When I waitressed I dreaded tables of teenagers. I would argue with my coworkers about taking the raucous high schoolers who would sit down, run you ragged re-filling their mountain dew and then tip you $1.13 for your troubles. I sympathize with the servers, baristas and counter help that gives me the “oh, why did you come here?” look when I walk into a restaurant or cafe with my youth group. And it’s not just the employees. Guests eating will also eye us with suspicion and start gathering their things ready dash at the first sign of drama.
As much as I love teenagers, I concede that the wary glances they receive when they congregate in public are somewhat rightfully earned. I’ve seen kids at their best—when they’re serving the homeless and helping elderly cross the street—but I’ve also witnessed some pretty inconsiderate and apathetic behavior. For example, once while a speaker was telling the youth group about a project to deliver clean drinking water to the third world, a teen raised their hand and asked, “but they’re like, used to walking miles to get clean water. Why do we have to change that for them?”. I died a little on the inside, convinced somewhere an angel lost its wings and that there was no hope for the future if kids could be this apathetic and insensitive to those in need.
However, these past few weeks have left me pretty inspired and hopeful for this generation. Regardless of how you feel about the issue of Roe vs. Wade and abortion, I’ve been very encouraged that kids aren’t just “waiting on the world to change”.
Each year on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade people opposed to and in favor of abortion congregate in Washington D.C. As a Catholic youth group (and fans of “Juno”), we have talked about abortion and many of my teens feel strongly that it should not be legal. They believe it’s affected their world, as they say, “like, Miss Alison, there have been over a million abortions each year? That’s probably why there are no cute boys in my class!”. They asked me if I would take them to D.C. to peacefully protest this law with others from around the country.
We went and it was no vacation. We slept on the bus and on the floor of a gym, didn’t shower for three days, ate peanut butter sandwiches and braved the cold weather to take a stand for what we believed in. We prayed for our country, our leaders and for a greater respect of all human life. Through it all they were peaceful, respectful, attentive and never complained about the challenges of the trip.
There were 32 youth and 13 adults from Hilton Head who joined 200,000 others in DC on January 22. What struck me and many others was how many of those gathered were teenagers. Journalist Robert McCartney and Roe vs. Wade supporter observed, “I was especially struck by the large number of young people” who attended. (Washington Post, Sunday, January 24, 2010). I too could not believe that I was not the only adult crazy enough to attempt such a trip, there were high schools, colleges and youth groups (and youth ministers frantically counting heads) everywhere. They were peaceful but passionate, carrying signs that said, “a person’s a person no matter how small” or “I survived Roe vs. Wade”.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Teenagers aren’t perfect, but our trip to DC reminded me that thousands of teens are setting an example and standing up for what they believe in, including those in our hometown. If it takes a village, we should be proud and hopeful.