I was on the wrong side of the sign, again, and it wasn’t because of what I believed.
Maybe I didn’t understand how speaking for unborn children could be achieved through silence. If this genocide was true, why would we not be raising our voices to high Heaven where the fetuses are all looking down, cheering us on with their partially formed vocal chords and their not yet developed cell walls? Truthfully, though, I just didn’t read all of the instructions.
I was so excited to be part of the protest– a real stand in the street protest!– that I eagerly took my sign that shamed women I didn’t know anything about on a Sunday afternoon and waited for the resistance. I didn’t anticipate a distraught pregnant teen to crawl down the center yellow line and ask for forgiveness. I expected a cranky early twenty something with her hellbound anti-Jesus ways to scream and show her true colors, while I stood, righteous and strong, with a hymn on my tongue that Christ himself would hear like a glistening diamond to the ear from his throne that sat in the middle of all those aborted babies. I had the truth on my side and a sign in my hand.
So when I took my place and discovered that we were not, in fact, standing in the street, I was a bit disappointed. As Christians, I learned, the truth is something that should not interrupt the flow of traffic, but should instead condemn from the sidelines. I was fifteen, fidgety, and frowning. And I was going to shame souls into accepting Christ, goddammit, one intervened abortion at a time. Or, at the very least, I was going to show what a compassionate individual I was to care so much for these women that I would stand on the sidewalks to keep them from going to Hell. Or Planned Parenthood. Evidently, one in the same.
So with my hands shaking and sweating, I scanned the back of my sign where the lyrics to a few Christian ditties were printed. My options were tough. I never get “How Great Thou Art” started off in the right key. “This Is My Father’s World” is too strange of a melody for me to remember without the organ pumping in the background. I settled on “Amazing Grace.” Classic, I thought. Classy, really. Nobody doesn’t know they’re a wretch, even if they don’t know what a wretch is. And how thoughtful that I might be able to explain through such an accessible song that God could even love them, the baby-killers of Western Pennsylvania.
A deep breath, then I began. A single voice in the long line of sidewalk-standers, citing a clear melody of God’s eternal unending love for us all. How good that I should choose to go first, being that I have such a pretty singing voice! Maybe the pastor from the Baptist church up the street might come down to thank me when our hour is over. Invite me to tea with his wife and kids to talk strategy on how a city hall Christian concert could save the town from saying cuss words and listening to Pink Floyd.
That’s when I noticed the woman standing a few paces left begin to glare.
…I once was lost…
She cleared her throat and began to stare forward again.
…But now I’m found…
She turned to me again and nodded to the back of the sign.
…was blind but now I see!
Another woman across the street gave me a course smirk. I felt confused, but still a little emboldened, and carried on to the next stanza.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…
And that’s when the gentleman on my right held his sign up to cover his face and stared deliberately at the bottom.
…and grace my fears relieved! How precious did that grace– oh.
I finally saw it. There at the bottom of the back of the sign, written bold and underlined and italicized for ultimate emphasis–
PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: THIS IS A SILENT PROTEST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SING QUIETLY TO YOURSELF TO MAINTAIN CONCENTRATION, BUT OTHERWISE MAINTAIN COMPLETE SILENCE IN EFFORT TO REPRESENT THOSE UNBORN WITH NO VOICE TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES.
I nodded a thanks to the man next to me. I looked to the ground and caught the curt nod of the woman to my left in my periphery. I stared for the remaining 45 minutes at the center yellow line, imagining myself crawling up 5th Avenue, begging for forgiveness. I remained there until the last protester walked away, paying my penance of extra time in case my version of “Amazing Grace” caused another ball of human cell matter to be murdered on the spot.
Two weeks ago I stood in a crowd of 15,000 people. We listened to a woman in a bright pink shirt speak of love and justice and mercy and truth. We cheered. We stood as a unit, then drifted down the center of major streets using our voices til they became hoarse.
No one sang “Amazing Grace,” but when a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” began with a single voice, others joined. At first timid, and soon as a chorus. Because when enough is enough, no one stands alone here.
Me? I didn’t so much sing along. I mumbled an occasional chant here and there, but whether I joined in or not didn’t change the exchange of smiles and the brush of hands. Change is afoot, and I was joined by women all over the world to say so. And somewhere between “This is What Democracy Looks Like!” and “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains!” a 15 year stanza was finished for me–
…how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.