This series began with “Riffing the Life Fantastic“.
(Part 2 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
“Does god speak to you?”
The elderly woman I had accosted lowered her sign and glowered at me. Her compatriot in defending the entrance to the Chicago abortion clinic against possible clients, a stout man whose sign read ‘Adoption not Abortion’, was too busy attracting the attention of passing motorists to notice her reaction. I don’t usually start conversations this way, but I was still shaken from trashing my motorcycle on the highway. Besides, how could I ignore a sign that said, ‘Democrats Support Murder’?
“I’m protesting here legally,” she said, her words slow and distinct, clearly a coached response. Her voice may have exuded a practiced calm, but her fearful eyes told a far different story. When I imagined the world through her eyes, the cold blue city sky took on a somber hue; the bustle of passing cars and people loomed with unspoken malice. Man, this woman has grit.
“I don’t dispute that, ma’am,” I said as amiably as I could, while shaking off the borrowed anxiety. “But I would like to know whether this political stand is your idea, or whether it was a revelation from god.”
Bob, the oddball whose mission to change D.C. I’d joined on the eastbound bus the state trooper put me on after my crash, was hanging back a few steps. I don’t think he fully understood the quandary I was in. I’m not so sure I do myself, come to think about it.
“Certainly, you must realize,” she said, her eyes narrowing, “that murder is a sin. That’s God’s law, not mine.”
“The Ten Commandments, sure. But god also directed his chosen people to kill. Look, all I want to know is how to recognize divine intervention when it happens. So many people claim to have been directed by god to do one thing or another, and I want to know how that feels. So please… does god speak to you?”
I must have gotten a bit demonstrative, because the stout guy at the curb was closing rapidly. “Is there a problem, Rose?” he called over the traffic noise.
She nodded. “There might be in a minute, Vic, if this young man doesn’t leave me alone.”
Vic swung his sign behind him in his left hand, and jabbed his right pointer and middle fingers in my face. “I’d advise you to keep your distance, bud. We’ve been permitted by the city for this demonstration, and we have no intentions of it turning violent.”
Bob chose that moment to intercede. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’d like to apologize for my friend here. Ben has just been through a life-changing trauma, and he’s desperately in need of spiritual guidance. He saw you and sought your help. So if it’s not too much trouble, could you do us both a favor and try to answer his questions?”
They both relaxed at the unexpected invitation to proselytize. Vic considered me for a moment, and then said, “What is it you want to know?”
“I’d asked your associate here if god spoke to her. But what I really want to know is how you can be sure that the voice you hear is really god.”
Rose touched my arm. “Have you been hearing voices?”
“No, ma’am. Not voices. Memories. I sometimes remember what’s going to happen before it does. And until this week, I’ve been following those memories. It’s made me a fortune. Twice.”
Concern clouded her face. “But now you’ve begun to doubt these memories? You saw it as God’s hand guiding your life, and now you doubt it?”
“Doubt it? I trashed my motorcycle trying to live through one of those memories. What do you think?”
Vic’s jaw drooped. “Do you mean to say that you’ve been guided by the Devil?”
“Dear God!” Rose’s eyes grew wide.
“No, no, no. You don’t understand. I’ve had these memories ever since I was a kid. I think they’re the life-plan that my divine self worked out for me before I was born.”
“Your divine self?” Bob murmured. “Watch it, kid.”
“Now see here,” Vic spat. “That’s blasphemy!”
“Good grief! Is it so difficult for you to believe that we all have a spark of divinity? Come on. We’re supposed to be cast in the image of the creator of the universe, for god’s sake.”
“I’ll not have you taking the Lord’s name in vain like that,” Rose warned. “If you can’t be civil, then you can just walk away right this minute and let us get back to our work.”
It took me a moment to catch my breath. Not having a prefab path through life charted out is dangerous. Damn. If that divine self of mine is going to just wing it like I was a jazz improv, I’m going to have to find a way to recognize what it’s doing. “Ok. I’m sorry. I apologize. It’s just that the world that I thought I knew just ended, and I don’t have clue one about how to live my life any more.”
“A lost soul,” Rose said happily. “Well, then.”
