Ever since I started driving to work a new way a couple of months ago, I've been seeing her. She stands in the same place every day, at the entrance to one of those clusters of buildings you see around hospitals where the non-hospital doctors offer their services (the chiropractors, practitioners of sports medicine, family therapists, and other people you need a referral from your PCM to see). She brings one of a variety of signs: they look like the kind of thing larger organizations hand out to local volunteers and not at all as if she made them herself. They say things like "God loves you and your baby" and "A heart beats at 8 weeks" (or something like that), and one particularly disturbing one featuring what looks like a tiny homunculus that's been drawn and quartered and then neatly laid out on a white cloth. (Yes, I know what it's supposed to be, but who can say for sure what it actually is?)
It's impossible to say what she looks like. She always wears an off-white bulky knit cap (the kind a grandmother would wear, or even make for herself), a long dark overcoat, and slacks, and she has large glasses that obscure my view of her face. She's thin, and she seems to me to be one of those spare, durable older women you sometimes see weeding their two-acre vegetable gardens across rural America. She's almost always alone, although once or twice I've seen another woman there, similarly unidentifiably encased in outerwear (in this case, one of those insulated camouflage suits that hunters wear in deer stands). When she's alone, she props up her sign and occasionally watches the traffic; when the other woman is there, they usually face towards the buildings across the parking lot. Since one of her signs says something like "Pray for the unborn," I assume that's what they're doing. She also sometimes does this when she's alone. And so far, she's been there every day, in some truly terrible weather.
Honestly, for the first month or so that I saw her, I was very angry at her, particularly on those days when she had the putatively dismembered fetus sign. Abortion is legal, the people working in that clinic and the people who go there are perfectly entitled to be there and shouldn't be subjected to this woman's display on their way. And what business is it of hers, anyway? Let her do what she thinks is right and let other people make their own decisions. You can't judge other people's beliefs.
And there it is: if I think she shouldn't judge other people's beliefs, then I'd better not judge hers. The second month I drove by, I asked myself what I would do if I lived 150 years ago near a slave auction. Wouldn't I stand outside every day in the rain if I thought that would stop what I firmly believed to be unequivocally wrong?
I still think she's wrong, scientifically (I lost two pregnancies, and I can tell you that a heartbeat does not equal a viable life; I can also tell you that an early end to a pregnancy does not result in a tiny lifeless mannikin) and philosophically (in many cases, I believe a woman's willingness to have a child trumps the right to life of a collection of geometrically replicating cells). But I respect her for her willingness to act on her beliefs, to put her convictions ahead of her own comfort and convenience. I'm trying to teach myself not to be angry at her when I'm stopped on that street waiting for the traffic light; I'm trying to teach myself to think of her as a sister soul on a long and complex journey, this part of which I'm sharing.
I read. I write. And sometimes I talk about it.
(Issue #20 - free to read)
(Issue #14 - free to read)
(Issue #25 - free to read)
The Far Side of the World: