By Jane Riccardi, Students for Life’s New England Regional Coordinator
I used to think that the dreaded question, “So what do you do?” was an instant expiration date on any conversation, a malignant diagnosis that the Small Talk had metastasized and the interchange was more doomed than a relationship when one of the parties announces “we need to talk.”
Whenever I meet new people, it’s always interesting to see how they react. Many times they smile politely and move on to other topics, but many other times that one simple admission galvanizes a veritable Pandora’s Box of questions, accusations, complains, diatribes. Sometimes it gets awkward, like that one time I found myself discussing ectopic pregnancies while salsa dancing on a Friday night. I mean, there’s a time and place for everything. However, one occasion a few weeks ago solidified my resolve to never proffer an ambiguous “I work for a non-profit,” because the reality that you might be meant to be something for someone struck me anew.
I was grabbing a smoothie and catching up on emails at a local café. It was a vegan café, a detail I mention because it provides some context for the conversation that ensued. Another contextual detail is that I have pro-life bumper stickers on my laptop, one of which reads “Adoption Saves Lives.” I had not been sitting there long, when an older women, upon reading this sticker, approached me rather congenially and said,
“Oh I love your sticker! You’re talking about animal adoption, right?”
Now, I have nothing against animal adoption; in fact, I think it’s a great practice. Nevertheless, I did feel it my duty to disillusion her. “That’s great too,” I replied, “but actually mine is talking about human adoption.”
Her face crestfallen, she turned away, and I heard her friend whisper to her as they left the vegan café, “She’s one of those pro-life people.”
I thought that was the end of the interlude. A few minutes later however, one of the waitresses approached me, also studying the Times Square of pro-life stickers on my computer. “That one is interesting,” she said, pointing to the one that declares, “I Am an Abortion Abolitionist.”
“Thanks,” I replied, and then on a whim asked, “are you pro-life?”
She hesitated. “No, well I don’t think I am.” A longer hesitation. “I had an abortion a few years ago, so I guess that means I’m not.”
And then we started talking for real. Two complete strangers in a vegan café talking about life and loss, relationships and bad decisions, regret and hope. In this case, no job description was necessary; a simple sticker was all the encouragement someone needed to reach out and open up. Two weeks ago was the New England Leadership Summit, at which I spoke to students about not being intimidated by the controversy of abortion. The intimidation is real, because broaching the topic of abortion with a total stranger is kind of like playing Minesweeper (anyone who says they know how to play that game is a liar).
Talking about abortion will always involve some level of hurt, because hurting people is the MO of the industry. When people talk about abortion survivors, they usually mean babies who have miraculously survived the procedure. But in reality, any woman who has been exploited by this industry is also a survivor – left, often alone, to pick up the pieces.
This woman – I’ll call her Sarah – and I only talked for about fifteen minutes, but her story, so ordinary, so relatable, struck a chord. She was young, she loved someone, she thought he loved her back. When he placed an ultimatum on her, she chose him over the baby. She told me how hard that decision was, but she felt like she had no choice. Interiorly, I thought about the brutal irony of an industry that sacrifices women who feel powerless and trapped on an alter to personal freedom. Out loud, I told her about ministries like Rachel’s Vineyard that offer healing retreats for post-abortive women, and gave her the information for the local Boston chapter. She seemed interested, but that was end of our conversation. She went back to work, and I left shortly thereafter.
As I drove home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how relatable her story was. Granted, not everyone has an abortion, but we’ve all done things we probably shouldn’t have done in the name of love.
Each of us is potentially one bad relationship away from being in a position where we will be faced with a choice, and it’s our job to make sure that those who must actually face it are not alone. We must help them, in whatever ways we can, to realize that there is hope, and that they are not alone. We can’t let the fear of a conversation gone wrong prevent us from the dozens of conversations that have the potential to offer hope to those who think they have none. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly question, a compassionate smile, or even a 2 inch x 2 inch sticker.