For a time during my pre-teen and teen years, I was involved with Operation Rescue. Been there, done that, have the t-shirts (t-shirts I can’t bring myself to throw away). I’ve tried time and again over the years to sit down and write about that time in my life and I can’t do it. Not that there aren’t pages of text in “draft" folders of long-abandoned blogs, and various files on my computer, but none of it ever seems right.
How do you even begin to discuss a very influential time in your life when it’s something that so few people have lived through and that was, to be honest, more than a little weird?
How do you explain just how surreal it was to be at the state capital lobbying with Equality Florida when the last time you were there wandering those halls was as a kid who was there to play a role as the “poor little innocent kid who will be made a criminal if you pass this abortion clinic protest buffer zone law"? That the memory from your trip as a kid that came flooding back was of learning, on the way home, that just before you went in front of microphones and television cameras doing the innocent kid act and proclaiming the movement’s commitment to non-violence, the movement had turned deadly. How you felt learning that the Operation Rescue spokeswoman had already gotten word of what had happened in Pensacola but sent you out in front of cameras anyway, even though your insistence that the movement was non-violent was now a lie. How is anyone who hasn’t lived that ever really going to understand what it’s like?
Back then I was so sure about everything, it was all so simple and cut and dried. I was right, everybody else was wrong, and the messiness of real life and complicated decisions hadn’t gotten in the way. That was before I learned that the chants of, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, born again bigots, go away,“ were pretty much accurate descriptions of the movement leadership. Before I learned to loathe movement leaders after seeing them for who and what they really are. Before I began to cringe when the people my family had once been on a first name basis with would show up on cable news shows waving their Bibles around while spewing hate.
That time made me the person I am today, and that’s something positive, and I have good memories of friends I made, but I can’t look back on that time without feeling unsettled and icky. I cringe when I see young teens trotted out to fight the latest culture war battles. I know where the story ends, feeling like you’ve lived a whole other life, one that you never talk about, less because you’re ashamed of it (though you feel unsettled thinking of it) than because unless they’ve lived it too, they aren’t going to understand what it was like.