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I took my granddaughters to the dentist recently. Isabelle is 3, Skye is 8. The sun was shining. They have moved to be in a neighbourhood with less crime, less violence. Now they are only a 25-minute drive from me.
On the news, I used to see a lot of crime in the area they lived before, but rents were low and I tried to breathe through it all and stay calm. I grew up in public housing. When I was little, no grownups came to the playground with us. The teeter totters were wooden and full of splinters. We played Red Rover and British Bulldog. I don't think anyone got injured in those games, not that I can recall.
For the first time, we were able to walk to the dentist. That's a big deal for us. All the other times it meant driving, a lot of driving. We were all excited for the walk – the girls, my daughter, all of us.
We had hats for the sun. We left in good time, as I have a fear of being late for anything. There were sidewalks to walk on: a novelty for me, as I live out in the sticks. We all held hands, two groups of two. I had Isabelle's hand and my daughter had Skye's hand. We swung hands while we walked. We took turns for who gets to push the crosswalk light.
We crossed our first street, and suddenly there was a man, young, with a poster. A big poster. I was concentrating on not walking too fast for Isabelle while at the same time trying to figure out what was on the poster.
Legs. Blood. A face, mangled. A baby. A word, "Life."
At first I couldn't grasp what was happening. The man was standing on the curb, alternating turning his poster toward pedestrians and oncoming traffic. Then he turned it full on to us. A dead fetus, late trimester. He stood there, and I stood there, and the moments felt so long.
I wanted to hit rewind. I wanted to be back on the other street. We had one route to get to the dentist. Could we cross over? No. They lined the other side as well. Probably 20 of the anti-abortion protesters, lining the entire route we had to walk.
"Look at your feet!"
I am not sure if my daughter said it or I said it.
"Don't look up, just watch your feet!"
I tried to walk faster, thinking maybe the next protester would have a gentle picture, a baby in a stroller, a baby in a bathtub. No. Another mangled fetus.
"Is that baby dead?" asked Isabelle.
"Look at your feet, look at your feet."
Time stretched eternal. The next one, then the next one. My heart was hammering and sweat ran down my back. Surely I could make them stop. How? How? Where were the police? Was this legal? Would the police make them stop?
No. It was legal: this long, long walk of two little girls being repeatedly assaulted by image after image; 10 steps, another image; 10 more, another image.
I was shaking when we got to the dentist's office. My daughter was answering the many questions that Skye had. Isabelle was very, very quiet.
I said to my daughter, "I'm going in the bathroom and writing on my torso with a Sharpie: 'You've assaulted my grandchildren.' We'll go back out, and you take my picture. I'll pull my shirt up, and take my picture with me standing beside one of those protesters with their posters."
I didn't do it. That's not my way. Besides, I couldn't imagine facing those protesters again.
Isabelle needs some brushing help on the upper-right quadrant. Skye has an underbite. We'll deal with that in a few years. No one had cavities.
The dentist was kind and sweet. "Good job!" he said to the girls. He smiled and smiled, not just because he has his own great teeth, but because he is a kind man.
We came out and agreed to go very far out of our way to stay clear of the protesters and weave our way home. Streets we do not know well. We meandered. Isabelle was tired. It was a long way out of our way.
"You can do it, Isabelle, not much farther."
We looked at old houses covered in ivy, and one house that had a mailbox shaped like a giant blue envelope. The girls were interested in the big trees. I placed my hand on one.
"Why are you touching that tree, Nona?" asked Isabelle.
"I'm taking in goodness. I need to take in goodness."
And finally we were home, very tired, but safe and sound. Away from violence.
I wonder what my recourse is? Should I join a pro-choice movement? Why didn't I react with the violence I felt in my heart when those people glared and angled the posters so we could see them? I don't know. I drove home and wept.
A friend said to think of Yoda, who said: "Do or do not. There is no try."
So I try. I am trying. To stay in the light. To feel that this will be heard, and my grandchildren will not have to walk along looking at their feet.
Pamela Donoghue lives in Nova Scotia.