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The Crosswalk

July 31, 2013

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words to talk about abortion and about respecting life. But I’ve got to start with whatever words I have. So in that spirit, let’s oversimplify for a moment. Imagine this scenario. You’re in your car, waiting at a corner for a pedestrian to cross the street, and you are running late for the first of many meetings. It’s just you and the pedestrian, there are no other cars or people around. That person seems to be moving slowly, and you are impatient. Man, have you got a day planned—tons to do! This person is really slowing you down. What can you do? The thought crosses your mind that you can run the pedestrian down with your car and be on your merry way. It wouldn’t take much, that person is so much more vulnerable than you; they don’t have the protection of their own car. And surely they are not going to accomplish as much as you are with their day. Surely not, they are so slow, they are only walking! And it would happen quickly, so you could just move on and not think about it. Nobody would think much of it— heck, most probably won’t even know it happened, not if you do it right.

 But how do you know where that person is headed? He (let’s make him a ‘he’) is clearly on his way somewhere, you just don’t know where. You can’t fathom where. All you know is where YOU are headed. But you will get there so much faster, that poor guy only has his two legs to get him to his destination. What’s the point? It’s going to be too hard for him and take too long. Your plans matter more. He is in your way. He’s holding you back. What’s the point of him walking anywhere? That’s not the best way to get from point A to point B. That’s not the way YOU would choose. “Sorry, guy, you didn’t know you would be getting in my way today, it’s not your fault, but I need to go!”

 So you run him down with the car, and eliminate him from your list of obstacles. He isn’t strong enough or big enough or fast enough to get out of your way and save himself. But that’s just too bad, you had no choice, right?

 Ah, choice. We all have choices. On occasion, there is no choice. Or, putting it a different way, sometimes it feels like there’s no choice, because one of the choices is just so heinously wrong and inhumane that it’s not really an option. But other times, you have the illusion of a choice; you just don’t know what you don’t know, and that heinous option, in the absence of knowledge and perspective, feels like it is your birthright. Funny word, ‘birthright’. Life is not without irony.

 In this case, there are plenty of choices. You can wait, that’s the first and most obvious choice. It would mean that you’d be late, no sure how late, not sure what path would get you back on track to your meeting, but at least there would be nobody dead in your wake. After all, you’d probably prefer for someone to wait if it was you in the crosswalk. So you wait. It’s only fair.

 Maybe there’s someone down the block, a lady, waiting for your slow-moving pedestrian. Maybe as long as you’re already here, you decide you might help him across the street, and into the arms of that waiting lady? How long has she been waiting? There are tears in her eyes, so probably a long time. Sadly she couldn’t make it all the way to the crosswalk by herself, so she’s had to wait where she is. Your pedestrian is also happy, so happy to be with that lady who’s going to help him and care for him—he can only get so far on his own. Maybe you can’t stay with him, you can’t rearrange your day for long, but you still helped him get to where he needed to be! Now there’s not a dead person in your wake. And two people better off than they were when the day began.

 “But he’s going to make me run out of gas. I have so little left.” That’s a tough one. Plenty of us have been there, and plenty of us will never know what that’s like. So let’s start with a purely technical, mechanical approach. If you run him down, you’ll really have to rev the engine. And that burns a lot of gas. You’re not sure how much, so you may or may not have enough left after you finish the job. But revving that engine is going to take its toll, regardless, because your car has seen better days as it is (the check engine light has been on for weeks). Or you might bust an axle, or some other difficult-to-replace part—actually killing a human being is not as simple as you think– and the gas will become a moot point. But you didn’t know! On the surface it seems like the only one in danger here is the pedestrian, how were you to know that you might get hurt? Well, you might. No, you almost certainly will. Because your airbag might deploy from the impact and knock you out, or you could hit your head on some metal as you go over that ‘bump’.  Or, even if your car emerges unscathed, there will be that dead person in your wake. And at the end of the day, you are not a bad person. You just didn’t know what you were doing. But at some point, you will know, and it will hurt. Nobody can tell you when or how, but it won’t just be your car that needs repairs.

 Maybe, though, this whole scenario is unfair, and nobody knows how much YOU are really in need. Maybe the only vulnerable person here is not that pedestrian. Maybe you need help, and if you run out of gas or sustain any damage here at this corner, you feel there will be no recovering. You don’t have any money for more gas, or for repairs. You don’t know where the gas will come from. YOU ARE SCARED. Maybe, then, somebody pulls up behind you—this poor guy in the crosswalk has been taking forever, after all, so now there’s someone else around. Maybe the driver behind you can help you get to a gas station if you get to empty. Or maybe they are in a rush, too, and their hands are tied. You don’t know until you ask. So maybe that other driver backs away and takes another road to get around this intersection, leaving you all alone again. You can’t do the same, this is the only way through to your destination, so you are stuck. You want to cry. Maybe you do cry. You cry a lot, because things are so hard, nobody knows how hard. And then, suddenly, that poor guy in the crosswalk sees that you are crying. He hears the rattling of your engine, or perhaps smells the dirty exhaust from your tailpipe. He stops and turns towards you. He changes course and takes a step in your direction. He’s not in the crosswalk anymore, he’s so exposed and even more vulnerable. The law sometimes protects him, but only when his two feet are firmly in the crosswalk, and even then, only for a certain amount of time. But he continues to walk toward you. You need help, after all. He comes to your rolled-down window and looks in your panicked and overwhelmed eyes.

 “Are you okay?” he asks. He can only move so fast, maybe he has a bum ankle, but he’s managed to make his way to you. You thought you might be stronger than he was, but here he is.

 In between tears, you confess, “I’m almost out of gas, and I can’t get any more. I don’t know what to do.”

 He furrows his brow, his eyes sensitive to the bright morning sun. Then he realizes something and reaches in his pocket. He pulls out a piece of plastic, at first you can’t see what it is.

 “Someone gave me this earlier,” he says. “It’s a gas card, with some money on it, I’m not sure how much. But I don’t have a car. You need this way more than I do.”

He hands you that card, without a second thought, and you don’t know what to say. You didn’t know you would be meeting him today. You thought he was ruining your plans. But you reach out, and you take his hand. You are so much stronger than he is, your legs are healthy, for starters, and you have a car! Yet he has a strength you didn’t know, and his legs are getting healthier every day. For now he can’t get to where he’s going without yours or somebody’s help, and that has seemed like a burden to you. But now maybe you will give him a ride, maybe you’ll go somewhere together. You’re the one doing the driving, but he’s actually helping to carry YOU. You didn’t see this coming. And maybe you didn’t know it, but maybe what you need is him.

 You just never know.

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