By Joleigh Little, WTL Director, Wisconsin Right to Life
Editor’s note. As we approach the end of the year, we will look back at our friends in the Movement who have passed away in 2012. I am re-running this tribute to one woman in Wisconsin because it says so much about the kind of people up our Movement “family” and to illustrate, once again the indispensable importance of every life.
Loss has a horrible way of making you realize what truly matters, of bringing all of the peripheral frustrations and agonies of life into stark perspective. It pulls you up short and reminds you that time is fleeting, that life is precious, and that you never know when you will have to say goodbye to a family member, friend, or colleague.
This week Wisconsin Right to Life lost a family member. She was, by title, our development director for more than 13 years, but Mary Phillips was more than that. She was a wife, a mom, a daughter, a friend, and one of the most passionate advocates for life I have ever known. She did her job well and she pushed others to do the same.
She was well known for her acerbic wit and her ability to get down to the heart of a matter. I sat across the table from her less than two short weeks ago at our WRTL strategic planning meeting. She was funny, she had great ideas, and she loved life. And 10 days later her heart stopped beating. We lost a colleague and a friend. Unborn children lost a devoted champion.
We focus so much on beating hearts in our movement. We all have them. Unborn children have them at 18 days after conception. The heartbeat is our signal that someone is still alive. When that heartbeat ceases for the final time, we begin the process of saying goodbye. Until that heartbeat stops, we are sworn to protect life—every life regardless of age, size, level of development, place of residence, or level of ability. It’s what makes us who we are as a movement.
And let’s take a brief look at that. We are a grassroots network of chapters and individuals who form 50 state affiliates of National Right to Life. We are moms, dads, teachers, doctors, lawyers, teenagers, grandparents, executives, students, and so much more. Each of us has one true thing in common—we believe in the value and dignity of every human life and we are working to see it protected. In a way that is still a mystery to me, that makes us a family.
Like any family, we have members who range in age from just conceived to very elderly. Some of us run marathons and others embrace life from a wheelchair. We often disagree on little things, but on the big thing there is no dissent. It’s wrong to kill unborn children. It’s wrong to kill the disabled, the elderly, and the medically vulnerable. It may seem like a thin thread that ties us together, but in reality it is one of the strongest cords I have ever known.
I have been privileged to be a part of this movement for 27 years. I grew up here. I am daily grateful for this second family that has helped shape who I am. I have more mentors and honorary aunts and uncles than anyone else I know. I have brothers and sisters who span the length of our country and I have been blessed beyond measure to help train a generation of young pro-lifers who are, in my heart of hearts, “my kids.”
We are making great strides—some of our best progress is among the generation who grew up with legalized abortion. They understand that one-third of their generation is missing—that they have been robbed—that we all have. Some of our best spokespeople are young men and women who survived abortions. They are the faces that haunt the abortion rights movement when the camera lights are off. We have made so many gains in the nearly 40 years since abortion was legalized in our nation. We have passed state and many federal laws that protect life. We have educated millions to understand that abortion stops a beating heart.
Like any family, though, we are realizing that our senior members are aging. We’ve aged 40 years since Roe. I look around me at people who have sown so much into my life—who have literally taught me everything I know about what it means to cherish and protect life and how to defend it. I see more gray hair. I see wrinkles. I blink and I realize that people who advocated with me during high school now have teenagers of their own. Babies who used to play on the floor during local right to life meetings are now grown with babies of their own. Losing Mary this week pulled me up short and made me realize that none of us will live forever in this sphere.
And it made me realize something else. Amid all of the work—the Internet advocacy, the planning of camps and conventions, the phone calling, the going door to door, all of it, we can’t forget to look around us and appreciate the people who work with us in this great cause. In the blink of an eye, any one of them could be gone.
We need to take that to heart and TODAY be about the work that will save lives for generations to come. We need to step up our efforts. We need to work across generational lines. We need to perpetually be training those who will come behind us in this great effort. We need to be about the work of life. And while we’re doing it, we need to realize all the gifts we’ve been given.
Look around you and really see who is working alongside you. Get to know the people in your local chapter, at your state right to life office, and those who work directly on the flagship that is National Right to Life. I have never known finer people. People who protect and defend life are without question the most selfless, dedicated, compassionate, and amazing people our world has ever known.
Many children live because of the work our family has done. Many more will be born because we were not silent when life was on the line. Please understand that being involved in this cause is a calling, but that it is also very possibly the greatest blessing you will ever know.