A silver bracelet changed my life.
It was the fall of 1993. I had just turned 19-years old and was a freshly minted airman undergoing advanced training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.
My days were monotonous so I joined the honor guard to break the routine (that, and I got out of afternoon P.T. twice a week). I didn’t expect much, but the first day of practice is now stamped in my memory as a life-changer. Not for what I learned about swords or rifles or precision marching, but for what I learned about life itself.
I was assigned to a new team when I first showed up for practice. As we formed up, one of the more experienced airmen began teaching us new guys the basics of the saber – how to march with the sword, flip it around and salute with the blade drawn.
My memory of that airman is surprisingly clear, seeing how I only spent maybe 30-minutes with him nearly a quarter-century ago. He was about 20-years old, blonde with a fair complexion, slim, polite and confident. He was deft with the saber and, despite the short training session, passed along a good bit of skill.
The sergeant in charge of the teams hollered “Listen up! Take 15-minutes then meet me on the parade field ready to drill.”
Most of us made our way over to the break area and I remember lighting up a Marlboro Red and leaning against the table where several other airmen were sitting, puffing clouds of smoke. Our conversation left no lasting impression, but what did was the airman who had been training us. He stopped at the vending machine and then walked over to our little group, peeled-open a Snickers bar, took a bite and smiled.
When his hand brought the Snickers bar back to his mouth, I caught a glimpse of a bracelet on his right wrist.
I was a little smart-mouth back in those days. To me, the only men who could wear things like bracelets and earrings were pirates and rock stars. And the one this guy was wearing looked especially dainty; it was silver, slim and had a little round centerpiece about the size of a penny that contained two tiny feet.
“A bracelet?” I asked, laughing. “And … little feet? What’s up with that?”
The airman took another bite of his candy bar, smiled and asked, “You’ve never seen this?” He held the bracelet up so I could have a better view. His polite demeanor instantly disarmed my boorish attitude and had the effect of making me feel small for having attempted to poke fun.
“No,” I said, not wanting to say more. The other airmen had stopped talking and were now watching us.
He tapped the little silver feet with his other hand and said, “These are the exact size and shape of an unborn baby’s feet at 10-weeks after conception.”
He continued holding his wrist upward for me to see, and then swept it around to show the others who were sitting at the table. They all looked curious, but said nothing.
The mood in the break area changed. It suddenly felt strange, as if the air or the sun or the wind had somehow changed. My poor words cannot do the moment justice. Writers hate to fall victim to cliché, but it was indeed surreal.
I come from a large, loud and opinionated family and can remember talking about all sorts of political issues at home, but never do I once remember discussing abortion. It wasn’t off-limits, it just didn’t come up. If you had asked me about abortion at all, I might have said something about keeping the government out of our lives.
After the airman felt everyone had a good look at his bracelet, he finished the last of his candy bar, tossed the wrapper in the trash and said he’d see us on the parade field. He walked away, the airmen returned to their cigarettes and another stepped over to the payphone and began inserting quarters.
I stood there, dumbstruck, with my cigarette burning unused between my fingers, thinking of those feet. Someone noted the time and said we should all get going, too. Within moments the patio was empty, except for me and the airman on the payphone.
I felt something had happened to me and within me. It was much more than learning what those feet on the bracelet symbolized, though that was part of it. I remember thinking of images, mostly. What those little silver feet must look like in the flesh, then of pregnant women, of those protests I had seen on the news, people holding signs each with slogans about babies and choices and rights and prayers.
The sound of someone yelling my name brought me from the daze as quickly as it had begun. I rubbed out my cigarette underneath my boot and hustled to the parade field.
Days, weeks, and months passed, and life moved on. But the image of that silver bracelet, and those little feet, sat in the back of my mind like an old family photograph collecting dust on the fireplace mantle. I’d see it every so often and think … what if?
I cannot say precisely when I became pro-life. Sometime during my 20th year, I believe, but it arrived like a mountain – solid, immovable, with the appearance of having been there forever.
I now believe that life begins at its beginning – conception – and that from that moment forward that life is a person entitled to equal protection under law.
I never saw that airman again. I never even asked his name. But in the years since I shared those few minutes with him, and he shared the truth with me, I have had countless conversations, donated quite a bit of money, and have written many thousands of words advocating for the unborn. Aside from my wife and children, of all that I have ever done, ever said, or ever written, it is of this that I am most proud.
And it all began for me with a silver bracelet and a young man who was willing to bear witness and wear it.