She had a large backpack, almost as big as she was. Petite and sinewy, she looked like someone who would face any challenge that came her way without the least bit of fear. She was deeply tanned, her black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, with worn hiking boots that suggested she had walked many miles in them. Where was she going? Where had she been?
Every year on Respect Life Sunday, our parish participates in the annual Life Chain. In the hadful of them I’ve joined, about fifty or so people take the short walk from the church to the highway that cuts through our town, and stand on both sides of the road holding signs that say things like, “Abortion Kills Children,” “Abortion Hurts Women,” and “Jesus Forgives and Heals.” In this past Sunday’s Life Chain, I held one that said “Pray to End Abortion.” We stand quietly for an hour or so, many praying or meditating. Some motorists will beep their horns and give a thumbs-up; others shout not-nice things and flash obscene gestures. (After I’d seen a few of those I had to stop looking at the cars that drove by. It made me sad, mostly; and I couldn’t help but wonder why those people seemed so angry. I really didn’t want to think about that.) There is always at least one priest participating. This time two of our priests came to the Life Chain, and one from another parish several miles away joined us as well.
After about an hour of standing and praying, participants begin to trickle away. I’m never the first one to leave, nor the last. This time I waited until about half of the participants had gone. After crossing the highway I noticed the priest from the parish up the road walking a few paces in front of me, still carrying his sign. It was just like mine–“Pray To End Abortion.” Then I saw the young woman with the backpack, walking toward us. She turned to Father with a scowl on her face. I wasn’t close enough to hear what she said to him, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “Good afternoon, Father! What a beautiful day this is!” Whatever it was, she said it in anger. Since Father’s back was to me, I couldn’t tell whether or not he spoke to her.
My first thought was, “How sad.” Then I found myself wondering what she’d said, and if he hadn’t been a priest, I might even have asked him. The nerve of some people, I thought; daring to be rude to a priest! Then I wondered, what’s her story? What made her so bitter toward those of us who take a stand for the lives of the unborn? She didn’t even look at me when she passed. When Father arrived at his car, instead of asking him what the girl had said, I just said hello and introduced myself. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I was on my way. By the time I returned my sign and got in my car I had pretty much forgotten all about her.
I needed a few sundries from the grocery store, and I drove back down the highway past where we all had stood. Everyone was gone. That’s it, I thought; another Life Chain is over, until next year. As I pulled into the store parking lot, very close to where the Life Chain had been, there she was. I figured she must need to stock up on some things for her journey. I said a quick prayer, asking God to give me the right words to say if she confronted me. (I somewhat arrogantly thought, of course she’d remember me, the lady in the 40 Days for Life baseball cap.) I parked the car and started to head inside. I noticed her talking with another woman who was loading her vehicle with groceries, and assumed (wrongly) that they knew each other. As I passed I heard her say “…something hot to eat.” Then she walked away, which at first seemed rather odd. As I entered the store it finally dawned on me: She was asking for money to buy food!
What to do? Poor thing, she must be tired and hungry. I don’t know why she is here all alone with a backpack. Okay, she doesn’t seem to like priests or pro-lifers much, but that doesn’t matter. So did I run back out the door and offer to buy her a meal? Did I try to help her find a place to stay? Of course not. I’ll buy an extra loaf of bread, I thought. I’ll pick up a two cans of chili instead of just one, and maybe some sliced cheese. For the next half hour I happily added things to my grocery cart. By the time I left the store she was gone.
I hope and pray that she found a good soul that would help her. Someone who, unlike me, wasn’t content to take the easy way out. You know something? Every day (well, okay, on the days that I actually pray) I pray for the courage to love and to serve. On this day He put an opportunity to do just that right in front of my face, and I blew it. All I can do now is ask Him to forgive me in my weakness, and to help that poor girl. And when I see hunger and poverty and injustice, that I will get off my moral high-horse and do something about it.
Now let me publish this post before I change my mind and delete it.