Jennifer misses the action.
She misses the adrenaline rush, the nervous stomach, the sweaty palms. She misses the television cameras, the high-powered meetings and the inspiring convention speeches. She even misses the feeling of wondering if the person approaching her is her assassin.
Jennifer is a veteran of the abortion wars.
In the 1990’s, she ran a busy abortion clinic in Florida. During those years, she experienced it all: the swarms of protestors surrounding her clinic, the bombings, the daily telephone death threats, the butyric acid attacks, the stalking and, yes, the killings. She was in the middle of the maelstrom.
Today, she works for a small non-profit organization, raising money for a good cause. It’s a satisfying job but it’s not enough. She misses the wars.
Now, I am no psychologist but after talking to her the other day I have developed a theory. Just hear me out.
In her day, Jennifer commanded a lot of attention. A physically stunning woman, she didn’t fit the stereotype of the beleaguered abortion clinic director or the hardcore feminist. She swallowed up a room with her infectious laugh and turned a lot of heads. She also thrived on being the center of attention. She enjoyed the media interviews, testifying before the legislature and staring down those protestors who dared to think about closing her clinic.
After hours, Jennifer played hard. She enjoyed her wine and her men. She could drink her (mostly) male doctors under a table and the next day greet her patients with her dazzling smile. She enjoyed calling the shots. She even derived a sordid sense of satisfaction when she heard her protestors mumbling under their breath “there she is, that’s the one who runs the abortuary.”
Then she left her clinic to run another one in an inner city, a non-profit facility run by a board of directors. Suddenly, she was reporting to a bunch of folks. Then, the federal government passed several laws restricting the rights of protestors and things started getting quiet outside the clinic. She was suddenly in a different world and she started to lose her edge Then the clinic closed its doors.
Although she enjoys her current job, a few years ago, in an attempt to recapture some of her passion, she set up a fund for poor women who needed abortions. But she told me this weekend that it didn’t work, that her juices still weren’t flowing. She then admitted that she felt that the folks she was working with on the fund didn’t really appreciate what she brought to the table, i.e., they didn’t realize she was a hardened veteran of the abortion wars. While she admitted these feelings were “kind of silly,” I could tell that she was hurting.
And my reaction to her was: honey, join the club.
I told her how I also miss the old days as well. I miss seeing myself on the network news or reading my pithy quote in the New York Times. I miss being surrounded by throngs of angry protestors who were screaming: “Richards, you are going to hell!” I miss hob-nobbing with Members of Congress who needed my political advice. In a sick way, I miss the abortion wars as much as Jennifer does.
I am sure others feel the same way. I am reminded of Diane Derzis, a sassy southern woman who used to run a clinic in Birmingham. In 1994, I flew down to observe an Operation Rescue event that was taking place at a different clinic across town. When I arrived, I hung around, watched the happenings, talked to our escorts and chatted with the police. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a red convertible approaching and noticed that Diane was in the driver’s seat. She was all dolled up and drove very slowly past the angry throng. The local anti-abortion folks knew who Diane was and they started screaming at her. Diane just waved. What struck me, however, was that she wanted to be seen, she wanted to be yelled at. She missed the action. Indeed, later on she told me that she was actually “pissed” that they weren’t at her clinic.
The craziness was an aphrodisiac.
The more I think about Jennifer, Diane, myself and our other colleagues, I realize that to some extent we’re like combat soldiers who have seen action and have been sent back home. We were forced to go cold turkey and miss being in those dangerous situations. For Jennifer, she misses watching her security camera trying to spot the next trouble-maker, she misses reviewing the protocols for a clinic bombing, she misses those interminable meetings with her designated FBI agent.
And, to add insult to injury, no one has ever said “thank you.” Oh, sure, the folks she works with on the abortion fund know who she is, they’ve seen her resume and they are aware that some “stuff” was going on years ago. But they really can’t appreciate what Jennifer did and the gravitas that she brings to the table. So, that leaves Jennifer with her worn press clippings, her fading pictures and her memories.
Jennifer is a fighter. She will ultimately prevail. She will be fine. And, yes, she deserves a pat on the back for a job well done.
But she’ll always miss the action.