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Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The other family members had school and work to hold them down, so after giving them the additional job of keeping the house intact and the pets fed, my wife Micki, son Andy and daughter Disa and I hopped into our loaded car and headed off from Branson, Missouri to the March for Life in Washington D.C. This is how we would celebrate Micki's birthday, January 25th.

We had two days to get there, one day to sightsee, one day for prayer and spiritual reflection, one day for the Rally and the March for Life, two days to get Andy to Conception Abbey in NW Missouri, and one day to get back home -- eight days in all.

The first leg of the trip was uneventful, a long day of driving, which then was rewarded by Louisville, Kentucky. We don't know what Louisville looks like in the daylight, but at night it's awesome, looking like some bright, enormous, modern sculpture by an artist wanting to make the world appreciate a city. And I'd never seen so many beautiful bridges in as short a span of time and space. It was a pleasure to pass through downtown Louisville, and after spending the night in its outskirts, we felt good about Kentucky all the way through its northern part. You can almost feel the state pride.

We reached the Appalachians in the dark, and in the snow. It was creepy and tense, playing leap frog with the constant semi trucks that crawled uphill and sped downhill. And despite the wisps of snow on the highway, everyone drove around 70 mph. Not seeing any cars had slid off the road, I figured the locals knew best, and I followed suit at 70.

We worried about not being able to find an available room to stay in around Washington D.C., since half a million people were expected for the March for Life. As we got nearer, Micki and Disa studied motel/hotel coupon books while Andy began making phone calls. Finally we found a reasonable motel, in Alexandria, Virginia, and that night we pulled into the Budget Host Travelers Motel on the Richmond Highway. It's a humble motel, old but kept up, nothing fancy, except that its staff was incredibly nice and helpful. They taught us all about the complicated subway system, and it was only about a half mile to the subway's Huntington station, the system's last stop south of D.C. The motel also provides a free shuttle to the station.

From there it takes twenty minutes to reach the National Mall in D.C., which is surrounded by the immense museums of the Smithsonian Institute. By the time our three-day visit was over, we had become fairly adept at using the subway, which travels both underground and on elevated rails, over its own bridge, stopping at the Reagan National Airport, etc.

It was weird riding the subway, though, because almost no one talked. People avoided eye contact, and rather read their Kindles or newspapers, or stared blankly at nothing. I imagined how such a Metro system as this would be like in the Midwest, especially the Ozarks. Everybody would be talking. If they didn't have a friend about, they'd be talking with strangers. It would be one noisy subway. Another odd thing I noticed about D.C. riders: If the subway were crowded, with many having to stand and hold on to the handrails, and then some people get off and leave empty seats, even if the empty seat were right beside someone standing, the person would continue to stand and fight the inertia of the subway's fast starts and stops. An Ozarker, on the other hand, would sit, and be grateful for the available seat. I did manage to catch the eyes of a couple people, though, who seemed surprised to find a friendly person looking at them, and they smiled back. But the usual thing was to ignore everyone else entirely. And I thought, how sad that the leaders of our Country live in a place where people ignore people. No wonder they come up with such stupid and callous legislation. I think the United States would be a better place if the federal government was located in the heart of the Country rather than over on the edge.

Micki and Andy and Disa had never been to the Smithsonian, and the last time I was there was while hitchhiking around the U.S. in 1967. At that time the famous, red, Smithsonian Institute building was filled with fascinating stuff, including Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis," the Wright Brothers' plane, etc., and across the way was the separate Museum of Natural History. But now the famous red building is simply called the Smithsonian Castle and is basically an information center, while the Smithsonian Institute is made up of several huge museums on each side of the National Mall, a large empty space for such things as the March for Life Rally, etc.

We took our time enjoying the Air and Space Museum, where I again saw the famous planes I had seen 46 years ago, as well as many others, including the predator drone I encourage people to shoot down if they spot one.

Then we crossed over to the huge National Gallery of Art, where there is no way ever to have enough time. One of the main exhibits was an original sculpture by Michelangelo, "David-Apollo," an intentionally-unfinished statue of a nude David with his foot on Goliath's head. The museum had many guards keeping watch over the art, and Micki asked the one guarding David-Apollo if he ever gets nervous with such a responsibility. He shrugged it off, saying no. Minutes later, we were in the next room, gazing at religious paintings. Behind me, in the center of the room, was a table. I took advantage of this thoughtfulness of furnishings and set my bag on the table and leaned against it while admiring a large painting. Suddenly that same guard called through the doorway for me to get my bag off the table and move away from it. It turned out that the table itself was a valuable piece of art, over 600 years old, not just a convenience for a tired tourist. I felt stupid.

