“I don’t understand why it has to be so cold,” I mumbled while collecting the extra layers needed for the day.
After a necessary hiatus, my first day back praying at our state’s only abortion facility in the new year would happen in bone-chilling weather. Dreading the cold that would soon nip mercilessly at my face, I dawdled a bit.
But the diversion wasn’t without merit. It had given me time to do some necessary errands; among them, finally following the lead of the heavy-hitting prayer advocates – those who travel from distances and/or stay the duration – by investing in the packaged hand and toe warmers that could make a day spent in the elements tolerable.
Holding the warmers in my hands, my courage returned. Bring it on, frigid weather!
As I arrived at the sidewalk, my friend’s rosy cheeks and chattering teeth told the reality. Midway through the rosary, I offered her some warmers, then we finished the petitions.
It was around decade four that they appeared, possibly a mother-daughter duo. Just a short while before, another pair like this had come through. The person who’d looked to be the mom then had assured me, “She’s not going in there for that.”
But if not for “that” then what? Why bring a loved one to an abortion facility for a procedure that can be done by healthcare professionals truly committed to “first do no harm?”
Her unsolicited defense had indicated, at the very least, an aware conscience, and I found it interesting that the second mother to arrive with her daughter also had a response ready. “You don’t understand,” she whispered, just before slipping into the corridors of that dank entryway.
As the pain and helplessness in her words lingered, a response formed in my mind.
No, I can’t possibly know or understand the circumstances that led you here. But based on stories of others who’ve been here before you, I do understand the tragic ramifications of killing the very thing – the person – who may well have been the saving grace in this hard-to-understand situation.
It wasn’t judgment I wanted to present; rather, the jarring truth and beautiful potential of life that those consumed by fear forget. But those with whom I’d have shared these thoughts were no longer in view. Instead, they were busy prepping for a procedure that would violently banish a tiny, beautiful life from this world forever.
“I don’t understand,” I heard myself saying.
A short while later, I sat gratefully in the warm sanctuary of St. Mary’s Cathedral, and soon, my friend and I felt the presence of another person near us. He’d come in from the cold, too, warmed mostly by liquor, as indicated from the odor. His movements were loud, awkward, and out of place.
Like a child, he watched our every move and followed along the best he could. As the priest prepared the altar, he turned back toward me and, pointing to the front, asked, “What’s he doing?” I offered a brief explanation, quickly recognizing he wasn’t Catholic and didn’t understand the magnificent thing taking place.
Though my friend tried to redirect him away from the Eucharistic line when the time came, he ended up slipping through anyway, though likely thinking it just bread, a bite to eat. “Forgive him, Lord,” I prayed. “He doesn’t know what just happened. He doesn’t know it was you, and that he wasn’t supposed to.”
Once in the pew again, he shifted about, then all at once, turned to me once more, exuberant. “That made me stronger!” he proclaimed, almost giddy.
Amazingly, despite his inadequate preparation, it seemed he’d been affected deeply, truly by the Lord’s holy presence in the host he’d innocently consumed.
Momentarily, my mind drifted back to the sidewalk, to the second woman. You don’t understand. I looked at the man in the pew. He doesn’t fully understand. I thought of my own utterance earlier. I don’t understand.
And I realized that somehow, despite all the confusion of this world, God is taking care of things in his own way, and will set everything aright.
Lord, though I don’t always understand your ways, I do trust in you and want to serve you. Be with the hurting women. Be with the hurting men. And help me be among those who alleviate the suffering of both, in whatever small ways I can.
As of this writing, I’m preparing to leave with the Shanley High School students on their pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., for the 45th annual March for Life to end abortion. Please pray that the impact in our hearts from this journey will linger on through the year, even beyond our understanding.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s Feb. 2018 issue.]