I AM PRO-THRIVE

Recently, I have noticed that many people on Facebook have a purple banner at the bottom of their profile picture that reads, “I AM PRO-LIFE”.  

 

Now, I am not one to condemn free expression, since I love my own and hate when people try to silence me.  But those little banners annoyed the crap out of me after a while, and I needed to say something about them.  But I chose to say something here, instead of saying something on my Facebook profile, because I thought that my response required more explanation than a few sound bytes.  It required something more fully reasoned and more fully expressed–with some history and some anecdotes, perhaps.

 

And as I started firing up the Chromebook and getting ready to respond,  the first two songs on shuffle play were Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield and All I Want Is Love from A Great Big World, which just seemed to be signs from The Divine that I was on the right path writing this here.  

 

I am not “pro-life” any longer.  Lots of people assume that is because I am liberal.  And I suppose, in many respects, I am.

 

But blanket terms like “liberal” don’t always describe what we think we are describing, and I would call myself progressive, not liberal, as a point of fact.  Because I don’t agree with things along a party line, and am an independent voter, based on whatever and whomever I think follows what I believe is “right”–ethical, beneficial, and based in love, beauty, and truth.  

 

This is the point where lots of people want to yell comments about killing babies not being ethical, beneficial, or based in love, beauty, and truth.  But that assumes a lot of things. That assumes that you believe life begins at conception–which I don’t think is a true statement. That assumes that our society deems all life equal–and it doesn’t.  That assumes that “benefit” and “love” are seen through the eyes of a fetus and not a pregnant woman–which I don’t believe it should be or can be, exclusively. And I understand those assumptions because I used to hold them as facts to be demanded, not assumptions to be challenged.  I used to be pro-life and a supporter of anti-abortion causes and rhetoric. I hope that I will be forgiven for my narrow-minded, single-focused, self-righteous stance at that time in my life. Because I should have challenged my assumptions and listened to the stories of others and wondered at the courage of women who walked beyond a line of picketing jerks to get an abortion, and why it was so important for them to make it through that door–because it couldn’t be that they were just liberal Jezebels with no love in their hearts, if I had stopped to think on it for a few seconds.  There were really good reasons. But I didn’t stop to consider those reasons for far too long.

 

I’m not entirely certain when the break came for me.  It was a gradual understanding that things couldn’t be as I believed when I was back in high school and my first year of college.  Maybe part of my consideration of women’s choices being valid came because I started losing my own fetus on a regular basis. One live birth out of six confirmed pregnancies–and a couple of suspected early miscarriages where I missed and then had heavy menstruation.  My body killed one in six babies, at least, on its own, without any interventions. And that takes a toll on a woman, even when she doesn’t particularly want to be pregnant or give birth. Then the child that survived did so at the most inopportune time. And I love that daughter with every fiber of my being, and didn’t consider abortion for a moment of my pregnancy with her, but I did learn the challenges of adoption agencies and the choice that is offered to many women as an “opportunity” to place their child in a “loving family” that can “better meet his or her needs”.  

 

I called bullshit on adoption.  I would hear many more stories that called bullshit on adoption later in my journey, but most of you won’t like to hear those stories.  You prefer the idea that adoption is always good people saving helpless children from lost souls. Bullshit. It’s terribly corrupt–especially when it involves children from overseas–and it is damaging for children in significant ways, but even more so for parents.  The suicide rate for birth mothers is outrageously high, and their risk of substance abuse AFTER placing their child (not before) is also much higher than that of the general population. Placing your child harms you in serious and debilitating ways. But we don’t like to talk about that.  We like to pretend that adoption is all about the babies and saving their lives. I’ve had more adopted children, as teens or adults, tell me they would rather have died than been placed where they were, than I can count on my fingers. But nobody wants to hear that part of the story. Nobody wants to hear that we took a baby and placed it with abusive parents who ruined the life of that boy or girl in really terrible ways.  And we can’t say, “At least they are alive!” We can’t promise that not living would have been worse. We cannot prove that hypothesis!!

