Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I had a new experience last Saturday. I served as an escort at a highly-targeted Planned Parenthood in my city. It was surreal. It was scary. Not scary like the final scenes from Paranormal Activity, which I had just spent the entire night reliving in terror, but scary in this helpless, pathetic way. Have you ever just watched something bad happen to somebody, and all you could do was...well, nothing. You just watch as if staring out the bus window as you go by, and make a little face, and sigh this sigh that you expect that person to hear, to feel, as a substitute for the genuine compassion and the helping hand that you wish you could offer. You just have to be satisfied that it's enough to get that person through, and that he or she understands on some level that you want to help, you want to be protective, but for so many reasons you just can't.
I didn't have a sign. I didn't have a pamphlet. I didn't have an illustration of an embryo to indicate what would be removed from the uterus. No crucifix, our Lord and savior drenched in blood. No catchy chant, even. I had a bright orange pennie, imprinted with "PRO-CHOICE CLINIC ESCORT". Would anybody even read it, even notice it? What could I give to that young woman, clenching mom's hand, whose eyes darted to and fro to absorb the scenery: dozens of Catholic college students praying for hours on their knees in the drizzle, a vibrant red-head who walked with such a steadiness and spoke with such mild tones you'd think she was offering posies rather than fetal carnage, and an imposing man and wife couple who recited prayers in ancient languages. In the seconds between meeting her on the curb and leaving her at the door, what could I do for her that the antis weren't already doing? Invade her personal space? Talk loudly in her ear? Answer the questions that she never asked? Was it even appropriate for me to do anything? Because her nerves were sufficiently worked, and because her mother was already yelling "Fuck you"s into the crowd, I decided not to pester. I just did what I had been trained to do: I walked.
"Do you guys work for the clinic?"
"No, we're just volunteers."
It was all I could muster, it was all I had time for. But in those few short seconds I saw her expression transform, from quizzical to - was it reassured? She looked back at me for a nanosecond as the security guard buzzed her in. I turned up the corner of my mouth in half smile - half grimmace. It was The Little Face. The face that had to be enough to let her know that I was on her side, that I gave a shit. She came out a few hours later, mom in tow, cigarette in hand. Sweet relief. She walked straight ahead, barely noticing that the crowd had doubled since she'd been in the clinic. No matter. Even mom was tight-lipped, nothing else to say to these people. They walked off "into the sunset", and I watched them go. It was a scene worthy of music (Looks Like We Made It?).
She will never remember me or my Face. She will live to be 100 and all those details will fade. My only hope is that she will remember the fight we put up, outnumbered about 10:1 (at least!). That she will know that some folks are willing to protect her rights and freedoms, not with wordiness, but with steadiness. And that in the lack of actual "things" to do, we can always just stand there in front wearing heinous colors, all for her.