They didn't want to be "forced to pay these taxes that pay for abortions we don't agree with." This was the reason why Hannah Gastonguay, 26, her husband Sean, 30, and his father, along with the couple's two young daughters, a three-year-old and an eight-month-old infant, attempted to flee the United States in a sailboat. And yet their powers of reason seem as slim as their sailing expertise. They left from San Diego this past May, with the South Pacific island of Kiribati as their unlikely destination. Their "leap of faith" would place them and, most crucially, their daughters, in serious peril. They would ultimately be lost at sea, and spend weeks adrift. By the time they were rescued, three months after they left, they had no solid food and no water, only juice and honey. Good Christians that they are, as Hannah Gastonguay made known to reporters who covered their arrival in San Antonio, Chile, they don't condone abortion and homosexuality, and are against "state-controlled" worship."
It's an old story, really, when devout parents bring children into this world only to endanger them, hold them hostage to their beliefs, and capriciously lead them astray. Even in a society where children are considered possessions, the Gastonguay's—for all intents and purposes—kidnapped their own daughters. Where fanatical parents are concerned, children sometimes die, as when medical assistance is refused, or when the ATF and the FBI throw a bonfire. Luckily, in this case the children did not perish. But it certainly cannot be celebrated as a miracle, as Hannanh Gastonguay so predictably and mindlessly has claimed. Many followers of the story have suggested that what would truly be miraculous—but probably won't happen—is for the Gastonguay's to be charged with endangerment, and for their children to be taken away from them, since they are clearly incapable of protecting them and making rational decisions in their best interests. This, of course, would set off a cacophony of bells and whistles among fervent antigovernment, religious freedom groups. But why not? Bring it on. The Gastonguay's are clearly a danger to their children, and the danger has not passed. Hannah Gastonguay, rescued with her family, claims that they will re-group and "come up with a new plan." And what sort of plan will they hatch next? Maybe flying to Mexico in a hot air balloon?
The Gastonguays are probably narcissistic, Hannah most of all, as the evidence will suggest. She and her husband believe in God, even if God doesn't much care, and they have fulfilled their desire to propagate. They endorse the pursuit of freedom, obviously in the extreme, though with a curious definition: I can do as I please, and you will do nothing that displeases me. They surely believe that they are good Christians, just like others worldwide who deny equal rights to people they deem below them, or unworthy, or sinners. In this sense, like many of their narrow-minded brethren, they are nothing if not blessedly entitled. The Gastonguays are not fleeing political and economic hardship, like refugees from Cuba, Africa, and Mexico, who set sail for Miami, Lampedusa, and Southern California. When this family foolishly set off from San Diego, was it an act of pure desperation? Do they have anything in common with a woman who almost drowned trying to swim around the fence that marks the Pacific border between Mexico and California? Can their life in any way compare to that of an immigrant found floating in the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean, having failed to make his way from North Africa to Italy, and who won't even get a one-way ticket home? The Gastonguays, with their precious government-issued passports, are not madly desperate—they are simply wrapped up in their own madness. They are crackpots. And they prove, perhaps with the exception of Edward Snowden, that Americans can basically go wherever they want. But for all the nomadic rights these people possess, they are not entitled to kill their defenseless children. The infant, who was only a few months old when they set sail, is named Rahab. In the New Testament, Rahab is related to Jesus, and gave birth to Boaz. In Hebrew Scripture, however, she harbored Israelite spies who helped to capture the city of Jericho in the Promised Land, and was later referred to as "the Harlot of Jericho." (Surely the Gastonguays had the former in mind, or simply confused the two.) The other child, Ardith, is three, and appeared terrified in the photos after their rescue. Her name means "blooming meadow" in Hebrew. Not exactly an accurate way to describe where they came from or where they were headed, neither of which can in any way be thought of as a promised land.
Sante Fe Railroad near Ash Fork sometime in the 1870s. Photo via.
The Devil's Hole
Although the Gastonguays sailed from San Diego, they are originally from Ash Fork, Arizona, the self-proclaimed Flagstone Capital of the World. Prosperous at one time, a blooming meadow it is not and never was. Founded in 1882, Ash Fork had no source of water until a well was dug in 1976, which was around the time that the Interstate bypassed the fabled Route 66 that ran through the town, leaving it otherwise high and dry. It was the end of a long decline that began in 1960, when the Santa Fe Railroad moved north, taking away half its inhabitants. Although Ash Fork's population is only around 500, people continue to pass through on the nostalgia trail. Where the mythology of the golden West is concerned, you can still get your kicks on Route 66.
Dante's Descent. Photo via.
