Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Choice: Freedom and Responsibility

Choice. What is it? How much responsibility does someone have (or should someone have) for the choices they make? Which choices should be sanctioned by the government, and which should be illegal? Choice encompasses everything. How we feel, the way we live, what we think. Choice defines who we are. The choices we make ourselves, the consequences of those choices, the way we react to the choices of others, and the consequences of the choices of others, all combine to make up the entirety of the human experience. You choose who you are.
One of the things this country was founded on was the notion that people should be allowed to make choices about their lives with minimal interference from the government. There are, of course, some choices that all or most people can agree are wrong, most obviously the choice to take from others. Whether it's someone's TV or someone's money or even someone's life, most people in a given society can agree that theft is wrong, and thus provide laws laying out stern consequences for anyone making that choice. But other choices - what god to believe in, how to raise one's children, where to live, what career to have, what to buy, whether or not to agree with the politicians in power, what to read, the choices of the day to day, should be made with as little governmental interference as possible. That is the notion around which freedom is based in this country.
You have the freedom to choose, but you also have the responsibility to own up to those choices; responsibility is intrinsically tied to this freedom. You have a responsibility to accept and deal with the consequences of the choices that you make. This concept seems simple, but of course it isn't. People argue, for example, "I have not choice but to have a terrible life, because my mom abandoned me/dad abused me/schools failed me," etc. Others argue that, for example, children, the elderly, and the insane do not have the mental capacity to understand and make choices. How does one determine these things? Should a woman who was abused as a child be held accountable for then abusing her own children? Should a child who murders someone be held as accountable as an adult would be for that same crime? Or, to move things to a less intense but equally relevant topic, should you be held accountable for the way I feel, or do I have to take some responsibility for that? There are no clear answers for any of these questions. Everyone has a different opinion. And I will offer mine on some of these topics at a later date. For now, what I want to talk about is arguably the most well-known, hotly debated topic on choice:

Abortion. Should it be legal? Is it a valid choice, or are people who have abortions murderers? What are the consequences of abortion?
Who has the right to decide if those consequences are acceptable?

