“I’d love to go, but two things: am I going to feel like a chaperone? And do I have to conform to a certain protest ethic? I mean, what if I want to bring my own signs like, ‘Stop the savagery’ or ‘That’s life, whether you like it or not.’ Can I get my digs into moral relativism?”

The good folks at the National Campus Life Network assured me on all accounts and so I found myself – a first-time pro-life demonstrator at 41 – on their 6 a.m. bus departing from St. Timothy’s church in Toronto and heading for some hell-raising in Ottawa. My fellow hell-raisers were generally university kids and we formed an instant kinship in the point of our sleepiness. What I’m saying is we were a pretty subdued busload: two guitarists; one gal with a hippie-braid; and myself, a middle-aged theatre type, notwithstanding.

Breakfast near Brockville perked us up for the singing of a few classic folk songs and in short order, we were on the outskirts of that city to which you send your taxes. Indeed, we were suddenly short on time for doing the four-page pop-quiz on pro-life trivia. Hey, I’ve always excelled in school and I love exams – because I know everything – and so I eagerly took the test and promptly scored 12 out of 36 on this mix of questions from science, politics and entertainment. It’s true: after 40, you may as well be an alien to what’s hip with the kids. But make no mistake, these kids are all right being very hip to – as random examples – stem cell research, Nickelback and Project Rachel.

We spilled out onto the grounds before Parliament Hill, shaking off our bus-lethargy with some quick sightseeing. I’ve always been disconcerted by the architecture of the Supreme Court building, finding it stark and cold and ominous and a bus fellow agreed: “It looks like Dracula’s Castle.” As far as optics go in our showcase city, it’s good this heathen portent is off to the side.
Back on the main grounds I ran into all sorts of familiar folks: a fellow chorister who, after 10 years, was more frazzled than ever; the pamphleteer with whom I disagreed about Iraq; and a cool acquaintance from a young professionals’ group (her temperament? or something I said?). Can’t say I was feeling the love, but still, our raison d’etre that afternoon smoothed over any awkwardness in the encounter.

There were a few speeches – by a contemptibly small turnout of elected representatives – and soon the main event was underway. We were 6,800 strong – a one kilometre-long human life train coursing through the streets of Ottawa. We filled the streets, sometimes singing, sometimes chanting but generally … just walking and talking normally.

Were we ever cheered like marathoners? Were any office workers seen weeping with regret? Were we roused up into rowdiness? No, on all accounts. The streets were oddly empty – and the few citizens around observed us with bemused wonder: a look that said,  “Well, yeah, I’m for life too, but I don’t see the point of marching for it.” I wondered if they knew exactly what we were about. The anti-abortion aspect was played down in terms of slogans and photos on our signs. In general, there were very few signs with any “provocative” content.

There was a counter-protest composed of a dozen people wearing gaudy T-shirts with slogans such as, “I’m pregnant and pro-choice.” A few were 60s leftover hippies and their kids held a rainbow flag. Theatre teaches you to watch humanity closely: though I had to commend them for their resolve (6,800 versus 12!), there was no mistaking that while we passed by in joy and smiles, they stood by looking forlorn and bereft. As well, mutual respect prevailed, but there was a drama of uncertain defiance in the faces and body language.

Towards the end of the march, there was a pedestrian who applauded us. There were others around her at this busier corner and it was apparent they were holding back their annoyance over our inconvenient presence. Meanwhile, she alone, with eyes marvelling at our numbers, just kept nodding her approval and remarked, “This is so necessary”. Like in theatre, when you connect with strangers, you get a very good feeling.

At the end of the march, on the road ramping up to Parliament Hill, there were at last the bloody reminders of abortion reality. Had these large posters been at the front of the march all along? Or were they fixed in place here, apparently for our benefit only? Pro-lifers already know this reality, so it was a bit perplexing. I was not moved to disgust or offence, being I suppose something of the average desensitized North American citizen. Instead, for me, the bloody graphics were a reminder of the catastrophic failure of imagination in this culture: we seem to not be able to imagine that that’s how life starts and that we were once like that – a seed destined for eternity.

In the fight for justice for the unborn, I’ve wondered if we need to go to other departments of our humanity. When working from reason we easily demolish any pro-choice/pro-abortion advocate. Debate-battle won. When we work from graphic visuals, we make it overt what’s going on. Coverup exposed. But in both cases, I suspect the “informed” secular public’s reaction is: “Okay, so it’s the death of something human – big deal – killing is part of the human condition – it goes on all the time.”

To battle this moral apathy, perhaps an appeal to the imagination is needed – to imagine a loving, forgiving God that wants you to live peacefully, by – in the very matter of life and death – respecting your body’s procreative capacities. Alas, our world is clamourous and frenetic and who has time to think or care that human life starts as a speck – a beautiful, quiet, delicate and miraculous speck – worthy of the right to life at all stages?

Later that evening, at the Rose Dinner, one speaker said: all your sins are but a drop in the sea of God’s mercy. Hey, we’ve all screwed up in the past; what an immense comfort to be forgiven, to even repent if necessary, and to do right by God. What a fantastic gift to be shepherded and yet – to be sure – what an enormous responsibility to follow God, to do better in the future.

Andrew Borkowski is a Toronto playwright.