Religion

Impeachment? Let’s Talk Instead about Jessica Long

Jessica Long of the U.S. celebrates after winning the women’s 100-meter freestyle S8 finals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. (Claro Cortes IV/Reuters)
Lives are what matter most.

‘We found a baby girl for your adoption, but there are some things you will need to know. She’s in Siberia, and she was born with a rare condition. Her legs will need to be amputated. I know this is difficult to hear. Her life, it won’t be easy.”

This was the message of one of the Super Bowl commercials this year, from Toyota. It was the story of Jessica Long, who has been described as the Michael Phelps of the international sports competition for athletes with a range of disabilities. I don’t know whether Toyota knew what it was doing — I assume the company set out to tell an inspiring story. What Toyota created challenges a culture that has suffered nearly half a century of legal abortion in the United States (infecting much of the world).

The message was pro-adoption and pro-life in the best of ways. I suspect that Toyota didn’t set out for that, which is even better. This wasn’t a production from an activist group such as Focus on the Family or the March for Life Foundation. It was a car company presenting an obviously uplifting story — one that points to hopeful and healing possibilities for our otherwise seemingly intractable abortion politics in America. Let’s look at human faces. Let’s see what love can do. Marist Poll numbers commissioned by the invaluable Knights of Columbus have consistently shown that even though Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in the White House right now and promising to codify Roe v. Wade, most Americans aren’t as excited by the prospect as officials at Planned Parenthood are.

In A Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story, an NBC Sports short documentary, viewers track the swimmer’s story back to the Russian orphanage where her father picked her up as a newborn. The women caring for the children remembered her — remembered handing her over, thinking they would never see her again. They were overjoyed at the reunion, and she was overwhelmed with the love. Next stop: her parents. Her birthmother was an unmarried 16-year-old when she found out she was pregnant. After choosing adoption for her firstborn, Tatiana, she married Tatiana’s father. Upon meeting her birthparents, Long felt that her two identities were finally merging as one. She sees herself as Jessica Tatiana Long now, embracing all aspects of her background.

There is so much hope in her story, for all involved — even acknowledging the pain of separation and loss. High on the list of reasons for hope: A child who has disabilities can find a way to live and succeed. Success has many flavors and, of course, won’t always feature the achievements that Long has obtained. But human life has value. It is a gift. And a reverence for suffering can go a long way to help us see what love is truly about. This is about basic human rights. But the gift of faith doesn’t hurt — Long has said that God is her strength and that He clearly had a plan from the beginning.

Love is an act of the will. And a woman who fears and yet makes a plan for her child to live is heroic. Birthmothers are heroines, plain and simple, and thanks be to God for groups like BraveLove that celebrate these women as we all should. We should help them every step of the way. And we should let them know that they have done something heroic.

In the NBC short film, Long explains that she wants her birthparents to know that she’s not angry she wound up in an orphanage. Like other children who were adopted with whom I’ve talked over the years, Long is grateful:

I’m not upset. I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her — that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.

In an interview for Celebrate Life magazine, Long said, “If my mom had not given me up, I wouldn’t be where I am now. . . . And so, I really hope that people see my story and realize that adoption can be a wonderful thing.”

She acknowledges, too, that her story isn’t the typical one:

I got a lot of sweet messages about healing. . . . Not every situation is going to be as happy as mine ended up being. It was pretty rare that my [birth] parents still ended up being together and then having three more children. . . . I hope that for some people, it helped them to forgive and to learn from it.

And, oddly enough, because of a Super Bowl commercial, we ought to learn that life is possible even in the most arduous circumstances. And it can be beautiful if we care enough to love.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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