Sunday, September 19, 2004

Community Day in Newark

When the kids were little, I took them each September to Community Day on the Green of the University of Delaware. An all-day fair, it features flea markets, performances by local talent including young kids doing karate, gymnastics and the like. Local civic groups of all sorts had booths, and the Delaware elected officials would turn out especially on years like this when an election was upcoming.

This year I worked at the Delaware Right to Life booth. I feel a bit bruised up inside, and have a new appreciation for what Moira Sheridan and the other folks on the front lines of pro-life activism in Delaware face each time they go out. I had forgotten how angry and confrontational people can get over the abortion issue. I had my own stack of flyers that I was pushing particularly, inviting folks to the Catholic Scholars-sponsored panel discussion in October on embryological stem cell research. I did introduce myself to Congressman Mike Castle, who had accepted our invitation to be on the panel and give his pro-ESC research POV. He is looking forward to hearing Dr. Gomez-Lobo, he says, having talked to multiple scientists who agreed without exception that embryological stem cells are the ones with the greatest potential. I would love to see his list of scientists talked to.

I ran into an old friend, Ben Williams, who was manning the booth across from DRTL, an effort by a historical preservation group to maintain the site of the one Revolutionary War battle held on Delaware soil - the battle of Cooch's Bridge - undeveloped. Apparently, and this was news to me last year when Ben's booth colleague (and, like Ben, my old babysitter) Nancy Willing spoke at a Newark City Council meeting, there is contention among some as to whether this battle ever took place at all. Nancy and Ben had a bunch of cool maps including one in which Lord Calvert of Baltimore apparently got the location of Cape Henlopen wrong and wound up claiming only the bottom most part of the peninsula to make up the colony of Maryland. According to Nancy, Delaware exists because of this misunderstanding, in which the Cape was positioned far south to its real location, and the boundaries between Delaware and Maryland used the erroneous Cape Henlopen location as the line between colonies.

Ben and I are friends but we haven't been in touch for many years. I saw his brother Dan a few weeks ago and he told me Ben had been back in town for awhile. Ben told me today that he worried about what would happen if he saw me again. I can't say I worried about what would happen, just that I thought it inevitable, and hoped it would happen without me initiating contact. And so it did. We took up exactly as we had 15 or 20 years ago, as if no time had passed. I think my clumsiness with expressing my faith way back then helped cause Ben to drop out of RCIA which he had begun. I did not trust the Holy Spirit to work as I have since come to see he does work in folks of good will and openness who go through the process. I hope that I didn't get in God's way too badly then, even though one of Ben's best friends had taken me to task for even encouraging him in that direction.

Funny, the whole time I talked with Ben today, being so happy to see him and self-conscious about renewing our old acquaintance, I had totally forgotten how he was going to RCIA and I was sponsoring him. I don't even remember now how he got started, if I had to do with that or if he just started inquiries on his own. And I'm not going to beat myself up over asking too many questions of Fr. Brubaker during the last session that Ben attended, which was after receiving the cross and going through the first public statement of intention.

But Ben mentioned God several times during our conversation, and I am reminded that every heart receives a constant calling back to its origin, sometimes a loud one and sometimes quiet, and I pray that Ben be under the Mercy particularly until he hears the call loudly enough to try to pursue his pursuer, again.


Anonymous said...

Rae, do you want to talk some more about your experiences in the Right to Life booth? I'm curious: did people just come up with guns blazing (so to speak), assuming that because you're for the protection of the unborn that you're automatically unfeeling about women who don't want to carry their babies? I have many friends on the other side of this issue and I think that's the problem: they see all pro-lifers as being totally uncaring about the woman. That, and they see pro-lifers as having total lack of concern for the child after s/he's been born. We need to fix that. -- Berni

Rae said...

Berni, I would love to reflect more on the day, especially at a week's distance.

For the most part, people did not come out with guns blazing. What they did instead was look at the booth, see who we were, look quickly away and steer a path around us. That was the middle-aged women in particular, the people my age. This is a University town, and by and large women in their 50's are on the pro-choice side with abortion.

