I was going to write about Halloween today. I typically do that this time of year, and it was perfect, with Halloween landing on a Friday and all. I had some really neat stuff to share about the origins of the holy days that started the whole thing off and the roots of some of the customs.
But my plan came to a screeching halt when a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her downtown Wednesday to pray in front of North Dakota’s only abortion facility, and this happened:
I’ll explain more about the photo in a minute, but first, let me lay out the day.
This wasn’t the first time we’d joined up to do this. Our city is just ending its 40 Days for Life initiative for the season, and my prayer partner and I wanted to make sure we did our part by taking time out of the busy to pray for these little babies and their hurting mamas.
The week prior, we’d actually been there with one of the world’s leading pro-life advocates, Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. But the day we spent with Fr. Frank out on the sidewalk wasn’t an abortion day. Good, because we didn’t have to confront what happens at the facility on a weekly basis. But bad, because in the safety of not seeing it, we can be deceived, forgetting that it really does happen.
We didn’t necessarily seek out going on a Wednesday, abortion day, but that’s the day that seemed to work best with our schedules. It’s almost always tense on those days, and yet there tends to be a heightened sense of purpose, too, especially when women begin filing through those doors just beyond the green “carpet” that precedes the building.
Come to think of it, this really is an appropriate subject for Halloween. This abortion stuff is downright scary, and pretty dark.
Sometimes, we cry at the sight of those women being ushered in, the escorts flanking them to protect them from the pro-life “bullies.” (They don’t want anyone to know that what we mostly do there is pray and sing and offer a witness of hope.)
The friend who comes with me to the sidewalk is my hero, as are the others who gather there, especially on Wednesdays. It’s hard.
We don’t get filled up with emotion just because we know the women will be taking part in the killing of their own children, but because we also know that they are confused, hurting, and almost certain, in despair.
We want to be a face of someone who cares. They might not receive us that way, but speaking for myself, that’s what I want to convey. There is usually only a short time when any kind of exchange is possible. We who are there praying know we only get a brief chance…to say a word of truth, to try to say a word of love, to give them information, perhaps, that will help them change their mind.
We know minds aren’t changed often, but even one changed mind is worth our efforts, we feel. It means life. It means one more tiny person whose life was set in motion will have a chance to experience the wonders of living. It means one more mother will not have to live with regret; regret that is oftentimes stuffed down so deep it manifests in disguise, as something other than what it really is.
These Wednesday visits can get intense, but the tension this week was more acute than I’d experienced in the past. It started as we arrived and noticed the barriers from road work, which had the escorts scattered more and in greater numbers than what I remembered from times past.
The escorts seemed to be having a good time, laughing and giggling together. They’d brought out some snacks — donuts and crackers — and intermittently were jamming to music, dancing on the sidewalk.
In between the dancing and munching, they would stop to escort a woman inside, where she would get in line to await the extraction of her baby from her womb. (sad face…)
Now, back to the woman with the sign. Obviously, she was trying to mock us. I posted this on Facebook and there was quite a conversation thread over this visual.
At one point, she was inching a little too closely toward two people standing near the curb with their signs. From her actions, she seemed hostile, and I began to feel protective of the woman nearest her who seemed about my mother’s age. I wouldn’t have been okay with someone talking to my mom like that. I stepped up and in between them.
Terse words were exchanged, but even then, I tried to be loving in this difficult discussion, even as f-bombs were flying at me and the others. I know that these people protesting our prayerful protests are not the enemy. They are God’s children too. But, The Enemy has them in his grasp. So I try to look for a sign of their goodness. I wanted this women to know she is loved. She wouldn’t accept my words.
I didn’t feel threatened, though. I felt protected by the armor of Christ and Our Blessed Mother. I felt called to be bold, but not harsh. I wanted her to feel some spark of goodness, in herself or in me, even as she spewed hateful words my way.
After a while, a policeman came up to her. He’d driven by earlier and had seen her in a confrontational stance, it seemed, and asked her to tame it down while reminding her of where to stand.
It felt like a little sign from God. This policeman is my hero.
After he left and she quieted down, out of nowhere, it seemed, a tall man in a white jacket — a doctor — appeared. He stood next to the angry woman (whom I am naming Therese so that I can hold her in prayer with a name). For a moment I wondered if he was an abortion doctor. But when he turned around and caught my wondering eyes, he showed me his Rosary beads. So I knew he was with us.
And what a witness, really. What a beautiful witness. To take time out of a busy day as a physician seems a little more than ordinary. At one point he and “Therese” got into a verbal exchange, and he explained to her that, as a physician, he was there to uphold life, as he had promised to do when he took the Hippocratic Oath.
This doctor is my hero, too.
It’s interesting in many ways. The newspaper for which I write as a columnist is located less than a block from the abortion facility. I know there’s no way they can come over every Wednesday and cover what’s happening at the sidewalk in front of the Red River Women’s Clinic. But I can’t help but think they might be missing out on some of the biggest drama going down in the city every week.
I’d rather it weren’t the case. But until that light-filled day when we can, as a society, agree to alternatives other than death to address unplanned pregnancies, I’ll keep praying, whether as a live witness on the sidewalk or wherever else I happen to be.
God be with us…