatly tempted to shut down the computer and forget abortion forever.
But in my mind I began to see a picture. I saw a pile of thousands and thousands of shoes, like that at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But something was different. The enormity of the display had grown, and the shoes themselves had become smaller. Their color had changed as well, into soft pinks, yellows, greens, and blues. They were the little baby booties – the soft, tiny shoes that fifty-five million American children will never wear.
This week, Planned Parenthood launched a campaign called “Not in Her Shoes.” (The campaign has since been canceled, apparently as a reaction to yesterday’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon.) The campaign uses the image of women’s shoes to point out that those who seek to make abortion illegal are out of place because they have not walked in the shoes of women who have had abortions. To me, this image is incredibly ironic.
Let’s take the idea of walking in shoes literally for a moment. Planned Parenthood has taken for granted the fact that all of us, whether we have had abortions are not, have had the opportunity to wear a pair of shoes. The truth is, however, that fifty-five million American children never had the opportunity to try their first literal pair of shoes. They were killed before they had the chance.
Now join me back in the figurative world of walking in someone else’s shoes. Have you ever imagined “walking in the shoes” of an unborn child about to be aborted? Can you imagine trying to writhe away from a vacuum tube as it enters the uterus and tries to suction you away? If you happen to be the victim of one of the well over 100,000 annual second- and third-trimester abortions in the United States, can you imagine having to feel your tiny body be literally torn and cut apart by a scalpel before it is removed from the uterus piece by piece? These are absolutely horrific thoughts. Yet thousands of abortions are performed by these methods every day in this nation.
We cannot choose to be ignorant of the crisis that is facing our nation’s children today through the practice of abortion. I could not bear to see that pile of fifty-five million baby shoes in reality, but I am haunted by its image in my mind. Each year, the pile in my mind grows by over a million more.
When will it stop?