It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a year since the world lost Dr. George Tiller. Just writing that sentence makes my heart hurt--one year later and I still can't think about Dr. Tiller without shaking a little bit, without having to stop and catch my breath for a moment.
On May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller went to church, like he did every Sunday. Most of the time, Dr. Tiller traveled with a bodyguard, a necessity thanks to the anti-choice extremists who stalked him and his family, the constant death threats, and the previous attempts on his life. But that Sunday morning, Dr. Tiller was without a bodyguard as he served as an usher and welcomed other congregants to the service. It was there, in the lobby of his church, his sanctuary, that Dr. Tiller was assassinated, murdered in cold blood by an anti-choice extremist. It was an act of violence, it was an act of hate, it was an act of terrorism.
It's tempting to write more about that terrorism, about the network of anti-choice extremists who perpetuate acts of violence, harassment, and intimidation every day. But I don't want this to be about Operation Rescue or Scott Roeder or Shelley Shannon (though you can learn more about them here).
This is about Dr. George Tiller.
Dr. Tiller was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, who spent a week at Disney World with his family just weeks before his murder.
Dr. Tiller was the leader of an embattled clinic, rallying his staff with his trademark catchphrases, among them "Trust Women," "Attitude is Everything," and my personal favorite: "When the going gets tough, the tough go to Dairy Queen." When anti-choice terrorists bombed his clinic in 1986, he responded by posting a sign in front of the clinic: "Hell no, we won't go!" He believed deeply in his work, and refused to be intimidated by the hordes of protesters who stood outside his clinic and house every day.
Dr. Tiller was a healer and a caring physician. True to his motto, he trusted the women who visited his clinic to make their own reproductive health choices. Some of the women he saw were in the final months of their pregnancies, forced to make a choice few of us can even fathom. Women who discovered their unborn children had severe birth defects and would soon die in the womb. Women who would risk their own lives by carrying their pregnancies to term. Children who had no idea they were pregnant until late into term because they were too young to understand the rhythms of their bodies yet. Rape survivors facing serious psychological issues. He offered these women a path to healing. He provided abortions to them when no one else could, gave them the compassionate and competent care that they deserved.
I can't help but consider these women every time I think about the life of Dr. Tiller. Then I think about his courage, his sense of humor, his stubbornness, and his extraordinary heart.
The world is a colder place without Dr. George Tiller. I never realized how much one could miss a person she had never met until we lost Dr. Tiller. I'm not normally the praying kind, but I think about Dr. Tiller and whisper into the ether: Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are missed.