She is looking out the window of her apartment into the parking lot below. She can’t help but think about getting an abortion, and she scarcely enjoys anything anymore amid the tension and the despair surrounding her pregnancy. There is a line of trees between her building and another in the complex. There is a Dumpster on the right side of the little scene that makes a mess of the view, but still, she always liked two large trees and the great stretch of branches and leaves they suspend over the parking lot.
But as she looks at them now, she just feels blank. There is little pleasure in this slight wispy view from the kitchenette window, a pleasure she once relished because of the very slightness of it, a trivial delight she savored of an evening when she had in her a suggestion of a poetic impulse, a nascent sense of perception (even though she did lousy in English and didn’t finish the second year at UTC).
As she looks into obtaining an abortion, she might want to consider the procedure from the poetic angle, as well. No, abortion scarcely lends itself to the poetic frame of mind or the imaginative impulse — but then neither does a parking lot scene with trees.
To get to the question of how she has been secretly trained to imagine her baby is not real, I want to look at something terribly mundane. I want to suggest this woman’s powerlessness and helplessness are a condition created by other people as part of their poetic and persuasive labor. I want to give a speculation about how this might work and how, immersed in it, a woman has been alienated from herself.
Mundane, but riveting
Exhibit No. 1 is so mundane that I risk putting you to sleep. But before we consider her situation and the out-of-town clinic she’s settled on, let’s look at her AT&T bill — yes, and her overdue auto insurance bill from State Farm. These envelopes are open and await her attention in a small stack between her keyboard and monitor. They are boring, yet also poetic in the lines visible in the clear plastic envelope window.
4516 SHALLOWFORD ROAD
The other company’s label is similar in its surly assertion:
RUSTIC APARTMENTS, NO. 694
4516 SHALLOWFORD ROAD
Have you ever noticed how government and corporations style your name IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS? This fact is inexplicable, and probably it would be better to suppose that these typeface selections are harmless and signifying of nothing particular.
Her birth certificate styles her name Sylvia Cameron. When her Aunt Heather in Phoenix sends a birthday card, it’s always “Ms. Sylvia Cameron.” When she signs a check, it is always as Sylvia Cameron, in pretty script. However, her credit card and voter registration card share with State Farm and AT&T — and the IRS tax return overdue notice — the all-capital SYLVIA CAMERON.
When she is dealt with personally, in the flesh, as an individual human being and a woman, she is Sylvia Cameron. Interaction, transaction, intercourse with corporations or government agencies are always the other way. In these dealings, the hallowed power of the computer and the database suddenly vanishes. The all-comprehensive computer becomes a blithering idiot, a brainless automaton and a servile wooden-eared recordkeeper. The ALLCAPS key on the bureaucrat’s keyboard is stuck in the “on” position, and the letters of her name come out in large hard-to-read blocks.
When she encounters someone who uses allcaps, they are either dullards — or extremists. People who run websites with overheated right-wing opinions often PUT EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE EVERY PRECIOUS WORD THEY UTTER IS SO IMPORTANT. She’s seen newspaper ads on government REQUEST FOR BIDS that put an unparagraphed mass block of type in allcaps. Allcaps seem impossible to read past two lines. At 40 lines they create an impenetrable gray, a trial for the eye, exhausting by any measure.
Is it possible that government and corporations have allowed creation of an avatar for everyone with whom they have to deal? A commercial avatar, a separate legal entity? This is my suggestion. It is largely a notion from my imagination, a way to explain a largely unnoticed phenomenon of modern life. We live in a time when everyone is a borrower, a credit card user, a mortgagee, a taxpayer, a doler or government beneficiary of some kind. It is not irrational to suggest that government and corporations cannot deal with people in the flesh. As they are abstractions and in many way legal fictions, perhaps they can deal only with other abstractions, with licensees, as it were.
