The other day I walked away from the DP Challenge: Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.
Ummm, 180 degrees? Got to be rare because I don’t recall any – oh! Wait, I do… It was on September 11, 2001 about 6:00 a.m. Pacific Coast time. Anybody else remember that day? For me, that was the day I went from focusing on debating issues and deciding major decisions such as who our President might be based on one singular issue. For the 2000 election, that issue was a woman’s right to have an abortion, in which, though a Republican, I voted for Al Gore. Watching the second plane crash into the World Trade Center Tower, snapping suddenly awake and realizing my world had changed in a heartbeat. That we weren’t in Kansas anymore. My priorities changed from one breath to the next – first, we had to have a country before we could have a debate and my country had just been attacked. I went from thinking how I would enjoy my next vacation, which involved taking an art class, to how best to serve my country. I have spent the last 11.5 years studying emergency management, terrorism, terrorist groups, and for my Master’s thesis, watching actual terrorist videos showing the beheading of one man after another. Note: it is gruesome enough, but the most horrific is the sound.
Recently though, I have been navigating more 60-90 degree changes, which you can read here and here. The first was returning to Catholicism on tip toe, just circling back to see whether my own heart and vision had changed in the intervening years since my last Mass. My timing was good. This is the year of Welcoming Home returning Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI declaring it a Year of Faith. My experiences have been excellent. Wish I could say I’m 100% in, but I am not. Again, a cautious approach, going from a gingerly dipped toe into the water and I have maybe gotten as high as above the knee in that I do not attend regularly, but I am far more awake and aware than I was before.
The second one was on Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life – and, my, my, my, was that an eye-opener. Not in the way you might think, either. I think I actually walked a half a mile in someone else’s shoes. I had written my post on February 24, which got some interesting comments and dialogue going. I was a little surprised by some of the comments, but had known it was a dicey topic to bring up. And, then the following week just bordered on weird.
There is a national effort called 40 Days for Life and a small group took it up in my tiny town – okay, tiny compared to Los Angeles or Seattle – just a suburb outside Seattle. A quiet, bedroom community that is always courteous with one another. Hmm. As I mentioned in my post, a friend of mine had written a letter to the editor, which was accepted and, in curiosity, I went online to see what reaction it had garnered. There were two or three responses, all from Pro-Choice, all insulting, patronizing and wildly inaccurate. By the time I checked in there were 5 likes for one, 4 for another, and one for the third commenter. No additional comments though, just a quick click of the button to say “Like!” and move on to the next. I read the comments with an appalled fascination.
Always before, I had placed myself firmly on the side of women’s right to an abortion, but in reading the response generated by such a mild gentle post in support of life, I was embarrassed by the ugly vitriol and outright ignorance displayed by “my side,” and worse, the applause they received for it by the “Likes.” And, it all had to do with Planned Parenthood. Not with the issue itself, but with an institution because that was where the prayer vigil was being held. Mind not a protest, but a prayer vigil. All three insisted that Planned Parenthood didn’t perform abortions and that it was disgusting to hold a prayer vigil, far more damaging to women to hold the prayer vigil than the services of Planned Parenthood. Huh. They were so convinced they were right, I went to the Planned Parenthood website, both national and local, to see what it had to say. And, out of a sense of fair play, I responded to all three commenters, unwittingly drawing their fire and ire. I quoted Planned Parenthood’s site, provided the links, and at one point asked why they were so threatened by prayer. God almighty, were they pissed off! The essence of which was “don’t bother me with facts, I know what I know.” Just downright embarrassing for public discourse, never mind public debate.
A couple of days later, I went to the local 40 Days for Life prayer vigil just to see what this was all about, how it was being conducted, and what reaction it was engendering. I parked nearby and walked less than a half block to join this mob threatening women’s rights. It rained all day, and it rained the entire 90 minutes I was there. The temperature was maybe 40 degrees and it was cold. As I approached, I thought maybe it had been cancelled because it was so quiet and wet. I found them by their umbrellas. Four people. Two men and two women, standing on the sidewalk, outside a mini business mall. Planned Parenthood was located out of sight in the back of the business mall and I felt that lessened the impact somewhat. There were some signs posted knee high, nothing in poor taste, nothing shouting “murder” or “baby killer.” Actually the signs and pictures were quite gentle and supportive of women in crisis, offering another choice and support for that choice. The four people had plastic sleeved 8 x 11 notebooks and, without stopping their prayers, my friend stepped out and away to have me sign in (gulp) and gave me a book of my own. We stepped back into the little circle and picked up where they were. Each person took turns reading a couple of lines of prayer and then another, and another. An occasional song, most of which I didn’t know, but gamely tried on. As time moved on and lightening didn’t strike me down where I stood for being in the enemies’ camp, I began to feel as if I had left my body and was standing off to the side observing. Very disconcerting. I am not a protester by nature. I don’t like crowds. I don’t trust crowds and I do my best to never get caught up in one. As a crowd, this group was pitiful and yet, they believed in what they were doing – not in making a choice for women, but in offering women a choice, much as Planned Parenthood does. But what was I doing here?
No one was more surprised than me at my reaction. I got home wrung out and overloaded, so much so that I had to write it out of my system. I don’t think I have ever stood in an unsympathetic environment and invoked God’s name to help everyone make the best decision possible. And, I mean everyone. The mothers, the fathers, grandparents, physicians, nurses, clergy, churches, communities, city council members, state government, federal government, officials and institutions – the list seemed endless. And, we prayed for them on an individual basis. I felt actual spiritual fear that I was trespassing in God’s name and while praying for everybody else, I was most certainly praying for me.