 

I’m always struck by the instances in the biblical text where there are cries such as “Oh that I had never been born!”  There were clearly those who thought not living was better than suffering.

 

I’ve been there.  I’ve been in struggle deep and affecting enough that I wished not only for death but that I had never been born to suffer this way at all.  If I had a choice. If we went back in time, and The Divine laid before me life with all that I have suffered, or not living, it would be a very challenging decision.  And if I knew that dying in the womb brought me straight to some afterlife, where living made me suffer first and then brought me to the same end, I would probably skip to the end.  

 

There’s been a ton of joy in my life.  Don’t misunderstand. I’m not discounting that joy.  I’m just saying that the suffering has been far outweighing the joy for most of my existence, and other people don’t get to say that my suffering is better than not being around to suffer–joy or no.  Other people don’t get to define the limits that I can tolerate, or the impact that events have on my person, or the way that I choose to cope with what I have endured and will endure. We don’t get to tell other people that they are better off alive and suffering than they would have been if their parent would have chosen to abort.  We don’t know that. We can’t prove that. We want that to be true, but that doesn’t mean it is.

 

That sounds crass, but it is true.  I can’t say that being born is better.  I can say that I am glad those people are here and that they offer great things just by being alive in this world.  So, it isn’t as crass as you might imagine, in practice as it is in theory.

 

I almost typed that I “would never express that a person is better off dead”.  That would have been a lie.

 

Lol.  Now some people are really stirred up!!

 

But I did say that.  I thought that sometimes when my mom was suffering a lot from her Alzheimer’s and would cry uncontrollably and be confused and frustrated.  It was hard to see her that way, and there were times that I said I wished her disease would progress, because I wanted that suffering to end.  I, obviously, didn’t want my mother to be dead, but I didn’t want her to suffer. I felt that way because of how much I loved my mom. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone.  

 

Earlier, I said that many would not believe that being pro-choice could be a thing that came out of love.  But it can be when you consider that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone. And that is the love that lets women let go of the potential of a person.  It isn’t yet a baby in the mind of most–because science. But even if it were a person, and it were a medical necessity to let go, love is still the driving force that makes that decision.  It isn’t selfish. It is selfless, almost always, to choose to end a pregnancy. And often the challenge is that you cannot provide the home that this child will deserve, because you have other children to feed and care for and cannot take on the responsibility of another.  

 

I know, the trope is the irresponsible, young girl who gets knocked up … and like all the tropes, it isn’t true.  

 

I have hundreds of stories and all sorts of scientific facts that I could tell, and they would express my transition from someone who didn’t understand that most abortions are had by women who already have children, and that there is a decidedly racist and classist reason that black women are more affected than others by unplanned pregnancy, and that Planned Parenthood saves far more lives than it has or will ever end (my own included in those saved), and that the decisions of others regarding procreation are not anyone else’s business, to someone who now does understand those things.  I am happy to share statistics and happy to share stories at any time. From the 12-year-old friend whose mom pimped her out for drugs who had 2 kids by age 14, to the friend who suffered trauma from placing her son with an amazing family, to the intrusions of others into my own choices about my body when I had to have a hysterectomy. I have people in my life who have had abortions, who have been placed or placed their children for adoption, who have adopted with relative success or adopted and been faced with a host of problems, and who have faced all sorts of choices and challenges regarding procreation, fertility, birth control, and similar subjects.  But none of that is what I want to take away from this post.

What I want to take away from this post, is the ways that being “pro-life” tends to ignore the “life” portion of that statement once that life has gotten beyond the point of gestation.  Really, many of those who have that purple banner under their name should say, “I AM PRO-GESTATION”. Because once that baby is born, it ceases to have any support or care from most of those same people who proudly shout at innocent mothers and spread propaganda against Planned Parenthood.  

 

I found this out the hard way.

 

So many people were pro-baby Bloem before I had my child as an almost divorced mom.  After I pushed away the baby-grabbing adoption agency and they essentially called me a crazy person for keeping my child, my parents offered their full support.  Many others offered support as well. But my parents were the only ones to keep their promise. The rest were loving and supportive so long as I kept that little one gestating safely, and lots of people were also loving and supportive for a month or so after she was born.  After that?