The young women came right up and giggled and asked questions. We had a set of dolls that represented babies at various stages in the womb, and someone in our group had had the brilliant idea of putting little knit caps on each one of them. The teenagers loved it, and they would come up and look at the doll, hold it, remark on the in-womb age. Girls and women who had friends or relatives who were pregnant would say things like, "Look, that's how big Aunt Mary's baby is right now." We were giving away little plastic versions of the 11-12 week old fetus, and the teenagers loved those also. With the plastic babies we gave away cards that told all of the things that a child in the womb at that age can do. That evoked the most surprise. People were amazed that at 12 weeks the fetus is a miniature baby, recognizable and already doing many infant behaviors.

The guys by and large stayed away from the booth, both the younger guys and the older ones, except for pro-life men. One group of four male college students came, though, and we had a lively conversation. One of them was a philosophy major, the others seemed to be less thoughtful and more interested in beer. The three beer lovers wanted to get going, but the other guy hung out and so then did they. I tried to talk them all into being Catholic Scholars at UD's guests at the Delaware Right to Life banquet coming up the following Thursday. I almost had them, I thought, then some more people came up and they skeedaddled. We talked to them, before they left, about Rachel's Vineyard Ministries and encouraged them to tell anyone they knew, female or male, who was suffering wounds from an abortion to get in touch with it through us.

It was really just three incidents that left me bruised. One was a woman about my age, who stopped by with her teenage daughter. The daughter wanted to know who we were and the mom said loudly, "These people are against women's right to chooce. They are pro-life people." We engaged her in conversation but she was angry and sort of wild in her responses. Her daughter just looked on curiously. I tried to talk to her about embryonic stem cell research, and that was when I had to get out of there. I explained how somatic cell nuclear transfer worked, and she didn't understand why I said that I thought women donating - for a nice "stipend" - their eggs for this procedure was just another way to use women, especially poorer women who would most likely be egg donors for the rest of us. She said, "You pro-life people don't want anyone donating their eggs because you want all those eggs to be fertilized." Somehow, the way she said it, I just lost my temper inside. To me this not only sounded ignorant but she was trying to tell ME what I want. AND that I want something stupid. I almost lost control, had to take a couple of deep breaths, I said, "I have to get out of here, I'm sorry, I can't talk to you anymore." I walked off as she said that she'd talked too long too. It was touch and go as to whether I would lose control and start yelling at her and calling her a bitch. The thought of pummeling her with my hands while screaming at the top of my lungs at her kept running through my head, over and over, and I was so tempted to do it. I thank God that I responded to the grace not to do it. In the past, I've lost it and done stupid things like that.

I walked away and looked for comfort with a good friend of mine who was at a booth for a co-housing group. She and I differ about abortion but she's a close friend. But as I came up to her, and told her I'd just gotten away in time from decking someone, she showed me the button she had just got at another booth and put on, it said "Keep your laws off my body." That was like a kick in the teeth, and I think the one-two punch is what left me feeling bruised. She and I worked at Outreach in my parish together until recently, when she quit to become more politically active, doing all she could to defeat George W. Bush because she believes he is leading us into Armageddon and also wants to suspend the Constitution and set up a theocracy. Her leaving Outreach felt like a personal rejection because I had recruited her into Outreach, even though I knew it was not a personal rejection and even though I encouraged her to follow her conscience and become politically active against Bush because she felt so strongly about it, and so feared for the future should he get elected. But... but knowing and feeling are two different things. I miss her at Outreach, and I was sad to see her wear that button with enthusiasm. I told her at least it wasn't as bad as "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." But sigh. She was my latest good friend acquired, my discovery of the past year, so simpatico and such a cool person. How it hurts to be in such ideological opposition to someone one loves so much. The heart yearns for union of souls, the mind must follow the dictates of conscience.

Whew. Berni, that was a load off my psyche. I have had that pent up for awhile. Love hurts sometimes, eh?