While Rose and Vic were salivating over the prospect of saving my immortal soul, I noticed a very disturbed young woman drifting down the opposite sidewalk, eyeing the clinic entrance. She had the haunted look of someone forced to look down the muzzle of a loaded future, and I suspected that she was desperate to get the stink of whatever despicable slime had impregnated her out of her womb. And standing between her and that very specific form of salvation were two people she most certainly had no wish to deal with. Fortunately, Rose and Vic had their backs to her, and I was determined to keep it that way until she’d gone safely past.
Turning my attention back to the two self-appointed guardians of other people’s morality, I had a sudden inspiration. “Take you two, for example,” I said, edging around a bit to give the young woman some cover. “Standing guard like this in front of a place that probably disgusts you must take a lot of nerve. I’d have to guess that you feel its something of a sacred mission to do this every day. You do… do this every day, don’t you?”
Vic’s stance strengthened perceptibly. He waggled his sign and glanced at it. “This isn’t just some focus-group tailored sentiment. I was adopted myself. And I’ve adopted kids of my own.”
I nodded appreciatively. “I’ve got nothing but admiration for your choice of message, sir. But I’ve seen other abortion clinic protesters with signs that were utterly repulsive. To me, that’s nothing short of terrorism, a horrific assault on women who don’t come to clinics like this of their own choice. When a woman is assaulted sexually and impregnated, the greater sin is to force her to give birth to a child born of violence like that.”
Rose was shaking her head. “But even so, that unborn child is a life, and all life is sacred.”
The young woman had stepped into the street, so I edged around a bit further to keep Vic and Rose facing the other way.
Bob must have caught on to what I was doing, because he stepped around me and put in his own two cents. “I’ve heard that before. Funny thing, though: the same people who seem to rely on that argument never seem to apply it to the other kinds of killing that goes on in their names. Wars, for instance, and capital punishment. Are you also opposed to that?”
“Which brings me back to your sign,” I said, pointing. The young woman hurried past while Rose was turning her sign to face me. I think she smiled. I quickly reached towards the sign to keep the two protesters’ attention on me. “What exactly did you mean with this? Democrats aren’t all of one mind on either abortion or war.”
“Maybe not,” she said with conviction, “but enough of them are in favor of letting unborn children be murdered in places like this to keep the rest of us from overturning that horrid Supreme Court decision.”
I was so relieved that the young woman had safely reached the door to the clinic that I closed my eyes for a moment and relaxed. This startled Vic into quickly looking around, and he caught sight of the clinic door swinging shut. He straightened reflexively and shot me an angry look.
“So that’s what this has all been about,” he said. “You were drawing our attention away so your girlfriend could get past. Get the hell out of here, the both of you!”
Rose brandished her sign at me as well. “Shame on both of you!” she yelled as we turned to go. “Feigning a crisis of the spirit just to distract us from our holy work here. I’ll tell the others about your deceit. They’ll be ready if you ever try it again!”
And that was it. All that worrying about how I’d know what my higher self had planned for me evaporated in an instant. I had my answer. I knew what I had to do the moment I saw that young woman.
“You know, Bob,” I said when we reached the corner, “I think I’m going to be all right now.”
“Yeah. It’s not like before, though. I didn’t walk into the situation with a clear memory of what was about to happen, like I used to. But partway through, when I saw that young woman approaching, I had the strangest feeling.”
“Not this time. The moment I saw her, I got a flash of the paths her life could take. On one, she walked timidly past the clinic rather than risk a confrontation. And because she balked at that challenge, she backed down again and again after that. She was trapped in a pattern that snuffed out any chance of escape. The miserable cascade of indignities that followed was exacerbated once she had her rape baby, because her family never forgave her for it. She ended up dying in a dirty apartment before the kid was five. It was heartbreaking.”
Bob slowly shook his head. “That’s terrible.”
“If she’d crossed the street, and I didn’t distract those two, she’d have gotten into a screaming match with Rose, but at least she would have had the abortion.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“It’s not,” I said, “but a video clip of the incident ended up on the Internet, and her family went ballistic on her anyway.”
“Well, did you also see what would happen if you acted to protect her?”
“That was the strange part. I did, but not until after I chose to act. In that instant, I saw all the things she would go on to do because I’d chosen to make sure she got into the clinic without incident. That changed her life’s path just as certainly as not getting picked up after trashing my bike changed mine. I think I’m going to be all right.”
“That’s great, Ben. You’ll have to tell me what you see when we start talking to people in government.”
The story continues in “Fairy Dust“.
Copyright 2010 by P. Orin Zack