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Voices Online Edition
Medicine & Morality
Pentecost 2002
Volume XVII, No. 2

Coffins or Cribs?

by J. C. Willke, MD

Most of us have become aware of the low birth rate in the western world.  This has particularly been pointed out to us because of all the attention centered on the Muslim world.  A birthrate in Europe of only 1.5, compared to a Muslim birthrate of 4 or 5 babies per woman in her lifetime, will lead to entirely predictable and almost revolutionary demographic changes.  Yes, the US birthrate has just edged up over the necessary replacement level of 2.1, this being due primarily to immigration.  Bearing all of this in mind, the decision to have a baby is an intensely personal one, with as many reasons as there are people making those decisions.  Nevertheless, an article in the Celebrate Life Magazine recently caught my attention.  It's a very somber commentary and I reprint it here slightly abridged.

"Ahead of me I see the years stretch out with fewer and fewer loved ones I can call my own.  The grand march of the generations is dwindling down with mine.  Looking around at my relatives within my own generation, I see that there are fewer of us than those we should be replacing; and looking to those whom we have produced, I see very, very few.     

"We learned our lessons well, we in the middle.  We heard the call of knowledge increased, of possessions gathered, and of opportunities broadened, and we took it to heart.  We have responded to the litany of the world which told us to live our lives for happiness, measured by all that the world values.  Has the world delivered on its promises?  The cost to reap this harvest of worldly happiness is the loss of the joy which the children we don't have would have given us.       

"Was it worth the cost?  I have knowledge greater than my mother had.  I have seen, and yet may see, many places she had only dreamed of.  My child has traveled farther than I when I was her age.  My only child.     

"My mother finished grade school and went a little farther.  I finished high school and went farther still.  My daughter is searching for the right school for a Ph.D.  What will her child accomplish, if ever she has time for one?  If ever there is time.        

"She is not alone in her pursuits, and I am not alone among my relatives who may have no babies to rock.  My generation stands often by the coffin, but seldom by the crib.   

"My generation saw children as something to postpone until the time was right.  We wanted our children to be "wanted", and set such narrow limits on the times when we would want them.  More often we rejoiced at the signs of an empty womb.  Did we teach our children that children are something to be avoided?  It seems that they have learned this lesson well.     

"As we bury our parents and watch our circle of family diminish, will we finally humble ourselves before Almighty God and ask forgiveness for rejecting these precious gifts He had to give us?  Will we finally come to understand that the chosen barren womb is the curse of the Prince of Darkness?  Or will our own arrogance continue to defeat us even to our grave?    

"My time inside the casket is closer now.  I have buried both of my parents.  Who will stand by my casket to bury me?  Will my children, that God intended, the children I do not have, mock me on the Day of Judgment when I stand before my Maker and give an account of my life and the lives I rejected?  The closer I get to this moment of judgment, the more sure I become that this, and only this, is what my life is-or should have been-all about."           

Barbara and I have been married for over 53 years.  God blessed us with five children, and we adopted number six.  To date, nineteen grandchildren have enriched our lives, but we certainly are an exception in today's world.  Yes, in the springtime of our adult lives, we all were very busy.  First it was education, and then it was a job, proving ourselves in our chosen field.  When children came, they had to be, more or less, squeezed in too often, rather than being the center of our attention.  Life went on, and the above article speaks to it eloquently and somberly.       

Our lives were twenty years of preparation and growing up, twenty years of establishing ourselves.  For twenty more we were reasonably on top of things and looking forward to retirement and then twenty or thirty more in the twilight, golden, or retirement years, however you care to describe it.  What is the most important thing in those final decades?  Our experience and that of our friends has been that in those twilight years, the fulfillment, the joy, the fullness of life, is realized in our children and grandchildren. 

Dr. Wilke is president of of Life Issues Institute. This column is reprinted with permission from Life Issues Connector, where it appeared April 2002.

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