I was praying quietly, minding my own business, doing my Rosary/walking meditation, when a guy in the apartment parking lot across the street hollered out and asked me where I was from. Now, I’m basically a trusting soul, prone to give a person the benefit of the doubt, so I answered him in a good-natured way, mistakenly assuming that he was asking in a good-natured way. “I’m from (…)” His reply? “The group earlier was from (…). I wish ya’ll would protest in your own town.”
My response? “If we had an abortion clinic in our towns, we would. But, fortunately, we don’t.”
His response? “I’ve lived here for years and that clinic’s been there. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. The problem around here is the protesters, that’s what the problem is. Killers and protesters.”
And my response? “I don’t think I’m bothering them. I’m not doing any killing. And, um, I was praying when you hollered at me.”
His response? Well, he didn’t actually make any response, I don’t think he even heard me. After he finished his rather rude reply, he stomped to his vehicle in a hurry, flung open the door, jumped in, slammed his door, and sped out of the parking lot on two wheels and zoomed up the street. VAARRROOOM!
Whatever. I didn’t take it personally. I figure he’s been there when some of the “protesters” (you know, we’re “anti-abortion protesters”, not pro-life activists or workers or prayer vigil participants or concerned citizens and fellow human beings) have yelled out at folks pulling up in the parking lot, or at staff members. I make a point of continuing to pray when people enter into or come out of the clinic. I bow my head, keep walking, and pray my Rosary or the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, without stopping, without pausing, without staring at them. Some folks seem to perch like birds of prey, eyes fixed on the door, waiting for it to open, waiting to swoop down upon them and confront them, thrusting literature in their faces. I was even told by some well-meaning fellow “protesters” that I should be doing the same thing because I was there, not just to pray, but to witness too.
To “witness too”? Was I not witnessing by my prayerful presence? I thought that was the main thrust of the 40 Days for Life campaign. And I have talked to people, but I’ve allowed them to initiate the conversations; and they’ve been varied, ranging from questions about Catholicism and my own spiritual journey to folks opening up about events in their own pasts. But I haven’t “pounced” on anyone yet. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. Does this mean that I’m not witnessing or that my witness is somehow lacking or inferior to their own more confrontational way?
As I watch them, I can’t help but think of one of my old boyfriends back in high school. He played bass in a Christian band and I used to go listen to them when they played at various churches. Sometimes we’d spend an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon passing out tracts, some of which, looking back on it, were probably anti-Catholic. (Come to think of it, they were probably those awful Jack Chick tracts, but I didn’t know much about all that then. I wasn’t anti-Catholic and my family wasn’t either; I was simply woefully uninformed.) But I remember how people would look at us when we would try to hand them those tracts.
It’s the same look I see on faces now when I watch people try to hand the clinic patrons the pro-life material. The difference is, the pro-life material is filled with truth and facts and is being shared out of real love and concern for the lives and souls of those men and women and the babies whose lives may be at risk. And those of us who are there primarily to pray are also acting out of real love and concern for these same lives and souls. We’re praying for the conversion of hearts and minds and for the grace and peace and light of Christ to enter into their souls and guide them on their journey home to God.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that the handing out of the literature is very important and so is the getting people to think about what they’re doing and letting them know that there are other options. But I do think that there is a way to do it that is likely to put folks off and a different way that is more likely to help them be more receptive to accepting the brochures or conversation, if they feel less defensive, if they feel less like someone is just standing there waiting to pounce on them, waiting to “judge” them. If you’ve ever learned how to make friends with a cat, you know what I mean. Some folks never do seem to notice how cats like for you to let them come to you, but cat lovers know. I happen to love cats and there are very few down through the years that I haven’t been able to win over by leaving them alone and giving them some space. And being available, but not in their face.
I suspect that the man who pounced on me while I was quietly walking up and down the sidewalk, praying, had witnessed more than a few episodes of self-appointed sidewalk counselors doing what they thought was right with good intentions, and he probably lumped me in with them without ever noticing (or imagining) that different people have different ways of participating in the vigil, never noticing, or bothering to notice, that I’ve had absolutely no interaction with staff members and interaction only indirectly with one patron (who was apparently being threatened by a partner who may or may not have been her husband and who wanted her to have an abortion which she herself did not want; I don’t know how all that finally turned out). He lumped us all together as, well, probably as “right-wing extremists”, thanks to so much of the media, the same media who insist on calling us “anti-abortionist” and refuse to call us pro-life, which is an issue, or a spectrum of issues, much broader than abortion, though abortion is a very important issue within that spectrum, to be sure.