Would the real bully please stand up?
When I approached the other pray-ers with their rosary beads, and client escorts in their yellow vests, standing outside the abortion facility in Fargo earlier this week, I assumed it would be like most days on the sidewalk.
Which is to say, somber and prayerful, in moments heart-wrenching, perhaps with a few glimmers of hope sprinkled in.
There might be the usual tension between the people who’d shown up to quietly protest the whole operation and those helping to get them into the facility as quickly as possible. There might be the workers from the burger joint next door brushing past on their cigarette breaks. I know I’d see the men holding the signs for our cause planted there, and the lady who hands out brochures eyeing prospective clients, looking for a chance to sow hope.
But as soon as I squeezed into the prayer circle, the whispers of warning that it wasn’t the typical week came. “There’s a counter-protester,” they said, “and he was holding up a Satanic sign a bit ago.”
Even while being cued in, I spotted him, making his way through the crowd of prayer people, getting up uncomfortably close and hurling every manner of insult at them.
The elders continued with their prayers, even as he nestled in with a sign that said, “Never Been Laid,” an arrow pointing to whomever was near. Clearly, his threatening stance and words had thrown them, but their prayers kept them calm. I looked on in disbelief, feeling the need to step into the middle, to protect them. I don’t like seeing people being bullied. And this? This was bullying at its finest.
I caught the tail end of the insult he flung at me here, which was tame compared to other things he said. Sometimes, he would spit near the feet of the person he was talking to.
I’ve never seen anything like it, and I know he wanted it that way. He wanted to get a rise out of us. He wanted to make us squirm. He wanted to scare us off.
It’s interesting, because the Red River Women’s Clinic often refers to those who pray outside their facility as “bullies.” But if a passerby were to have witnessed this scene, I think they would easily recognize the true bully.
Eventually, it was too much, and the police arrived, advancing, questioning, giving him fair warning. He could be there, but there was no reason to not be peaceful.
When the television crew showed up to collect interviews regarding an anti-abortion bill that was being given a second glance, he suddenly turned on the charm for the cute reporter who’d come walking innocently up the sidewalk. I wanted to warn her about him, but something made me stop. I know she had a job to do (story here) and I needed to just let things unfold, and let him have his day in the limelight.
He was there when I left, and later, in the afternoon, someone reported seeing him there still with a few cronies added in for effect. By evening, a mother whose teen son had come to pray with his religious education class witnessed his spewing of lies, including sage advice that prayer would turn their brains to mush and they’d be better off going home and playing video games.
At some point in my own time on the sidewalk earlier, the bully turned into a sad little boy right before my eyes; a boy who, at some point along the way, had been severely disappointed, and even damaged. I saw the empty desire to provoke because something inside him had died and he wanted a reaction, one way or another. I told him that God loves him. I knew full well he may not be able to hear, or properly receive these words, but I had to say them anyway.
After all, we know that bullies, at their heart — and no matter how many negative thoughts they provoke within us — are, at the end of the day, in a very disturbing state. This is why they lash out. And though we will have human reactions to this, and must protect ourselves from harm, we also have a responsibility, as people of God, to look for the moment that might be an opening to bring transformation.
Once we are blessed enough to discover God and His redeeming love, we are bound to show Him to others. This is what God wants – His love for all, eternal happiness in Him for all. And then, after introducing Him to others, we pray for God’s mercy to surround their soul that it might be awakened before it’s too late.
“I have to give him credit for his courage,” I’d whispered to my friend at one juncture, thinking of the effort that had gone into creating the signs with crude messages, and the plot to drive up next to a group of pray-ers, and spend the rest of the day insulting them — that takes gumption.
But it’s also plain sad.
Did he not know he was in the midst of the salt of the earth?
Did he not know that by his divisive actions, he was creating a common bond of humanity between the two opposing sides? Creating an atmosphere that had us seeing each other in a way we hadn’t before?
And does he not know that the good God who thought him up and fashioned his flesh yearns for his child to turn to him and fall into his arms of safety and love?
As I processed the scene, initially, I felt alarmed, and then protective toward those he was verbally accosting. But I knew that he had already lost before he’d begun, no matter what a passerby might see.
“If he only knew,” one of my prayer friends said, “that Satan is over there in the corner cowering from the Hail Marys we just said.” The image, which I believe to be true, brought levity.
How long can you play the part of the lone wolf, howling contempt for those you don’t even know in the midst of them? How long can you hold up hate?
As I got ready to leave for the day, I felt only pity for this soul, so lost that the only way he can respond to the world is by scratching and clawing through the crowds in the hopes of a spark.
Please pray for this man. And may the prayers that covered him that day even as he spewed ugly words, as well as those offered up this minute, envelope him in a mantle of hope, so that he might turn away from darkness and into the light, and toward the sweet surrender of having discovered the precious love of God.
Dear Lord, let him see himself as you see him, as the masterpiece he is, with potential, should he choose to take his energy in another direction, to ignite the world with love.