We know many young men waste their lives playing computer games in which they live out fantasy lives via avatars that swing swords and live in an amoral on-screen universe. It is my proposition that the abortion customer’s avatar is an artificial handle by which corporations and government agencies grab hold of her, for good or evil. When she replies to government or corporation on behalf of the avatar, she ratifies its existence. Together, she and the insurance company role play through this contrivance, this persona that amounts to a legal fiction.
The meaning of flesh and blood
She is a flesh and blood person, made in the image of God. She has a soul and a personality. A human being, she is not a part of the rest of creation, as her “green” friends like to insist. She is not co-equal to a fish in Chickamauga Creek, a crustacean on the ocean floor, loblolly pines sprouting on a hill near the apartment complex nor the chicken whose wing she tin-foiled into her lunch. Every person is distinct from creation, the Bible teaches, not part of it. Christianity teaches that she has a dignity denied the ape and the collie. Given a soul, she can have a personal relationship with the creator God, if he so chooses.
To contradict the reality God created, the systems of this world have several obsessions. Insofar as abortion goes, their goal is to convince her that while she may be a real person, her baby is not. Together, media and her non-churched friends indicate that being pregnant is not a life-changing event. To them, Sylvia is not a young mother whose whole life now revolves around her baby. Rather, to them, her pregnancy is an inconvenient interruption of her life as a single girl with no commitments (though she wants one). In their perspective, her pregnancy is not a baby, but an aberrant condition, not a boy or girl, but a problem, not a future secretary of state or court reporter or homemaker, but trouble, one that abortion will remedy.
Whether they realize it or not, they have convinced her to to become an avatar and, in a separate step, to turn her baby into one, a fleeting two-dimensional form that can be clicked away or deleted. The systems of this world of whom her friends are unwitting extensions and of which the media is a manifestation have dehumanized her child so she cannot recognize him, despite the proximity of his rapidly thumping heart to hers.
They have convinced Sylvia Cameron to convert her baby into an artificial person, a mere concept on a screen, a holographic image, as it were. But even the image of a child has been erased; no longer an image, but a Rorshach blot. Implanted secretly in her heart has been a set of poetic ideas that convert her into a being able to operate outside the moral boundaries God established in the 10 commandments. Just as corporations and the modern state claim to have eternal life and the power to create value ex nihilo (out of nothing), as God does, so does she as one who has become absorbed by her avatar. Sylvia leaves behind the flesh and blood life God gave for the sanctuary within the artificial person that her experience and commercial culture have fabricated for her benefit.
Self-contradictory convictions fed together
Confusion attends her state of mind. The system tells Sylvia that she is part of nature, and is mere materiel, mere blood, spit and hair. Materialism prevails. The world is material existence only, with no heaven and no hell, no God and no duty beyond your duty to herself. To keep her off balance, the system also assures her of the inexact opposite. You are not a material creature at all, not subject to God’s laws at all, not made in His image at all, but merely an independent will, an actor, a psychological entity, an epic poem, a character in a narrative story of which, fantastically, you control the plot.
I cannot be sure of the explanations I am offering, so I offer them provisionally. But it is time to settle into a truth of which we can be certain and which has biblical warrant. She is made in God’s image, with a special purpose in the world. Her unborn child may be legally a bastard. But he is made in God’s image, with a special purpose in the world. God requires her to live the life He gave her. If she sinned, she must bear up under its consequences. If she has been given grace to repent of her sin nature and her particular sins as against fidelity or chastity,‡ she will be given grace to live out her life as a mother. Pregnant, she is a mother already. She bears a boy or girl. He is made in her image. Every minute he is being shaped by the providential hand of God into the person he will become — black eyes, high forehead, winks and a funny laugh. He may become a postal clerk who survives the bankruptcy of that monopoly and become an executive overseeing new truck orders from the Chinese.
It is only by receiving God’s grace, goodness and mercy can she live out the life of a woman made of clay and moisture and, a spiritual being, enbreathed by God from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. Living that real life, a flesh and blood person with a spirit made in the image of God, she will obtain rescue from the lifelong agony abortion will bring.
‡ The seventh commandment, prohibiting adultery and requiring sexual purity in thought, word and deed