 

I remember crying as Bill Clinton addressed the country in his State of the Union in 1997 and promised reforms that would make life easier for women like me on welfare.  I didn’t know then that welfare reform would mean lifetime limits and work demands that were impossible in my tiny community, and that would actually make life harder. It would toss millions off of the rolls, and pretend at success, but would actually disappear those families–many of them forced into homelessness, sex work, illegal enterprise, or fraudulent use of programs to survive.  The laws still haven’t been reformed from Clinton’s crap reform, so the number of people forced to survive off the damaging and difficult circumstances that the late 90’s forced people into has stayed relatively steady, and the welfare rolls don’t increase much with the strict rules still in place. So, while this desperation and struggle continues, there are many who promote their pro-life agenda and also still call for cuts to spending on social programs.  They think too many people get “handouts”. Too many people on food stamps. Too many people on disability. Too many people on welfare.

 

I wonder, how many is too many?  How many is just right? Who is the fucking Goldilocks of social programming who decides what is the correct number of disabled and hungry people, and then how do we make that number equal with the number of people in society that actually NEED these services???  

 

If you won’t vote for MORE social safety net funding, you aren’t pro-life.  Because if you won’t vote for more such funding, you don’t want all people to thrive.  Do you think life is worth living in a state of constant need and hunger and suffering?  Do you think it is great to sell your vagina to buy formula? Great! You do it! Otherwise, vote for equal pay and equal rights and more funding for every program that helps people who are not you.  And if you will not, then do not say you promote life. Say that you promote gestation and birth, but not life, per se.

 

Let’s move beyond that subject to another aspect of thriving–prison!  The most obvious thing to bring up here is the death penalty. If you support killing people who break the law, but not a fetus, I call bullshit.  And you can quote the Old Testament until you are blue in the face, but before you do, let me remind you that I went to not one, but two seminaries.  So, I can not only quote the bible back, but I can explain why the New Testament offers an alternative to the penalty of death and asks you to extend mercy, not judgment.  Does the law allow for death? Yes, in some cases. Should it? Absolutely not, if you claim you are pro-life. You can’t ask for life on one hand and death on the other. If life begins at conception, then once god conceived of you, regardless of your sins against him, you deserve life.  If not, then we can talk. But you can’t have the cake and eat it too, people. Pick one and stick with it.

 

Secondary to this is the treatment of humans in general.  Being beaten, raped, tortured, etc., is NEVER acceptable if you are to claim you want life for all.  What kind of life is that?? Nobody deserves such treatment, and if you aren’t supporting an end to mass incarceration, rights for foreign detainees, and just treatment of prisoners everywhere, then you don’t want life for all, but you want gestation and birth for babies.  Once they are born, and make a mistake, you don’t care who does what to them. And that is NOT the will of any god that I will ever serve. If you are fine with the rape and torture of anyone, anywhere, you should seriously evaluate your heart.

 

Please don’t tell me, “Those people committed crimes!”  So did you. Every last one of you has gossiped, or committed adultery, or lusted, or lied, or, at the very least, driven over the speed limit.  You are all just as depraved as the next, right Calvinists? So, don’t tell me now that you are better than those criminals. You aren’t. They may have sinned differently, or gotten caught, or just been unfairly treated by an unjust system that leans toward punishing black and brown boys, but they certainly are not less human or less good than you at their core.  They are people–every bit your equal. And they deserve equal rights, as such.

 

I can go on and on.  An end to war. Equal pay for women.  Ending sexual violence. Gender justice.  Racial justice. Stopping this incessant whining about immigrants taking something from you when you are extremely fucking privileged and losing nothing to them.  

 

I am Pro-Thrive.  I consider all of these things when I speak, write, read, vote, and live out my days.  I consider the actual LIVES of the poor and marginalized, not just their births. Because what the fuck does it matter if babies are born if you won’t do anything to fight for justice in their lives after that fact?  If they die of hunger, or they have to sell their bodies to pay for necessities like food and housing, or they end up in prison at age 14, or they die by war or suicide or gun violence at a young age, then what was the point in funneling all that money and energy into keeping them gestating until birth??  Was that better?? I don’t think it was good enough!

