I went to the March for Life yesterday. Our local Knights of Columbus Councils combine resources to hire a swanky coach bus with a nice bathroom and stock pile goodies for those who wish to attend. The only expense we were asked to cover was a $5 pass to ride the DC Metro from the lot where the bus was parked to the National Mall. It was great to be among so many Catholics, and it was inspiring to learn that the March for Life is the largest human rights demonstration in the world. The 2018 theme was “Love Saves Lives,” and I was happy to be part of such a positive public witness.
Allow me to preface the essay which follows with three additional points:
- Metropolitan Tikhon was very subtle in his opening prayer & remarks about the Seamless Garment. Good for him- I think he was the only one who referenced those terms throughout the entire opening rally.
Especially in light of his recent remarks about Africa and Haiti, I felt a little embarrassed to be part of a cause where most of the constituency welcomed President Trump’s participation as a speaker. I was appalled that so many Christians cheered for him when he spoke. I didn’t have the courage to take a knee but I did sit down, eat my snacks and tune him out. Be careful, America. Something’s wrong with this picture.
The March for Life could do a better job of addressing the issues of physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, capital punishment, gun control, and due process for the undocumented. I suspect that if they did, however, there would probably be a lower turnout. In my conscience, I believe that it’s important to speak to these issues too. If we don’t, it’s only a matter of time before we will be calling our health insurance companies to haggle over the price tags which they have affixed to terminally ill human lives. I’m 34. I’m in the process of appealing a bill for an ultrasound to check on a long-time resident fibroid. It was part of routine preventative care, but my insurance didn’t see it that way. I hope I live to be 70, because I’m curious to see if they will deny coverage when keeping a septuagenarian Elena is less cost effective than shooting me up with morphine.
You can check out my super cool protest poster above.
As the poster says, “life is an everybody issue.” Abortion is our worst symptom. It’s troubling that we’ve reduced this to an issue of women’s health. The demands for unrestricted abortion and contraceptive access are reflections of social cowardice. We don’t want to talk about the constructs of gender, or the convenience of sexual expression because the alternatives are much more difficult. A tolerant, life-positive culture requires more than a few acts of congress, but rather, investment from the whole of society.
If a conscious, evolved culture was encouraged to think before engage in procreative activity, I wonder if it would become a more productive civilization. It wouldn’t be so easy to dispose of an unplanned pregnancy, so maybe humans would have to look at new options to channel physical urges. We might have to apply a collective effort to make our classrooms, offices and homes more tolerant of diversity. In this way, we’d be creating a culture where it’s easier for the individual to love the self first before looking to romantic relationships, sexual gratification and parenthood as forms of personal validation.
It’s not easy. I like men. A lot. Sometimes, I wonder if my quirky personality, and codependent tendencies are God’s cleverly designed safety feature which protect me from situations which would predicate difficult choices. I honestly have no idea how clouded my thinking would be if I was confronted with a crisis pregnancy. Because I was raised primarily by my mother and grandmother, my absolute worst nightmare would be single mother-hood. The best thing I can do to avoid this possible life path is to make choices that would not dispose me to that possibility.
For many years, I thought that my relationship status was an indication of my dignity. My female role models held men responsible for their emotions and self esteem, but they are not entirely to blame. Our tax system supports the myth that relationships elevate our societal value by offering deductions to people who are parents, and by offering some benefit to those who file jointly. The American legal system also favors the married person by offering certain privileges to spouses that are not afforded to treasured friends. Employee health benefits, in certain circumstances, are extended to spouses and children. American law and finance do not legitimize relationships unless there is some implied sexual expression.
The Catholic Church sees marriage as a sacrament, and the canonical norms which govern marriage clearly indicate that sexual relations are an important part of the sacrament. Impotency can be considered an impediment to marriage. A marriage which is not consummated, that is, where no sexual relations take place, can be declared invalid, annulled, as if a marriage never took place. The Book of Blessings, a supplementary book of Catholic prayers, has many blessings related to marriage, family and children. There is even a blessing for a woman after a miscarriage. The Book of Blessings has great blessings for food, buildings, animals, meetings and things- lots of things- but there is no blessing for two best friends, or three best friends, or a group of good friends. Through the hermeneutic of lex orandi, lex credendi, the Church does not pay much attention to relationships which do not either originate (i.e., parenting) or involve expression, (i.e. marriage) through the conjugal act.
Sexual expression is right there, in our own bodies. It’s convenient. It’s inexpensive. In it’s simplest form, it doesn’t take much thought. Other forms of expression require much more integration of body, mind and spirit. They require intentional effort, time and sacrifice. It’s more beneficial to school young people for success, and success has become a euphemism for miserable, purposeless financial stability. I shudder when I ask young people about their career goals, and they say that don’t care as long as they are wealthy. I think about the times my mom would say, “when you’re a mommy someday,” as if this was a given. We don’t make a blanket statement and presume all boys are going to be engineers, so why presume I’m going to make a career out of having a uterus? How come I’ve never heard a parent say to their child, “someday, I want you to grow up and be as joyful and carefree as an adult as you are today.” Joy? Freedom? These are the things God desires for us!
