On butterflies, duffel bags, and the end of info tables
Written by Joanna Krawczynski
Okay, I’ll admit it: the idea of campus outreach, like clipboarding and tabling, does get my heart beating a faster out of excitement for these opportunities to reach my peers with the message of life.
Actually doing campus outreach… to be honest, that can get my heart beating for a different reason, racing with the cold determination of nervousness that makes me feel faint. Or nauseous. Or a combination of the two. Either way, I know I’m not the only one (feel free to sing along). However, I also know that if I do not give myself a swift kick in the pants and stop dwelling on worst-case scenarios, I will spend the rest of the afternoon hiding behind my info table or clipboard. And my campus will be poorer because of it.
Rewind a couple months.
It was my first time clipboarding – and we were downtown Vancouver. I was being ignored, misunderstood, turned away, and the courage I thought I had was steadily dwindling. Almost by accident, I walked into the conversation of two tradesmen from Quebec.Both carried grungy-looking duffel bags and wore wrinkled clothes as well as unshaven, though genuine, smiles. The eyes of the younger fellow lit up more often than his cigarette as he talked. The other fellow seemed old enough to be the father of the younger man. The older man’s deep, browned wrinkles told a part of his story that he did not seem ready to share then. His was a fatherly tone, though he was adamant that a woman should be able to abort her child if she will be unable to care for the child after birth. After about a half hour of conversation, I had to run to catch up with my clipboarding crew. But before I left the conversation, the younger fellow stopped me.
“Can I show you something?” he asked. “I want to show you a photo of my son.”
The man’s pride for this little one was unmistakable as he pulled out a school photo of his smiling seven year old, looking smart and bright-eyed. My heart just about melted. The young man shared that he was here on the other side of the country for this little guy, catching jobs to make their ends meet. I went home feeling helpless, torn between feelings of joy for the younger man’s determination to support his son, and sadness for the stubborn resolution of the older man, whose comments conveyed the perspective that children without caring parents are better off eliminated. To follow this logic is to say that it is a greater tragedy to be unwanted and alive, than to be unwanted – and killed. Fast forward about a month and a half. I’m just getting the hang of Vancouver’s transportation system, catching the skytrain home after a day of campus activism. My head is buzzing, trying to debrief the day’s conversations as well as make sure that I get on the right train. As I slide onto the train and carve out a place to stand, the smell of cigarettes makes me catch my breath. There is a pile of beaten-up bags at the feet of a fellow passenger. I lift my eyes, piecing together the baggy pants, layers of clothing, and a salt-and-pepper scruff crowning the unshaven face of a man with deep, browned wrinkles. “Bonjour, Monsieur…!” I greet the familiar face with astonishment.
His eyes wrinkle around the edges as he smiles back, “I did not think that you would recognize me.”
Of course I recognized him, though I was definitely not expecting to see this man, the older tradesman from that afternoon of clipboarding, ever again. The man shared how he was heading back to Montreal after traveling all across Canada for work. The man then paused, motioning to his bags,
“You know, I’ve been here in Vancouver, on the streets. No home or apartment. My sleeping bag is in there.”
The duffel bag lay sprawled at his feet. The man glanced back at me and continued, “You know, my kids, I’ve got five of them. My kids, they are all grown up and established. I gave them all I could. Now it is time for me to live my life.”
Hold on. Where are his children now, and why don’t they seem to care that their father is living on the streets? My heart ached as this man shared the story his wrinkles betray.
How did I not see this earlier? His earlier assertion that an unwanted life is better off destroyed came from a deeply personal place, a place beaten up and worn like the baggage at his feet.
I wanted to do something to help this man, to show him his worth, but the best I could do was to learn his name, shake his hand, and wish him well, as we both had another train to catch.
Reflecting on this, I realize that we have an incredible opportunity as pro-life leaders. We have peers who also carry around with them that heavy feeling of being unwanted. Like the student who was abandoned by his father when his mother decided to give him life. Or the girl whose parents remind her daily that she is not the boy they wanted.
But how can we help our peers to see the value of their lives, if we let the butterflies in our stomachs keep us from reaching out to initiate a conversation?
Okay, granted – maybe they don’t have time for a conversation. Are we doing any harm by wishing them a good day?
Brochures and pamphlets are helpful resources to have on hand, and an info table can be an effective background tool,
but there is a reason why we work with student leaders, not printing machines.
In our activism, let us resolve to reach out and, in doing so, touch the heart of another. We have the opportunity – indeed, the responsibility – to encourage our peers to recognize the value of their own lives, to be voices declaring the profound truth that every life is wanted.