 

We can do better!!

 

The fact is, I don’t particularly love abortion as an option.  I’d love to see free birth control offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see, science-based, comprehensive sex education courses offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see social programs increase, so that we can limit abortion.

 

But I would never tell a woman what she is or is not allowed to do with her body, because I don’t have that right.  I’m not her. And if there is one thing that being sexually violated teaches you, it is that NOBODY tells you what to do with your body but you.  So, I would rather she get a safe, legal abortion, if that is her choice, than go back to the fucking stone age and endanger the lives of women who do make that choice.  

 

Regardless of my personal preferences, however, the point here is to look at the whole life of a person, and to make whole life a consideration.  If you claim to be a person of faith, and you claim to honor life, but you support war and torture and the death penalty and cuts to medicare and SNAP, something is off-balance.  If you wish to claim that you are for life, you must be for all of it, in all of its forms and for all of its people. If you are not for life for all people, at all ages, in all circumstances, you should come up with another claim.  You are not pro-life. You are not pro-thrive. I’m not sure what you are, but it isn’t very inclusive and it isn’t very much like the Christ of the bible that most of you claim to be following. So, that is a concern that you might want to take to heart and consider for a while.  

 

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out over here in my progressive corner with The Divine.  I am pro-choice.

 

But I am also PRO-THRIVE!!   And I am very glad I have evolved to that point.  Hallelujah!!

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Wealth

I won $25 in the form of an Amazon gift code.  I feel rich.

Just kidding.  I am still super poor, but I wanted to make the point here that most people could lose $25 and not be terribly upset by the loss, while for me it feels like frigging Christmas wrapped in the lottery to gain $25.

Wealth is both relative and not relative.  I have far more than someone living in a hut in the jungle in South America, perhaps, monetarily speaking.  But I also have far less than most people living in North America, monetarily speaking.  So that makes it relative in nature.  But there are really easily applied formulas for figuring out what it costs to live in a particular place, and being from North America, and having no income, I rest way down at the very bottom of the poverty scale.  There isn’t anything relative about that.  I can’t be considered wealthy based on the conditions in which I live. And, frankly, I can’t afford to move to a hut in South America either, so I am stuck within those conditions, and my situation would likely not change were I to live elsewhere in the United States. (Canada is a whole other, and I dare say better, story than here. But I don’t think they give you a visa to utilize better social programs.  They probably prefer people emigrate with useful skills, not disability status.)

So, if we understand that I am stuck where I am physically and financially, we can also understand that I don’t have monetary wealth.  And that presents challenges that I often never considered.

There was a commercial on today for ADT security service that said something along the lines of “even in your nice neighborhood”.  And I was taken aback as a person whose neighborhood would rarely, if ever, be considered nice.  Are they specifically marketing to people in “nice” neighborhoods?  What defines nice?  Who thinks that bad things can’t happen in their neighborhood, even if it fits the criteria set forth for one that is nice?  And aren’t there enough neighborhoods that are not meeting the nice criteria for ADT to make plenty of money?  I know my building has an alarm system on every floor, even though there are no less than four deadbolts between the street and my apartment from any entrance. And it began to sink in that what nice means is a neighborhood with wealth.

Wealth, with regard to neighborhood safety, is also relative and not relative.  There are far more shootings in the south side and west side neighborhoods of Chicago than in other areas, and these neighborhoods are also those that have the most poor households. (We will ignore for the moment that they also have the most people of color—or, rather, are composed almost solely of people of color.) It would seem that money equates with safety.  But when we look closer, and assess types of crime, there are far fewer home invasions in my area on the west side than in wealthier areas.  Nobody wants my not techie, super-old, very cheap electronics, or my Salvation Army furniture.  I’m relatively safe, in that regard.  I’m also relatively safe because my block is filled with families who own their homes and take pride in being good, Christian people, so they either don’t participate in criminal activity, or do so quietly and without drama and violence.  (The neighbor lady sits out back and smokes weed every nice evening, for instance, but she isn’t dealing in heroin and guns.)  So, being impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe, in a relative sense.  But, there is also the issue of extreme poverty—the kind that leads to homelessness, prostitution, hunger, and the like.  This poverty makes you very unsafe.  Have you ever wondered why many homeless sleep in public parks during the day?  It is because sleeping alone in the dark corners of the city is very dangerous, especially for women or children.  The elements are dangerous.  The alternate economies, like selling drugs or your body, are dangerous.  There is no safety in extreme poverty.  This is not relative.  It is simply the truth.