Like I said earlier, it’s not easy to live this way. There are times when I am presented with curiosity and temptation, but often the sense of intrigue becomes a source of creative inspiration. Just the other night, I was at a dinner where there was this super cute guy about my age who kept making eye contact. As absolutely delicious as he was for my eyes to behold, he stood by the door as a reminder of why I garden, play music and make a variety of hand-crafted material goods–because I do not want to make babies. We said hi and bye, and will probably meet again. I have to be content that my expression of attraction will be relegated to a few authentic remarks of affirmation at worst, and at best, a new hymn tune I’ve yet to write. But I am the exception to a cultural norm. I’m fortunate that so many people believed in me enough that I can support myself through a purpose-driven, creative career. I am even more fortunate that I work in an industry where celibacy is a value, and promiscuity could be considered grounds for corrective action. While I don’t think obligatory celibacy is a good idea for anyone, my choice to live as an unmarried person has been incredibly rewarding, even despite the loneliness and financial restrictions.
I suspect that parents see more potential for a financially stable future by encouraging a daughter to get married or “give them grandchildren” than they might ever see in encouraging her to pursue study in the area of art or music. Maybe parenting was their only option, and they had to make the most of what life handed to them. We condition girls to believe that their highest purpose is motherhood by giving them baby dolls instead of drafting kit. We allow men to dismiss their sexual urges by saying things like, “hey, I’m a guy,” when we should be giving them a of a set knitting needles and saying “make a hat, not a baby.”
Socially constructed gender roles are molds that are difficult to shatter. Even the Church has partaken of the monochromatic Kool-Aid. I was at a workshop recently, and one of the participants at my table felt the need to preach to me some quotes from Theology of the Body as if it were the fifth gospel. We are in God’s image and likeness, but we are more than this! What about the guy who likes to arrange flowers? What about the woman like me who loves doing very typically masculine things, like watching the CSX trains pass by the office, wearing baggy flannel shirts and wearing this really cool fedora that belonged to a now-deceased canon lawyer? I recall when I subscribed to that rigid sense of gender and expression. I hypersexualized myself. I thought I had to be hyper-feminine to be a good woman. I was convinced that there was something intrinsically disordered in my psyche because I knew I wouldn’t make a very good mother. I was such a different person then. I could cry over the amount of money I invested in shoes, makeup, skirts, and fake hair just to prove I was someone I was not created to be. I’m grateful that the people I met during those years didn’t stick around for much more than a cup of coffee. What did I have to prove? Sometimes, it’s almost as though I’ve been reduced to the functions of my reproductive system. Although I was never sensitive to this before, when I begin the next stage of my career, I feel like it will be all the more important to subtly infer in correspondence that I neither have any familial responsibilities, nor any plans to start a family, ever. I feel sometimes that the world presumes that age times gender is a formula for my propensity towards motherhood, and I’m an equation that just doesn’t graph according to the typical parabola. That simply doesn’t mean I’m going to play to what the world expects of me.
Abortion is a symptom of a much greater problem. Abortion is a symptom of societally imposed limits. We’ve limited ourselves to our physical bodies. We’ve limited ourselves to social constructs. We’ve limited ourselves to sex, what others think about sex, and how others tell us we should think about sex. We’ve continue to act out sexually when we should really be present to our emotions. We’ve made it acceptable for our daughters to stay silent when they should be able to say no. We’ve formed our sons so that they do not take “no” for an answer. We’ve conditioned young women to believe that despite an extensive, expensive college education, she should be happy with $0.70 on the dollar, and remain silently complicit with an unjust system. Because of this, she should expect a man to support her when she decides to get pregnant. We’ve conditioned men that they should want to be “stand-up guys” who marry women they don’t love because she only makes that $0.70 on the dollar.
What do we expect?
The man doesn’t take no. The woman stays silent. He doesn’t want to marry a girl doesn’t love and she doesn’t want to raise a child on her own because then she can’t go back to her $0.70 on the dollar job. So they are faced with “choices.” The whole cycle of silence and resistance continues. They part. They suffer in silence. In an effort to mask the pain they engage in behaviors which harm themselves and others. That sound of silence is the wail of Rachel, weeping for her children.
Abortion is a symptom. It’s an egregious symptom which will persist until we’ve irradicated the problem we have, especially as Christians, with looking within and getting comfortable with being a little asymmetrical, a little different, a little -gee, dare I say, special? Until then, we’ll continue to aspirate, dilate and scrape away the parts of ourselves which were never our own to remove in the first place. Until we can embrace diversity and individuality as assets, we will continue to look beyond ourselves to do what can only be done by the Spirit who is innate to all of humanity. Until we can truly love the gift of our own incarnation, our own being, consciousness, we will remain deficient in our sense of dignity for the incarnation others.
Love is the only answer, for truly, love-God’s abundant and transformative love saves lives.