Over forty years ago, the Supreme Court coopted my mother’s birthday by deciding Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. Over and above her prolife convictions, the ill-timed anniversary keeps the yearly March for Life pretty high on my mother’s radar screen. Recently, she encountered a store clerk who, after checking her ID for a purchase, remarked, “Oh, we have the same birthday!” He in fact was born on Jan. 22, 1973, and confided, “I hate having my birthday on the day abortion was legalized.”
The date, and the grisly reality it represents, and the yearly massive memorial of its victims in the March for Life in Washington (about 400,000 marchers took part last year in DC –an amazing turnout for a resistance effort that has been underway for over forty years) are also pretty high on the radar screens of prolifers in general, and large numbers of Catholic parishes sponsoring buses, and hundreds upon hundreds of high schools and colleges that send groups there.
Aspects of the March also intrude on the attention of many DC workers, who encounter extra bus traffic, poster-carrying young people clogging their Metro cars, and early-morning crowds of kids patronizing Union Station’s food court after camping out in a nearby church basement or school auditorium.
On the other hand, even a few blocks from the March route, most of the city’s population manages largely or wholly to ignore the event. It tends to receive sparse media coverage, and nowadays most people who get their news online find it easy to ignore whatever happenings they’d rather not focus on.
And in fact we all tend to tune out events we don’t want to focus on. A few days ago, for example, my 30-year-old son stopped by for the evening and turned on the Golden Globe Awards. It’s been years since I’ve voluntarily watched an awards show, and I don’t think I’ve ever caught the Golden Globes before, but I eventually worked out that it covers both movies and TV.
Being largely clueless about the television fare, which I don’t normally sample, I found almost everything nominated in the TV arena unfamiliar, though I soon learned that the title of “Transparent” is a pun because it features a transgender situation. I picked that up when the winners of the awards it received expressed how deeply they felt about the rights of transgender people and how greatly they empathized with them.
In addition there were scattered references – partly in the context of “The Imitation Game,” the movie about World War II codebreaker Alan Turing – to the struggle for homosexual rights and gay marriage. Aside from expressions of solidarity with the French and a joke at the expense of Bill Cosby, these were the primary “moral” notes sounded in the hour or so I watched.
It set me to wondering what, aside from the Super Bowl and a decreasing number of other cultural demilitarized zones, the worlds of the Right-to-Life Marchers and the Golden Globe nominees and attendees have in common. (And yes, I know the marchers nowadays include a small contingent from the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, bless ‘em. But in a Venn diagram their numbers would constitute only a sliver of those identifying with their sexual preference.)
Of course, “Two Nations” talk, which tends to deconstruct complex affiliations and alliances into two monolithic opponents, often ignores much to explain a little. The rich and the poor, the North and the South, the black and the white, the red states and the blue states, are categories that often omit or oversimplify people, families, and communities in all of their variety. In real life we are well acquainted with how irritatingly (or sometimes charmingly) inconsistent people can be in opinions or actions.
Still, it is difficult to imagine a time (apart perhaps from the Civil War era – which does not augur well!) when Americans aligned their moral compasses on so many important issues in ways so directly opposed to one another.
Life and death? One side supports abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia while the other opposes them. Family structure and “gender” issues? One side supports gay marriage and identifies an expanding collection of (in their view) oppressed genders, while the other side supports marriage as traditionally understood and has no problem with distinguishing between right and wrong, normal and abnormal.
God? One side basically distrusts him and his adherents unless He and they are confined to a circumscribed, purely “spiritual” role, while the other acknowledges God as Creator and Lord and evaluates human plans and actions according to how they correlate with God’s laws and purposes.
It is hard to imagine more elemental issues than these. It is harder still, unfortunately, to imagine compromise, or even long-term peaceful coexistence, across such “either-or” categories. And let’s make it clear: Under the current circumstances, the side I envision breaking such peace as we still have – the side that has already in legal and rhetorical ways broken peace – is the side championing what St. John Paul II long ago fingered as the Culture of Death.
The young folks predominantly populating the March for Life radiate, as young folks often do, buoyant optimism. They will need it in the times ahead.