And lately I sit on the precipice of this extreme sort of poverty.

I’ve learned to live in the burden of the relative poverty and the relative safety without too much difficulty.  There were a few years between an innocent youth and aware adult that included sex and drugs and homelessness, and that I do not regret, because it taught me the truth.  It made me know, beyond any uncertainty, that extreme poverty should never be, because you cannot be in it without being in constant danger.  I was in constant danger during those years.  Those years broke me, and started the process of rebuilding me anew.

What I lived then, I never wanted another human being to experience.  I never wanted another human being to choose sex with a stranger over possibly freezing to death in the car.  I never wanted another human being to steal tampons or soap from Walmart, because there wasn’t another way to get them.  I never wanted another human being to learn the schedule upon which the McDonald’s dumpster received uneaten burgers from the previous shift, still slightly warm and wrapped in their lovely papers inside that plastic garbage bag, and ready for consumption.  I never wanted another human being to sleep with an aerosol hairspray and a lighter at the ready, to create an instant blow torch to the face of any who might attack in the night.  Nobody should ever live that way.

I moved from the extreme poverty to the relative poverty category when I had a child.  Then you got all the wealth–$361 of wealth every month!  It was like a heaven.  A heaven where you had to decide between socks and diapers, or medicine and transportation, or tampons and toilet paper.  A heaven where I would unroll all the toilet paper from the church bathroom stall into my purse every Sunday.  A heaven where my daughter missed the 1st grade class trip because I couldn’t come up with $6.  A heaven where I cried myself to sleep at midnight and then got up at five in the morning to do my own homework before I had to wake my daughter for school.

That heaven, sadly, is gone.  I’m no longer eligible for more student loans, and I haven’t qualified for TANF since my daughter was five, and while I do get food stamps and a housing voucher, I don’t get any other assistance.  My light bill and my gas bill and my phone bill and my medications not covered by insurance and my clothes and my toilet paper and a haircut and soap and laundry detergent and whatever else I need, that comes from nowhere.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and borrowed all that I was able from family, and now there is nothing.  Now it is over.  Now I stare at that space between here and sleeping with aerosol and lighters, and I see it narrowing, and I am afraid.  Can I survive on the street now?  No.  I wouldn’t make it a week out in the elements.  Would it come to that?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that nobody on this planet, and certainly nobody in the United States, should see $25 as wealth when others wouldn’t notice if it went missing.

When I was younger, I had these friends who would take checks out of their mom’s checkbook and forge her signature and go out to eat and such.  They would take my relative poverty butt along for the ride.  I don’t think their mom ever noticed that they were essentially stealing her money, or she, at least, didn’t care and simply allowed them to continue the practice.  Either way, it was a huge departure from the way I lived.  I could not imagine a world where every penny was accounted for in the budget weeks before any income was expected.  I could not imagine a world where money could just leave your bank account without you freaking the fuck out and tracking down the evil person who took it.  I could not imagine wealth.

I still can’t.

I have friends who I would consider wealthy, and relatives that I would consider wealthy, so I see wealth and have been close to wealth, but my own mind doesn’t know wealth.  It only knows scarcity.  And when you only know scarcity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine wealth.

