Do you remember the Big Bear store on Division Street in St. Cloud? The site is now Panera Bread. It carried farm supplies, yard and garden items, hardware and tools, and those orange circus peanuts my dad would occasionally buy if they were on sale.
It’s over 30 years ago now that I was there, picking up some bolts and washers for some project or another. It was cool enough to wear a jacket, and on my jacket was the Precious Feet pin. For those not familiar with it, it depicts the actual size of a fetus’ feet ten weeks after conception.
“That’s cool,” said the clerk, a young woman in her early 20s. Not sure that my 3/8” bolts and lock washers were really that cool, I eloquently asked, “Huh?” “Those feet,” she said, pointing to the pin.
“What’s that for?”
I explained the meaning of the Precious Feet. “Where can I get one of those?” she asked. I gave her the pair I was wearing and replaced them on my jacket when I got back to the rectory.
That was a passing conversation between two strangers, an unexpected encounter to share a conviction on the sanctity of human life as a gift of God to each person. I did not use philosophical arguments, political platforms, statistics or history. It was a small pin, a minor risk (what if she didn’t think it was so cool when I told her what they stood for?), an opportunity that seemed random but was evidently a moment of grace for both of us.
Ma’am, if you’re out there, I hope you were able to use the Precious Feet to explain to someone else. Maybe you still have them. Maybe they persuaded someone – even just seeing them – that we all begin this way, small and dependent on the care and love of others who have not even seen us yet.
In the January issue of the Central Minnesota Catholic magazine, I wrote a piece on the remarkable discoveries science continues to make about genetics and the unfathomably complex design that both makes us one human species and yet individually unique and unrepeatable in our persons. As I note there, the science inspires awe; but vastly more awe-inspiring is the immortal soul that God gives to each person, a life granted that has a beginning but will never end. Our souls, along with angels and black holes and DNA, and the child in the womb, are among those things we mean in the Creed each week: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
Your witness to the dignity of every person made in God’s image might start with a pin, or the rose for life, or an op-ed; but it might also be a gesture of kindness to a stranger, a donation to a charity that promotes respect for human life all across the spectrum of age and need. It might be a prayer, or a conversation with your children, or a co-worker, or a neighbor. Maybe it will start in a check-out line amid the circus peanuts and threaded steel.