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Thoughts of a Sidewalk Counselor

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By Cassidy Bugos

Note: Cassidy Bugos is a student-counselor with Christendom College’s Shield of Roses (see: http://www.therambleronline.com/”>http://www.therambleronline.com) and describes Cassidy’s experience as a student sidewalk counselor outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion mill in Washington D.C.

I only began sidewalk counseling last fall, and I’ve not been able to keep it up steadily. God willing, I’ll do better this semester. It’s funny that I’ve found it so hard to keep up, as I’ve wanted to be a sidewalk counselor ever since I was quite little. When I was going to Shield simply to pray, during my freshman year, I went almost every week, with hardly a second thought. As soon as I began counseling, however, things were different.

  No doubt there are people out there who would be much better suited than I to counsel the women who enter the Planned Parenthood clinic in D.C. No doubt there are people who are much stronger, much more selfless and calm and compassionate than I.

The other regular counselors are admirable to watch: T.J. is a sea of calm, impossible to ruffle, gentle and good-humored. Tara approaches the Hispanic "Mamas" - as she addresses them - with the utmost love and reverence. The key is love, and the counselors show it. I hope to God I show it, but I’m not sure; it’s hard to know. But someone has to be that someone there for the women considering abortion and I feel strangely compelled to. I do hope that everyone - young people and especially young women - who read this article will pause to ask themselves whether sidewalk counseling is something they could do, with God’s help. 

  Yet, as I said, as soon as I began counseling, going to Shield was different. I dreaded each Saturday morning. I don’t know if the torment was more psychological or spiritual, although I’m inclined to call it the latter. Even still, the night before Shield I can always think of a dozen very good reasons not to go. As I push myself through those reasons, it all comes down to the fact that I just don’t like it, and I feel a little ill at the thought of doing it again. Other counselors have said they experience the same thing.

  I know now that when I used to go to Shield only to pray, my eyes shut against what was going on around me, I was doing something more important than counseling; I was praying for the counselors.  In some sense more important, yes; but easier, because you get to close your eyes. The first time I looked into the eyes of a woman entering the clinic, my faith was violently rocked. This is not a pleasant business. This woman and her baby should be as far away from this place as possible; I should be as far away from here as possible  . . . God, how did the world come to this?

  Nothing makes you feel more insignificant or more worthless than sidewalk counseling.  Everything you say sounds stupid. Immediately, and all day, and all week long you think of a thousand things you ought to have said . . . but that’s against the rules: you’re not allowed to second-guess yourself. After all, what could you possibly say to stop this woman from doing what she is about to do? You have a few seconds with her, if you approach her far enough away from the clinic, before the escorts reach her, and crowd you out and talk over you. What could you possibly say? 

  There are a few things I do say more often than others, but I never really know what I am going to say until I look into each woman’s eyes. In each is a world of hurt and a story all her own, of who-knows-what horror and deceit that brought her to this point.

One woman is angry, swearing and shouting at me, to the delight of the escorts. Another is very small and very sad, and walks slowly, listening to me intently, but shakes her head at me sadly, wordlessly, and with eyes full of tears, and allows the escorts to draw her into the clinic. 

One woman might appear to be in full possession of herself, well-dressed, walking fast; she throws me a bitter and condescending glance and carries the escorts with her like paparazzi. Another very young girl comes in sobbing and rushed along by her mother; or with a boyfriend following in a dejected daze; the escorts look at each other and the ground awkwardly. But in the eyes of every woman there is pain, and my heart breaks for each one. 

  What could you possibly tell these women? How can you convey to them in a few seconds the knowledge that they are loved, that their baby is loved, that they don’t have to feel forced into doing anything?

Sometimes I urge them just to take their time. "Please, take this information-information they won’t give you in there-don’t make a decision today, they can’t make you do anything today; there’s no rush; just go for coffee somewhere and read this please, and think, and call these numbers, and I can promise you we can get you whatever help you need, free, I promise you!" I tell one woman she will make a beautiful mother, and she tells me please to shut up; or I tell her boyfriend, I can see you love your girlfriend, and you will love your baby too, and won’t she make a beautiful mother? And the young man too is crying.

  Perhaps these are all exactly the wrong things to say.  I don’t know. Will we fit into this woman’s horrible memory of this day? Is there a way that she can remember us later and the love we tried to show her, and seek forgiveness? Will she even recognize what we tried to show her as love? Or will we always be only so-many fanatics to her, whose words will only haunt her grief and make her hate herself more? Thoughts like these torment me; but it doesn’t matter. For only God knows how we fit into these women’s lives.

In an encounter of a few seconds, you cannot love a woman enough to change her mind or save her baby or to save her soul. You will look into her eyes and feel inadequate to understand her pain; you will trust in God, say a few words to her, and then she will go through the clinic door, and you will turn around and meet the next woman.

  Human beings were not built for work like that. It is unnatural. For awhile I did not think it was even good for me; now I realize I simply need to keep a more upbeat attitude, resting in the fact that God is on our side and we are doing His work. But, you know, either way it’s not fair for us to hide from abortion, and to leave the victims exposed and helpless. If God has set Shield of Roses and the counselors in a position to save even one life, or to save one soul, then we have only to remain faithful, to remain in position, waiting for that life and that soul to come along that sidewalk. In fact, we have witnessed a few ‘turn-arounds’ already.

Since I began counseling, I’ve seen two, I think, though neither of the women changed their minds because of our counseling. Anne-Marie I remember particularly: I wasn’t there when she went in, but God let me be there when she came out, crying and smiling through her tears saying "I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it, I’m a Catholic." Thank God, that day I got to hug her, and tell her everything would be alright . . . which is what I ache to do to most of the women whom I encounter on the sidewalk. Anne-Marie told me she would be due in December; pray for her. 

  I suppose we have to face the possibility that we are not destined to change any minds or any hearts or save any lives on the sidewalk in D.C. Or if we do accomplish this, we may never know it.  But the point is that we have to be there for these women, because it is what Our Lord would do; we have to love them, because our suffering Lord is in them. If Our Lord wants me to counsel, He will help me. He is with me when I counsel. Maybe I will even learn, and get better at doing it, and it will get easier. God will help me. 

  If He is asking you to counsel, He will help you, too. Do think about it.

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