Abortion has been in the news a lot lately, sparked by the murder of a doctor who ran an abortion clinic in Kansas, George Tiller. His clinic was one of only three in the nation that would perform late-term abortions. Articles I've read, and discussions I've listened to, have gotten me really thinking hard on my own stance on abortion.
Typically, the two camps are divided into Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Personally, I hate both terms. I find both to be grossly inaccurate, especially as contrastive terms. It implies that people who are "Pro-Choice" are not pro-life, giving the impression that people who are "Pro-Choice" don't respect life and rather are unfeeling baby killers (and, in fact, the "Pro-Life" nickname for George Tiller was "Tiller the Killer"). It also implies that people who are "Pro-Life" somehow have the ability to take away a woman's ability to make choices about her life. But even if abortion were made illegal, you cannot take away someone's ability to choose - you can make the choices harder, you can make them suckier, certainly, you can discourage someone from making a choice you feel is wrong, but even when options are fewer and less appealing, the choice does not cease to exist. The term "Pro-Life" also bestows a sheen of moral superiority on that faction, because of course all of us want to feel that we respect life, and no one wants to be in the group that opposes life!
But, hate the terms as I do, they are the common terms in our society and I have to live with the linguistic terms I have been given, and so designate myself as "Pro-Choice." However, in being Pro-Choice, that does not mean that I am pro-abortion, an important distinction and one that those of the pro-life camp try to blur as much as possible. I simply think that the issue of abortion is an incredibly complex one, and a deeply personal decision that has to take into account each individual's circumstances, circumstances which are unique to each situation. It is far from black and white. Here are my equally complex feelings on the issue.
I think that the decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a terrible decision to have to make. For some women, it is a decision that haunts them for years afterwards, even those who feel that they made the right call. Whatever the circumstances, it is the kind of decision that you can't take back, and the impact of that decision not only impacts the unborn child and the woman making the choice, it impacts the child's father as well, not to mention the impact it can have on the relationship between all of those involved, including friends and family. The right to choose comes with heavy and sometimes heartbreaking responsibility.
I'm using a "no no" word here in terms of what you might read in a typical "Pro-Choice" essay on the subject. I have noticed that "child" (or "baby") is a term reserved for "Pro-Life" people only. The "Pro-Choice" side seems to prefer "fetus." While fetus isn't inaccurate, I do think that it tends to diminish the gravity of the situation. When thinking about abortion, it's easier to think in terms of "fetus" rather than "child." The fetus, in most peoples' minds, is sort of an amorphous blob until very late in the pregnancy, looking more like some kind of weird alien than a baby. But if you ask any expecting mother what she thinks of the fetus in her womb, there is not a shadow if a doubt in her mind that it is a child. We have an example in pop-culture in the film Juno, where the protagonist of the movie, Juno MacGuff, finds herself pregnant at 16. She initially intends to have an abortion, until outside of the abortion clinic a fellow classmate informs her that the fetus has fingernails, even at this early stage. It is this humanizing characteristic that turns the fetus into a baby for Juno. It is for this same reason that Pro-Life advocates want to pass a law requiring an ultrasound before a woman can have an abortion. The idea is that once you have seen the child, heard its heartbeat, it will be far harder to view it as an abstraction. Pro-Choice advocates argue against the measure for the very same reason.
One of the central questions to the debate is this: Is a fetus alive? Is it a person, thus making abortion murder? Or is it merely another cell within the mother, or something akin to a parasite or a tumor? There are no concrete answers. Science cannot definitively tell us whether or not a fetus is a person. Some people believe it is alive from the moment of conception; others from the first heart heartbeat three to four weeks into the pregnancy; others at the point of viability, i.e. when the fetus might be able to survive outside of the womb; others not until its first breath. Even Thomas Aquinas believed in a concept called 'delayed hominization' wherein a fetus did not have a soul until 40 days after conception (or 90 for girls), and there was a time where the penalties for contraception were harsher than those for abortion before ensoulment.
So. If science cannot tell us, definitively, whether or not a fetus is alive, or at what point it is alive, then we must turn to our own beliefs. Theology. Ensoulment. Personhood. Concepts intrinsically bound up with religion, with faith, with personal conviction. And we're dealing with choice. What do you choose to believe?
So what do I choose to believe? Personally? A fetus is a baby to me. A living being, with all of the promise and potential of a budding life. What proof do I have? My gut. My belief.
In other words? None.
I am lucky enough to live in a country that allows me to choose to believe whatever I like, a country that (at least in theory) believes that the church and the state should be separate entities. If the state has not right to legislate my religion, then how can it legislate my beliefs about something as completely bound up with religion as the personhood of a fetus? And if I do not have the right to force someone to share my religious beliefs (a concept this country was founded on), then how can I have the right to force someone to share my beliefs about the ensoulment of an unborn baby? I have the right to try to persuade them to my way of thinking, to try to talk them out of having an abortion, to make sure they know all of the options as far as having the baby and putting it up for adoption (especially now that something like open adoption is a viable option, and thus adoption no longer means that the biological parents of a child will never see their child again). I have the right to educate people on contraception and safe sex, on the value of being careful until you're ready for kids, to try to minimize the need for abortions. I do not have the right to pass laws making their choice illegal, and forcing people into the awful situation of seeking out dangerous back-alley abortions, or choosing to raise a child they are ill-prepared for, which they are unable to care for.
Because the truth is, making something illegal doesn't take away the choice. It just makes the choice more dangerous; it makes the consequences of that choice more dire.
As to the Pro-Life protesters who scream at women walking into abortion clinics? Or, even worse, who assassinate abortion doctors and bomb women's clinics? What do they really think they're accomplishing? Do they really think that's the way to change someone's mind? I read a story from a friend who told of a friend of hers who was referred to an abortion clinic by a doctor because her unborn baby had died. She was in the midst of absolutely awful, tragic circumstances, and she had to weather judgment and abuse from the protesters standing outside of the clinic, calling her a slut and a murderer. These people have no idea what the circumstances and stories are of the people on whom they are passing judgment, and that is the thing that infuriates me most about these situations.
No one knows your circumstances better than you. No one knows what choices are best for you. And in the incredibly difficult choice of whether or not to keep a baby, that is doubly true. No one can make that choice except the parents of the unborn child, and ultimately, the mother of that child.

I choose to allow others to choose.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On Honesty: Where is the line of TMI?

Ok, I've been tagged by not one, but two different people. I supposed I'd better play. You asked for it! The theme of this seems to be not just sharing funny little-known factoids, but also deeper, more meaningful truths about yourself, some of which may even be embarrassing or scary to share. So, I gave this a lot of thought, and here's what I came up with.

