January 29, 2015
Weekly letter to the Bishop Chatard High School parent community:
This week I would like to share a reflection written by Jennifer Klee, a BCHS teacher and moderator of our Pro-Life Club. She shares her experience of attending the March for Life last week, including getting stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for over 24 hours due to the blizzard that hit the Washington, DC area.
Here are her thoughts:
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to help chaperone the North Deanery trip to Washington DC for the March for Life, and as many people are aware, we had quite an adventure on the way home. If you have ever been stranded in a bus on a turnpike for over twenty-four hours, you know that you have plenty of time to reflect. I must admit that more than a little of my reflection time was spent asking myself, Why did I ever agree to do this?
This is my eighth year as moderator of the Pro-Life Club at Bishop Chatard High School, and this was not my first March, nor was it the first pro-life event at which I’ve asked myself, What am I doing here? I am a creature of comfort and a natural homebody, and I usually avoid confrontation at all costs. To be perfectly honest, by these standards, the March for Life is not my “cup of tea.” Still, I am always glad and grateful when I attend, and this year—blizzard and all—was no exception.
Nobody attends the March for Life to be comfortable. The trip requires getting up early to ride a bus all day, sleeping on the floor of a church, not showering for two days, marching in the cold, and riding the bus back home through the night, all while being forced to confront the horrors of abortion. And that’s if everything goes according to plan. This year, being stranded added to the discomfort: extended time without showers or toothpaste, another night of uncomfortable sleep, a toilet that was starting to fill up and stink, growing hunger, and the anxiety of not knowing exactly when we would get moving again.
While waiting the long hours, wishing for a coffee or my book (which was packed under the bus), I reflected on the fact that our experience was miserable only from a first-world perspective. We had heat, a bathroom, food, relatively comfortable seats, and the security of knowing that we were safe and would eventually arrive home again. How many of our brothers and sisters can say the same? How many refugees would gladly trade places with us?
Anyone observing the students on the bus would likely not recognize the fact that we were stranded. While some of the thirty-nine students “felt my pain,” many, many more made the most of the situation, playing in the snow on the side of the road, telling jokes over the bus’s PA system, documenting their adventure via Snapchat, playing cards with friends, leading the group in praying the Rosary, and delighting in the few distractions outside our windows: cows at a nearby farm, a mouse in the snow, a young boy going from car to car to scrape snow and ice from windshields, and a couple of young men walking by with baby “fatheads” (we assumed that they, too, were on their way back from the March). I’ve never seen a group of high schoolers so excited by bologna sandwiches and rolls of toilet paper (both delivered by the National Guard midday). Our bus erupted in cheers whenever one of the nearby cars was dug out and sent on its way. Students shared earbuds to listen to music and sing and dance along. And throughout the day, we prayed together.
When I’ve recounted my experience with family and friends who don’t work with high school students, their response has been something like, “Stuck for a day on a bus full of teenagers?! That sounds terrible!” But I believe that God worked through the students to help me through this otherwise unpleasant adventure; they are the reason that chaperoning the March for Life is so rewarding for me. This past weekend, I was reminded, as I am every time I attend the March or another pro-life event, of the students’ endless hope, joy in the face of adversity, and fearlessness in speaking out against injustice.
Though most high school students would hate to be called children, I think they so often exemplify what Christ intends when he tells us to be childlike. As a pro-life adult, I can too easily fall into the trap of despair. Abortion has been legal my whole life. Year after year we march, and there seems to be no real change. Are we doing any good? Why are we here? But the students respond differently. In the March, they smile and laugh, they chant back and forth, “We love babies! Yes we do! We love babies—how ‘bout you?” It is rare to see a grim-faced high school student at a pro-life event. For example, I’ve participated in 40 Days for Life with both adults and students. The adults are solemn, prayerful, silent—an entirely different experience than with teenagers, who sing Christian songs, smile and wave at passing motorists, and cheer every time someone honks encouragingly at them. Unfortunately, the students’ energy is not always understood or appreciated by pro-life adults. Once, while a group of students and I were standing in peaceful protest along Meridian Street after the annual Respect Life Mass, a photographer from a local newspaper approached one of my students and asked her to stop smiling so that she could take a picture of the group. The photographer said, “You’re holding a sign that says, ‘Forgive us and our nation’—you shouldn’t be smiling.” The student stopped smiling, but only long enough for the photographer to take her picture. While I understood the photographer’s point, I wanted to tell her that this child’s youthful joy and hope is exactly what the pro-life movement needs.
The night before the March, one BCHS student organized a project, in which she asked each marcher to write on a whiteboard why they march. She took a photo of each person holding the board with their statement that began “I march because/for.” I was inspired by what the students wrote: “I march because everyone has a right to life.” “I march because I believe genocide is wrong.” “I march for those who can’t.” “I march because the unborn are people, too.” “I march for the 25% of our generation that is not here.”
When asked why I march, I could not articulate my answer on a single whiteboard, and even here I don’t think I can fully explain, but I will try: I march because I believe legalized abortion is one of the greatest injustices of our time. I march because I have witnessed the incredible energy and hope of young people. I march because I believe that these young people are the generation that will bring an end to legalized abortion. I march because I believe that one day all people will recognize the injustice of abortion, and when my grandchildren ask me what I did about legalized abortion, I will be able to tell them that I took a stand. I will be able to say that, although I often fell short, I tried to love and protect all life, and that, although I often failed to do so, I tried to speak the truth with love.
This past weekend was a good (albeit uncomfortable) reminder to me of what being pro-life is all about. Being pro-life is not simply standing up against the evils of abortion. It is bravely facing injustice with hope. It is gratitude for small blessings. It is recognition of the good. It is joy in the face of creation and beauty. It is embracing suffering. It is lifting and holding others up. It is recognizing and appreciating the gift of life in all forms, even when that life is on a stranded bus.