By Tim Broderick
Editor’s note. I asked Tim to write about the incredible experience his group went through at the March for Life, particularly about the memorable trip back.
It was Thursday evening, January 21, and People for Life in Erie, Pennsylvania, were in the midst of final preparations for our 43rd annual bus trip to the March for Life.
Some people were calling to make sure the trip hadn’t been cancelled in view of the impending “blizzard of the century,” but remarkably few people were calling to let us know they wanted to stay home. In fact, a few last-minute reservations were still coming in, but fewer than usual, because, no doubt, of the dire weather forecast.
One gentleman called who had already registered with his nine year old son. This would, no doubt, be another cancellation. But to my surprise he was wondering if there was still room for his eleven year old son.
Okay… um, have you seen the weather forecast? His matter-of-fact response: “It looks like we’re in for an adventure!”
If we had only known how right he was.
Our trek from Erie to DC was as uneventful as our time at the March for Life was inspiring. A great many people from around the country braved a terrible forecast to demonstrate their solidarity with unborn children.
We planned to be out of Washington by 4 p.m. well ahead of the impending storm. Nevertheless our confidence was being put to the test by every road sign along the way that was lit up with winter storm warnings.
A light snow was already falling when our three buses began the return trip at 4:15 p.m., but traffic seemed light. We would be out of the heavy DC traffic in just a little while. And so we were!
We traveled north and eastward adding distance between us and Storm Jonas. Snow continued to fall, but we had encountered worse conditions in prior years. The buses were making steady progress across the Pennsylvania Turnpike when, all of a sudden, we gently rolled to a halt.
Word came that there would be a delay. How long? Possibly hours! Fortunately we didn’t immediately know how many hours. We had no idea we would be stationary, camped out right on that spot in the “belly of the bus,” for 24 hours!
I spent most of the night half asleep and half awake, alternately “freezing” and “burning up” as the bus driver adjusted and readjusted the heater setting. Saturday morning was just beginning to dawn when I witnessed something that set the tone for the day ahead.
As I looked out into the gray gloominess, with the falling snow shrouding the pure-white landscape, four or five human forms emerged from a bus a short distance ahead of us. The humans looked like they might be college students. They drifted slowly to the right across the buried lanes of the Turnpike and beyond the right-hand shoulder of the road.
Suddenly, three of them collapsed backward into the fearful, 20 inches of new fallen snow — and started making snow angels! I learned later in the day that these were Students for Life from the University of Nebraska, just one of a number of March for Life groups that were sharing our big adventure.
More kids ventured out into the snow as the morning went by and soon even many adults were out and about, playing along with the kids or just stretching their legs. Plastic March for Life signs became improvised snow shovels for clearing snow away from the buses and for building snow forts as well. Sheets of plastic became bobsleds.
Everyone seemed in good spirits throughout the day, and everyone pulled together. People shared whatever snacks they had, from Oreo cookies to canned tuna fish and crackers. The camaraderie that developed was especially notable in our case, I think, because ours is drawn from a wide cross section of our community, rather than from a single church or school, and not only from within our pro-life organization.
We were hosting a group of middle school students, a group of first-time marchers from a Catholic parish, 16 marchers from a non-denominational church, student groups from two universities, and many others who were traveling with just a few companions or even alone.
The Catholic parish group was on my bus, along with their pastor, who I happen to have known since he had been a volunteer at People for Life when he was in elementary school. As evening was setting in, he excitedly told me that he had borrowed a Mass kit from a priest on another bus, and asked me and the bus driver if it would be okay if he celebrated Mass.
There were no objections!
Night fell as Father Dan conducted the ceremony in his very own sensitive and gentle manner. Catholics and non-Catholics listened attentively and bowed their heads as prayers were offered. And tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably. So much to process!
The March for Life, the babies in the mother’s wombs, our new friends, the beautiful spirts of the young people I’d been watching all day, Life itself!… so many thoughts and feelings!
It had only been dark for a few hours when our buses began moving once again. There would be a U-turn on the Turnpike and a detour by another route back to Erie, but we were on our way.
A five year old in one of the other buses, I was told later, burst into tears. She had been having so much fun that she didn’t want to leave! Later, my eleven year old son remarked that he wished we could have been stranded for a whole week.
I doubt that any of the adults shared those sentiments. Our “short,” 24 hour experience was all that was needed to rock our worlds and to leave us with memories that we will cherish and talk about for the rest of our lives — especially in January when it is time for another March for Life.