I do strange things out of scarcity and the fear of scarcity.  I save bottles of product that are clearly empty, just in case I can somehow get more out, by pressing on the pump a thousand times, or turning it upside down and banging it on a hard surface, or by adding some water to dilute the product and potentially get at least partial benefit from the watery substance that is left.  I keep clothes with holes and things that don’t fit, just in case there is never a way to replace what is in my closet with something else.  I imagine everything needs to be saved and kept, albeit neatly, in the closet.  I accept things from others that I would never choose for myself.  I always take home leftovers, even if I didn’t like the food the first time and know I won’t eat them.  It just seems like I always need to be prepared for a period where I am destitute.  That day seems moments away.  Always.

The stress on my body and mind from believing in this destitute day and my needed readiness must be outrageous.  It is no wonder that people in poverty have shorter life spans.  Stress alone is killing us, never mind exposure or illness or starvation or infection or assault.

I should feel wealth, and not scarcity.  We all should feel wealth and not scarcity.

The other day on the bus I recognized a voice.  It was a man I had spent some time talking with on the bus a year or so ago.  I remembered this interaction vividly, because he was a pianist and a piano teacher, and also homeless.  My mother was a piano teacher and a pianist, so we connected on that topic and he began telling me all sorts of stories about his days as a professional musician.  He traveled to places exotic and new and he performed in all sorts of famous or glamorous or beautiful venues, but people gawked and made scowling faces as I spoke with him about his wealth of experience, because it was obvious that he now had no monetary wealth to speak of.  I heard him telling a woman next to him that he was a piano teacher, and immediately was taken back to the memory of him and our lovely conversation.  I looked over, and I hardly recognized him.  He had the same glasses and the same torn pants, he still had a jacket too light for the weather and curly blonde/gray hair sticking out in all directions, but he had lost maybe 70 pounds and he looked gaunt and ashen about the face, instead of plump and rosy as he had been the day I first met him.  Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and I looked away, putting on my headphones and immersing myself in something other than the empty feeling in my gut.  He had slipped down the slope into extreme poverty.  He is dying.  Slowly, but with certainty, he is dying.  And he reminded me once more of my mother, and the frailty she showed as her body slipped into death.  All the wealth this man possessed was leaving him.  But it should not have been.  That history, that life, that wealth of experience should have been valued and respected and honored.  It wasn’t, because he was poor and homeless.

I deserve to feel my own wealth, for once.  I should be allowed to feel the wealth of knowledge and intellect I possess, and the giftedness of an artist and a writer and a poet, and the depth and the breadth of a life lived with fire and passion and play and purpose.  I rarely feel that wealth.  I never feel that wealth without doing so deliberately.  Because the poverty pushes out all else.  The monetary scarcity—the lack of financial resources—overwhelms any other wealth that we might possess, and leaves us bathed in insecurities and unable to promote our strength.  It strips us of the goodness and leaves us only the worries of never having—never being—enough.

So, today I won $25.  And all of this came out of that little Amazon gift card.  All of this was the result of that one moment, when I declared that I am rich, even when I know that I am clinging to relative poverty with every cell in my body right now.  Even though I know it is a lie.  Even though I believe in scarcity, when I wish beyond all telling that I could trust in abundance.  I don’t.  I don’t know abundance anymore.  Maybe I never did.  And maybe I will go the way of my pianist friend, slowly losing life to homelessness and hunger once more, or maybe I will go the way of others, and win the lottery or write a best-seller or start a business and have millions to spend.  But, somehow, I think that I might always be stuck in this pattern of thinking, no matter which way I go.  Because being poor has become a part of me, and fighting to survive is the only fight I know, and scarcity has been my reality for so long that I don’t know that I could ever believe that it won’t be stripped from me, and that my true, scarce self will be exposed for all to see.

I find that really sad and terrible.  And I do not have a beautiful expression with which to leave you, and a happy ending to this post.  Because this is me thinking aloud and finding the truth in my own post, not me solving the problem to make you feel better.  And, maybe you are a person who would benefit from sitting in this space with me, and acknowledging that the solution isn’t evident.  Maybe sitting in my scarcity will help you see your own abundance, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will give you comfort that you are not the only one, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will inspire you to become passionate about sharing abundance and honoring wealth not monetary in nature.  I don’t know.

All I can say for certain right now is that I am really excited to spend my $25.  Now, should I buy socks or medicine?