The Honest Scrap award is given by other bloggers who consider a blog’s content or design to be brilliant. The awardees must then post ten honest things about themselves and pass the award on to other bloggers who fit the bill – in other words, whose blog is brilliant.”

I think honesty is put to the test when you tell people things you’d rather not share. Things that scare you. So here’s 10 painfully honest / potentially disturbing things about me (proceed with caution):

  • Hanna, you aren't the only girl who digs some occasional (or not so occasional!) porn, though my site of choice differs from yours. Incidentally, static pictures do nothing for me. I'm all about the video. I also have a guilty reading pleasure - pornographic Buffy fanfic!
  • I dreamed and planned for practically my whole life to study abroad while in college and then to join the Peace Corps after. As it turns out, I'm doing neither. A big part of me wonders if I'm making a huge mistake.
  • The person I lost my virginity to is not who everyone thinks it is.
  • I live in fear of a normal, boring life. I wanted to do something important with my life, something that made a difference in the world, even a small one. If I wind up with some kind of standard office job, I'm afraid I'll end up bitter.
  • A small part of me resents my parents for not helping me out more through college. However, I do have a certain amount of pride in the fact that I've made it through mostly on my own.
  • I detest when people allow themselves to be made victims. I'm big on personal choice and personal responsibility, and there is absolutely nothing that infuriates me more than, "Well, I was totally helpless because of circumstances." You can't always choose your circumstances, but you can always choose how you respond to them.
  • I once flew out for a week in San Diego to hang out with a Navy guy (no, not Fletcher) whom I had met through a coworker while he was in town on vacation. It was an unmitigated disaster, and one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. In the entire trip, I only left the apartment twice (and not because I was just having that much fun indoors, sadly), I never even met the guy's roommates (he never bothered to introduce me), and I spent at least one night alone because he abandoned me to go hook up with his ex. My self-esteem was in shambles by the time I got home, and for a long time after.
  • In my search for the perfect man, I actually paid for a subscription to eHarmony. I also put up several Craiglist ads. Even went on a few dates with online prospects. What I finally realized was that I would never be able to take seriously a guy I met through a personals ad. Not that I judge other people who meet that way - just, for me, there had to be some sort of previous connection. I think I'd have the same problem with a guy I met at a bar.
  • I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I want kids, and I've always wanted a big family. But deep down, I'm really really scared of being a parent.
  • I'm even less vanilla than most people think. This is mainly about lifestyle, and the lifestyle side of it will almost certainly come up in future blog posts.
So, you asked for it, now you have it. ^^ And now, I bestow the award, and the dare, upon the following fabulous bloggers:

Tea Party with the Hatter
Opposite Ends of Infinity
Branden's Idea Blog
The Adventures of a Bohemian Butterfly

Lynnsey Life

P.S. Thanks for the award, girls! :D

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Love: Fear and Certainty

Being in love is at once the most wonderful and the most terrifying experience of my life.

The wonder comes from having a partner in crime; a teammate in the day-to-day parts of life; a warm, solid presence in my soul; an ally who always has my back; a lover who knows me intimately and loves me deeply, through my proudest moments and my darkest experiences, who sees all of the imperfections and rough spots and loves them for being a part of me. And, too, the wonder comes from loving someone else in the same way; in knowing that I know him on levels that no one else does, that he counts on me to have his back and cheer him on, that my love sustains him as his sustains me. It is an incredible feeling to know that he looks forward to waking up with me and falling asleep with me in his arms, that he trusts me like I trust him, and that at the end of the day I am what he looks forward to coming home to. And the wonder comes from feel cherished and safe in a way that I never have before.

The terror comes from the vulnerability of leaving myself so totally open to another person; from trusting as I have not trusted since I was a little girl; from venturing into completely unknown territory.