From the Gallery of Art we walked outside through the Sculpture Gardens, where we saw fascinating stuff, including an entire tree made out of metal, and a strange house sculpture that makes you dizzy and you pass it. In the Gardens, beside the outdoor ice skating rink, we came upon and took advantage of a very costly restaurant.

Then came the Museum of Natural History, my favorite, where once again, after 46 years, I saw the huge stuffed elephant in the entry hall -- the largest taxidermy on record. And it's here that you find countless skeletons of dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals! There are actual mummies here, too, and even a live insect zoo, where a staff member was showing off a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach and letting people hold it. Since we used to raise giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches, she and I got into a great conversation -- about tarantulas, too; and I gave her one of my Butter Rum Cartoon calling cards.

Micki and Disa and I were very tired of walking by now and wanted to head back to the motel, but Andy wanted to stay longer. So we separated. Back at the motel, it was getting pretty late and Andy was still out there somewhere. It turned out that his cell phone battery died, and that he was given misleading directions walking back from the Huntington station in the bitter cold, and ended up at some Walmart about a mile away where he used their phone to call us.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is immense. But the number of people who attended the Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life made it seem small. There were about as many people standing as sitting, and even arriving more than three hours early, we had to struggle to find a seat, and Andy lost his, giving it up to a lady, and had to stand through the three hour wait and the three hour Mass. The lady who sat in his seat turned out to be Valerie Washington, the Executive Director of the National Black Catholic Congress.

Beforehand we went into the excellent bookstore on the ground floor and bought a number of fine works. Micki bought several books and had them signed by the authors, who were there at tables. I bought three books by my favorite non-fiction author, the late Frank Sheed -- Knowing God, To Know Christ Jesus, and The Action of the Holy Spirit. I planned to read them while waiting for Mass to start, but was so fascinated by the scenes around me that I never did. We were sitting in the St. Dominic section of the pews, beneath the Incarnation Dome, and besides being overwhelmed by the thousands of people, there was enough art to last an eternity. I also discovered that a young woman with a nose shaped even like this can be very beautiful.

What made the Mass so long were the incoming and outgoing processions of hundreds of deacons, abbots, priests, bishops and cardinals! And the enormous pipe organ was enough to make us tremble. The Mass was celebrated, and homily given, by His Eminence, Sean Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston. He spoke honestly about political failures in trying to end abortion, and explained that what we need to do is to focus on changing hearts. More than once it was pointed out how many young people were there (I would guess about 90%!) and so there is definite hope for the future of the pro-life movement. In my awe at the immenseness of the Church and the many thousands of faithful, Barack Obama seems very, very small.

After the Mass, Andy gave us a brief tour of the works of art throughout the Basilica, and we were surprised to happen upon Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and we received his blessing.

On our way back to the motel, I had Micki drive, so she could cope with Andy's Android phone giving GPS directions through the crazy D.C. streets and highways. I no longer had the patience. GPS is great for country roads and small towns, and perhaps even organized cities, but in the District of Columbia the instructions had us going in frustrating circles, and it was miraculous that we avoided getting into an accident. Although people there ignore each other, they do seem quite patient with you on the road.

The next day was the day of the March for Life, preceded by the Rally in the National Mall, and we intended to visit the Aquarium beforehand. We took the subway, and walked to the Aquarium, but finding it too expensive, especially for the short time we had, and smaller than the indoor zoo where Andy works in Branson, we gave it up, and instead tried to find a restroom and eat a bite before the Rally. This was not easy, since half a million people had the same idea, but we managed to find a back way into a nice food court with a wide variety of foods, and restrooms, and no lines!

When we came up out of the subway terminal at the National Mall, we expected what we saw -- hundreds of thousands of wonderful people who believe in the sanctity of life enough to stand for their convictions for hours in 27 degrees with a wind-chill factor in the single digits.

The Rally was different this year, I had read. In years past it lasted about three hours, but this year it was only an hour and a half. Also added were huge video screens so most all the people could get a glimpse of the speakers on stage. Among the select speakers was Sean Cardinal O'Malley, who had officiated at the Mass we attended at the Basilica. Standing with him were Eastern Orthodox priests who sang a memorial for March for Life founder, Nellie Gray, music so beautiful that we were sorry when it ended. Also someone read the tweet sent to all of us by Pope Benedict XVI:  "I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life."

During the Rally, Andy needed a restroom, and so, with the hope of finding us again, made his way off to find an available port-a-potty. But amidst the great crowd he didn't find us again, until we met at the end of the March.

Meandering into the Rally, we came upon some Knights of Columbus who were giving out signs on long sticks, that simply said "Defend Life." We gladly took some, and when I asked if there was a charge for them, the man just laughed it off. No problem, giving them away; there were only 650,000 people there. Thank you, Knights of Columbus!

