Sunday, September 27, 2020

Forty Days for Life®--And Mine

Something happened during one of our "40 Days for Life®" prayer a mid-sized, San Francisco Bay Area town

It was very quiet, no foot traffic in and out this day, because the Planned Parenthood clinic was closed for an afternoon meeting. Another woman and I were praying the rosary off to the side: she was standing in a walkway between the building and the small parking lot, and I was sitting on a folding chair in the shade of a sidewalk tree. It was a warm and sunny afternoon in the fall, and we both needed our sunglasses. From my vantage point I could see along the front of the building, past the front door to the street corner. We held our rosary beads; I also held the large, scriptural prolife sign I’ve used for a long time.

I have taken part in the “40 Days for Life” international prayer vigils for several years, originally outside the small Planned Parenthood clinic in our county and now in front of their newer, more central location, where surgical abortions take place at least once a week. Our city is not very big and our 40 Days group is small, but it is a dedicated group.

The local organizers have a policy that there must be at least two people present during all vigil hours, for safety’s sake. We seldom if ever encounter the kind of opposition or violence that sometimes takes place in larger cities. Incidents do occur from time to time, however, and people sometimes gang up on a solitary person praying, so no one is ever to be there alone.

While we were in prayer that afternoon, a woman drove by on the opposite side of the street. She rolled to a stop because of the traffic light, then glanced out her window--and read my sign. She immediately leaned out her open window, gave me the middle finger gesture, and then yelled, "YOU should have been aborted!" I looked after her in disbelief as the light changed and she sped away.

Her reaction really struck me. The middle finger, cursing, thumbs-down signs--those don't really bother me very much any more. I’ve gotten used to those. But that sentence did bother me, for some reason.

I was still trying to process it as we finished our prayers. I told the woman with me what had happened and what had been said, because she hadn’t been facing the street at
that moment. She stared at me, astonished and shocked. We talked about it for a while and then sat in silence, but those words continued to bother me.

A short time later, a man in a motorized wheelchair came around the street corner, just beyond Planned Parenthood's front door. He stopped, leaned to the side, and looked as if he was talking on an in-ears headset. Then he started forward, toward us. As he came nearer I braced myself, wondering if he would get in our faces and harass us. People do, sometimes, when they see us praying. You get used to that, too, but it can be upsetting.

As he came closer, though, he looked right at me and started smiling. Because I was sitting on my folding chair we were at eye level with each other. He stopped close to me, only about a foot away, and said, "Every time I pass by here I lay hands on this building, and I pray that the women who come here will go somewhere else." As he was speaking, I took off my sunglasses and looked straight into his eyes. He ended with "God bless your work here." Then he started up his motorized chair and continued on his way.

As I watched him leave, a sense of peace and calmness washed over me. Under my breath I said, “And God bless what you do, too.”

It wasn't until days later that I realized why the "YOU should have been aborted!" shout bothered me so much.

The following week, during another prayer shift, there were three of us present, including one of the leaders. We were in the middle of our prayers when two young men stopped in front of us--one short, one tall, both very young (it became clear during the conversation that they were probably older middle schoolers).

The short one was the spokesman, while the other merely stood and listened. The speaker asked about my sign, an old “40 Days for Life” one, which says, " Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you -- God" [Jeremiah 1:5]. It was clearly his way of creating an opening for talking, which continued for about 15 or 20 minutes. He brought out all the usual talking points, but not in a belligerent way. It was more of an "I don't know anything else because this is all I've been told" kind of way. Each point was well-countered, mostly by the leader and the other woman present. After each response, he went on to the next talking point. But he listened, and the taller one really listened (I
watched his face). They were polite and respectful; they even excused themselves when they finally had to leave.

At one point, the speaker brought up the issue of "unwanted babies". I answered that one, by telling him that I was adopted--that my birth mother had resisted pressure to either abort me or marry my biological father. Instead, she carried me to term and gave me up for adoption, by a couple who could not have children: my mother and father (who went on to adopt other children). I told him that I was deeply grateful to my birth mother for the gift of my life.

After the young men left, I started thinking more about what I'd said to them, remembering the few, but important, facts I knew. My birth mother had cared enough for me to reject abortion. I was a real person to her, and she was adamant that I should live. She even gave me a name at my birth, a name which is on my legal adoption papers. It isn’t just a placeholder name, like "Baby Smith" or some such--she gave me a full, three-part, personal name that obviously had meaning for her. No one now knows that name except me and her--if she still lives--because my adoptive mother and father are both dead.

Pieces started falling into place then until the whole picture was clear to me. That woman's shout, "YOU should have been aborted!" hit me as hard as it did because I so easily could have been aborted. I so easily might never have existed.

Never born. Never having lived.

And that's why it bothered me so much, I believe. Because it had been so possible.

Copyright, 2019, by Mary M. Isaacs

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