I've never been in love before. I've experienced puppy love. Longing. Lust. Infatuation. Until Dan, I was infamous for yearning after men who were either unable to be or uninterested in being romantically involved with me. I have spent a great deal of time being heartbroken and sad, and for a long time I confused this with being in love. I pictured myself as a martyr. A long-suffering saint who loved unconditionally and received nothing but empty promises, pain, and regret in return. The truth is, I was stupid. I chose to be a doormat. I chose to be used. And I made these choices out of fear. Because, as painful as unrequited "love" is, in many ways it's easier. Safer. It requires no real commitment, no real effort, no faith in someone else. No trust.
I was almost in love once. But it's hard to call a relationship conducted almost entirely over the phone, e-mail, and IM a real relationship. We met only once face to face, and there was no real possibility of living in the same country, let alone the same city, short of us getting married and one of us completely uprooting to be with the other. At 19, that was not a step I was prepared to take. Because of this, the relationship was safe. It had all the elements of the unrequited love with which I was already so familiar, with the added benefit that I got an ego boost from knowing that he actually returned my feelings. And I did care for Fraser. I think, in another life, another time, I could have loved him. I admit, since he found me on Facebook, I have wondered what it would have been like if things had been different. He's married now, with a beautiful little girl, and there is a small corner of my heart that knows it could have been me. But I wasn't ready then. I had the opportunity to let our relationship really get real, to let myself get truly involved and take that next step. But when it reached that point, when I knew that I was becoming vulnerable and I was going to have to take some kind of leap of faith, instead I ran away.

And for a long time, that was the closest I got. Any time someone showed interest in me, I found a thousand reasons not to be with him, even if I had previously liked him. I hung myself up on the unattainable and the uninterested. Men in relationships or fresh out of them; college professors; men with serious problems with drugs and alcohol; men who were unstable, who were jerks, who were broken.
Dan fell into the category of "interested and therefor uninteresting" for a long time. My closest friends, the ones who knew and loved me best, on more than one occasion told me how stupid I was for not giving him a chance. But I was stuck, trapped into an unhealthy rut by my own fear and self-destructive tendencies.

Last summer (or, to be more exact, the early to mid-fall following the events of last summer) I basically hit rock bottom romantically. I was utterly miserable, for which in hindsight I blame no one but myself, though at the time I had other ideas. I felt used. Stupid. Undesirable. Most of my friends had washed their hands of the situation; not abandoning me, but understandably sick of giving advice that fell on completely deaf ears. During that time, it was Dan who was always there for me. I remember one incident, in particular, which happened on my birthday last year.
This was by far my lowest point. By the end of the night, when I shared a taxi home with Dan and Shad, I was drunk, I was angry, and I was desperately hurting. I remember getting out of the taxi and slamming the door, and I think I made it across the street before bursting into tears; I made it maybe halfway up the stairs before I was sobbing so hard I couldn't walk any more. I should note that this misery was a result of equal parts alcohol and self-inflicted torture, with perhaps a dash of confusion and an ounce of rejection. But the important part of this story is that it was Dan who realized how distraught I was; Dan who checked up on me; Dan who tried his best to console me. I remember thinking at the time, "if only I could find someone who cares about me like Dan cares about me."
It took almost four months, and a little benevolent shoving from a friend, for that thought to really sink in. In fact, even after Dan and I first became involved, we were under the impression that our relationship would take the form of "friends with benefits." But it didn't take long for us to realize that we weren't going to be able to maintain that for long without things getting much more emotionally complicated, on both sides. And it finally occurred to me, "You know who cares about me the way Dan cares about me? Dan."

Taking that step into a real relationship was one of the hardest, scariest things I've ever done. It helped that he was (and is) endlessly patient with me; it also helped that I had been so epically burned by my own self-destructive stupidity. The idea of being with someone stable, sane, and supportive, who makes me feel safe, who thinks I'm wonderful and beautiful... After spending so much time with a wounded ego and a broken heart, I had finally grown up enough to embrace these qualities which once upon a time I would have denounced as "boring." And Dan's and my relationship is far from boring.
For the first time, love songs reflect how I really feel, rather than how I wish things were. My whole world feels different. Even my bad days aren't so bad; when I'm completely stressed, or miserably sick, or upset or hurt or angry, there's still this little corner of me that is blissfully happy. And most of the time? I'm content. I feel safe and loved and all is right in my world. All is so right, in fact, that it still doesn't feel real sometimes.
I spent a large portion of my life believing that love was all bound up with conflict and drama and pain, and that anything else would be dismally dull. But there's something to be said for stability, for communication, for trust. For unshakable certainty. There's something to be said for thinking about the future in terms of "we." For watching him with his nephews and feeling myself filling up with love as I picture him with our own kids. For this new feeling, that no matter what happens, he and I can get through anything.

I can honestly say, I've never been so completely happy.