After the Rally, it took us about an hour just to move to the street to begin the March, there were so many people! And it was so cold that my legs got stiff, and when I finally stepped off the curb and onto the street, I almost fell over. Along the line I got a little chuckle around me when I said, "Whatever happened to the body heat idea anyway?"

And so began the March for Life 2013. And, so began the snow! As we moved very slowly to and along Constitution Avenue, snow fell and collected on our heads and shoulders. Nevertheless on the way we heard prayers and chants and cheers. Even bands played for us as we passed by. Behind us someone was leading the Rosary, and so we joined in. It was so cold, and I was so stiff, but none of us would have traded this experience for anything. Young people gathered on steps and balconies of federal buildings and shouted pro-life chants at the people who then shouted back the response. More than half a million people were as one, and it was awesome.

We came upon a government office building, and several floors up we could see a group of people watching the March through their large window. People around us began waving to them, and finally the group in the building waved back. When they did, a big cheer erupted in the March and hundreds of people waved to them. The group above appeared to be surprised that they were seen, let alone greeted with such enthusiasm, and they waved their arms and applauded.

Now and then we could see police along the way, and drivers stuck in traffic. Washington D.C. was at a standstill, at least between the Smithsonian and the Supreme Court. We finally managed to contact Andy by cell phone, and he would be waiting for us in front of the Supreme Court, on the other side of the Capitol.

When we finally got to the March's end, we found the Supreme Court guarded by police. And the entire front of the huge building was covered by some sort of screen, perhaps there for some refurbishing, but it gave the impression of a great veil of shame after the Court's Roe v. Wade error in 1973 that has since caused the brutal deaths of more than 55,000,000 babies.

And there, in front of the Supreme Court, several women who have had an abortion spoke and told of their tragic experiences and regrets. Many tears were shed, including Micki's. Meanwhile Disa went to find Andy, and the four of us were together again.

I won't even go into the trouble we had in the congestion at the subway station, but rest assured we finally got back to the motel. That evening I was pooped and rested while Micki and Andy took Disa out to fulfill one of her dreams -- visiting Georgetown Cupcakes, makers of one of her favorite TV shows, "D.C. Cupcakes." They brought back a box of a variety of fantastic cupcake creations, and we had a little celebration after the long, cold, incredible day.

Andy is considering the priesthood, and was scheduled to visit and sit in on some classes at the college he would be attending at Conception Abbey in NW Missouri. We had two days to get him there. Since we would be taking a more northerly course on the way back, I was hoping to avoid the snowy Appalachians, but no dice. We had to do it all over, but at least this time it was in the daylight. And despite snow along the highway for hundreds of miles, drivers still sped along at 70 mph, so I did too. We spent the night in Indianapolis, where people talked about the freezing rain forecast. Thank God, we managed to outrun it, and other than wasting twenty-two miles because of a deceptive sign in desolate Illinois, the trip to Conception, Missouri was long but trouble-free.

Andy had called ahead to friends, seminarians, who prepared adjoining rooms for Micki and Disa and I to stay in for the night at Conception Abbey. Meanwhile Andy stayed there to see how he would like the school, and remained when we left. His friends would bring him home later that week. I couldn't help myself; at the Abbey's bookstore I bought a beautiful edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, published by Ignatius Press.

Leaving the Abbey, we drove over to the hamlet of Clyde and visited the Monastery of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Of course we had to peruse their gift shop, filled with many items all made by the nuns, and Micki and Disa went to see the Relics Chapel while I sat in an easy chair and almost fell asleep.

That evening we returned home, after eight days, finding everything intact and well taken care of by those who had stayed behind. We only had to replace our daughter Julia's paint set, after one of our little grandsons created some controversial artwork.

About 500,000 people attended Woodstock in 1969, enjoying a weekend of drugs, sex, and rock music. They clogged a New York freeway. About 650,000 people attended the D.C. March for Life in 2013, trying to save the lives of countless unborn babies. They clogged the Nation's Capital. Which event gets the most press by the mainstream media? We are very thankful for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) who covered the entire March for Life in real time.

Perhaps one of these years we'll see you there. Meanwhile let's do what we can to end the tragedy of abortion, the disgrace of our Nation.

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  1. Very good story Dale. Well writen and inspirational. A very noble cause. You are a much better Catholic than I am. I have always been Catholic. Your are a heroe. In New York City people talk to others more often, including on the subway. I didn't notice if they didn't speak to others when I was there. Wilfredo

  2. Dale, another great recollection! Your cause is just, and I admire you for "sticking with it" to further your cause...Milt