T. S. Eliot wrote that "April is the cruelest month," alluding to the way life and death are inextricably connected, as when "lilacs" are bred "out of the dead land."

This is the way the March for Life—held every January in Washington since the Supreme Court passed Roe vs. Wade—feels to me. I've attended a half dozen or more times, always arriving with great anticipation and great dread. Overwhelming every other impression—the crowds, the gridlock, the many signs—is the eternal cold. And this year's temperatures were among the lowest for the March. Why didn't the Supreme Court have at least enough decency to issue its mortal ruling in June? But perhaps the dead of winter is more fitting, after all.

A crowed estimated by organizers to number between 250,000 and 400,000 flowed over Constitution Avenue on January 24, spilling out across the city. Before processing, as always, participants received marching orders in an hours-long rally where elected officials meted and were meted rewards for their faithfulness to the cause. Here is where, typically, the cameras, reporters, and newscasters expend their energies and headlines. By the time marchers gather at the Supreme Court, the route's end (and, of course, its ultimate beginning), the majority of photos have been taken, the sound bites recorded, and the stories filed. This part of the story—the culmination of the March and the people who populate it—rarely makes headlines.

But it's the non-headliners who are the lifeblood of a movement in its 38th year. Here are a few I encountered:

  • The 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising of pro-democracy students and intellectuals led to untold deaths of Chinese citizens at the hands of the government. Chai Ling was one of the student leaders who survived the massacre. Smuggled out of China in a box to the U.S., where she received an Ivy League education, married, and had children, Chai became a Christian 13 months ago. Her convictions have turned to the pro-life cause, and she came to the March to help spread the word about her efforts to end female abortion and infanticide in China. Look for an upcoming post devoted to Chai Ling.
  • Phil (no last name given) leads a group called Secular Pro-Life. He is a young, pro-life vegan who cut his activism teeth in the anti-globalization movement. He worked for a pro-life organization for a few years, keeping his atheist views to himself, but has since "come out" as an atheist while maintaining his pro-life convictions. He says he has been warmly received at the March, where he carries a sign identifying himself as a pro-life atheist. Phil's group teamed up this year with the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, a group that's attended the March for some decades now.
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  • In the midst of a throng of young people—from most vantage points, the crowd appeared to be overwhelmingly college-aged or younger—I was startled to see two women who looked barely 18 garbed in nun's habits. Their bright faces and rosy cheeks seemed owing to something other than the frigid Washington air. According to a recent report, young women choosing such a vocational life are the rise, and their appearance should not have surprised me.
  • Speaking of Catholics, it's their lead in this movement that we evangelicals have followed—sometimes more, sometimes less—all these years. No one keeps records of the numbers representing the many denominations and affiliations at the March, but many years, the prevalence of rosaries, cassocks, habits, bus signs, and diocesan banners (not to mention the Youth Rally and Mass for Life that brought in a record 27,000 people the morning of the March) overshadows any visible presence of the admittedly more nondescript evangelicals.
  • Naomi Barber King, sister-in-law of Martin Luther King Jr., was recognized for her pro-life efforts on the morning of the March at the NPRC's Service for the Pre-Born and their Mothers and Fathers. Mrs. King has long been an eloquent and strong voice against abortion, particularly within the African American community, which suffers a greatly disproportionate number of abortions in the U. S.
  • Mrs. King's daughter, Alveda King, attended the service to witness her mother being honored. At the close of the elder King's remarks, mother and daughter embraced, and the mother gave thanks to God for rescuing her daughter from the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of abortion. The suffering and regret Alveda experienced through two abortions are the core of her outspoken opposition to abortion, a story widely ignored by the same media who rightfully keep her uncle's lasting legacy alive.
  • It is, finally, those like Alveda King who offered the most powerful witness against abortion at the March—those who have experienced abortion and come to regret it. These women (and men) punctuated the end of the March by standing in front of the Court holding signs reading "I regret my abortion" and "I regret lost fatherhood."
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Fittingly, the March for Life began with the politicians and ended with the voices of those whose lives had been most profoundly touched by the dictum of the law. In between was not one univocal mass into which the media somehow compress all opposition to abortion, but rather black and white, young and old, men and women, believer and skeptic, hope and despair, death and life.

My cerebral tendencies struggle against the seemingly futile motions of marching and holding signs in the fight against such an ideological, social, and political issue. But then I ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and remember that mere physicality is never merely mere. And if, as the classical understanding would have it, the essence of beauty is harmony, or unity in variety, then the March for Life embodies just that kind of beauty. And where there is beauty, truth and goodness cannot be far away.