The people awake at 7:15 a.m., when I left the house this past Saturday morning, were walking their dogs, washing off the streets in front of their stores and picking up a bite to eat. Usually, I’m never awake before 10 a.m. on Saturdays, so even if I pretend I’m going to make it to shul, it never works. On this day, though, I was on the train at 7:30 a.m.; an hour later, I was at a Planned Parenthood clinic, wearing a blue smock labeled “volunteer.”
The protestors showed up by 9 a.m., which apparently they do on the first Saturday of every month. There were probably 45 of them, with crosses and rosaries and a bullhorn — even a violin — chanting the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer over and over.
There were also some men from Bikers for Life, walking around with flyers. The whole point of an escort is to get people who need to get into the clinic into the clinic. Sometimes, that means going over to the person telling a woman she’s about to murder her baby and helping her extract herself from the lecture; other times, it just means making eye contact and opening the door.
People who live in the neighborhood stopped to chat with us; we petted their dogs, answered their questions about the protestors. Women and men went into the clinic and came out safely. Sometimes, men went in with women and came out alone, asking us where to get food or coffee.
When my shift was completed at 10:15 a.m., the protestors were kneeling on the ground, their hands clasped in prayer. For a second, I remembered being eight years old and seeing my mother light Shabbat candles for the first time, ever. I put my hands together, fingers pointed up to the sky, a gesture I’d seen often on television. “Don’t do that,” my mother said. “That’s not what we do.”
A few days after my inaugural experience as a Planned Parenthood escort, I’m thinking about two things: The first is how deeply powerful the seemingly simple act of opening a door can be, when the truth is that so many people are working hard to make sure that door is sealed and locked, permanently. Being the person protecting that door is hard and scary, and it is necessary.
My second thought is about Judaism. I rode the train home and when I got out, there were men in kippot, carrying tallit bags, and women in fancy shul hats and heels; many were carrying recycled tote bags with food for Shabbat lunch. Escorting made me feel more whole, more purposeful, more Jewish than standing and sitting in shul could ever have. I thought, there is nowhere else I would rather have been that Shabbat morning.