Visitors—geologists and intrepid spelunkers, mostly—used to be drawn to the town to explore Dante's Descent, a famous sinkhole that locals refer to as the "Devil's Hole" due to its nearly 400-foot plunge. The state closed the site over public safety concerns a number of years ago, but people still find their way there and walk through the spooky, abandoned railroad tunnel that snakes inside a nearby mountain. Dante's Descent is named for Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's great allegorical poem, Divine Comedy, which relates the passage through the nine circles of hell. The first circle is Limbo, a (dis)location that the Gastonguay's have experienced firsthand. But this descent, at least in the 14th century, required an admission and repudiation of one's sins. In the photo of the family's rescue, Hannah Gastonguay appears calm—one might even say beatific. She does not in any way seem to be the embodiment of sin, but of saintliness, a cult of one. This is what she projects, for this is the state to which she aspires. Where her children are concerned, however—and her husband and father-in-law certainly share the blame—the lack of concern is staggering, and the transgression should not go unpunished.
While three adults were present, once rescued the mother seems to have naturally taken the role of spokesperson, an indication that she was perhaps the driving force behind this near-tragic folly. Many who first commented on the story wondered why they didn't have a seaworthy vessel (not exactly Noah's Ark), a better compass, and the skills to weather the many storms they endured. What was really missing, though, of all the most essential instruments, was a clear moral compass. If you can't navigate through life with young children, how will you fare with them out on the open sea? Hannah Gastonguay referred to the beginning of their journey as "cruising" and "pretty exciting," to being battered by intense weather as "squall after squall after squall," and to being adrift in a heavily damaged boat as a "twilight zone." She said that they "decided to take a leap of faith and see where God led us." Divine guidance, however, could not save the day for believers who cannot fathom how awesome and terrifying the ocean can be, and how a basic respect for how large it is, and how small we are, is not only central to grasping our place within nature, but within the universe. And the universe—unless we are all seriously adrift—is what people of many faiths consider to be the realm of God, and what those of us who venture beyond the corporeal and graven images understand as divine in itself. And if you don't respect that power, you really do have a cross to bear.
Onward Christian Soldiers, or Any Port In a Storm
Yes, this family was rescued, and those two innocent angels have not ascended into Heaven just yet. But to be raised by adults who would endanger them so recklessly, what perils are in store for them from here on? It could have easily been a much different story, filled with all sorts of pity for the parents, but they were brought back from the abyss, and the terms of return should be seriously considered, the justice swiftly dealt. They are still a clear and present danger to their daughters. By heading out into open sea with them without any particular sailing expertise, the guardians of those children cast them into another kind of Devil's Hole, one from which they might not have returned.
Tarawa, an atoll in Kiribati.
It is also important to look at the Gastonguay's intended destination. In flight from the US, they had charted a course for the island of Kiribati, which is part of Micronesia, at more or less the midpoint between Hawaii and Australia. According to Hannah Gastonguay, it was chosen because they "didn't want to go anywhere big," and since they thought it was "one of the least developed countries in the world." If you can dial down your IQ to around 40 it's not difficult to understand how the Gastonguays might have thought they would be free to raise their children in an island paradise with little or no governmental interference. You have to wonder, though, in just which century are they living? Were they going to serve as missionaries to the friendly natives? Did they think it was a country without modern laws and governance? Most troubling in their choice of destination is that the indigenous people of Kiribati may themselves have to beat a hasty retreat in the years ahead. If the Gastonguays had bothered to look into the ecological dangers facing the island, they would certainly have discovered that current predictions indicate it will be underwater in as little as 30 years. Then again, that would necessitate a belief in global warming, which may not be on their cockeyed radar. Talk about throwing the babies out with the bath water. Maybe they thought that the hands of God, in which they placed themselves, would one day part the sea for them. In moments like these we can hear a slightly cynical and bewildered voice call out from on high: "Holy Moses."
Where they ultimately ended up couldn't have been any more fitting. After a fishing ship sailed away without offering assistance (no good Christians there), they encountered a Canadian cargo vessel that banged into and further damaged their sailboat. A helicopter spotted them and they were dropped aboard a Venezuelan ship, then transferred to a Japanese cargo ship, where they spent about three weeks on the way to San Antonio, Chile. And it was to the American embassy of all places, that they turned and were given refuge—and plane tickets back to the good old USA. Plane tickets paid for by tax-paying citizens like you and me.
"We were in the thick of it, but we prayed,” said Hannah Gastonguay once the family had safely landed. "Being out on that boat," she mused, "I just knew I was going to see some miracles." Of course the miracle that we would like to witness is for the Gastonguays to pay us back for those plane tickets. But we probably have less than half a chance… especially without God on our side.
Previously by Bob Nickas - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's Anna Wintour