Again and Again

We’re working on a second book — about which we can’t reveal too much yet — except to say we’ve been conducting many, many interviews for it. We interview adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents alike, and are constantly stunned and deeply touched by the stories people choose to share with us.

One of the themes that has emerged is that many young adoptees who felt rejected by their birth families harbored a great fear of being rejected by the adoptive family, as well, no matter how loved they may have been.

One adoptee in particular, James, told us about one of his birthdays when he was a young boy growing up in a house of four other adopted children. His account so moved us, we asked for his permission to share it with you all.

I can still remember the night before I turned ten. I was restless and my legs wouldn’t stay still. My mind was running in circles, too, and I couldn’t sleep so I turned on the light next to my bed, reached for my sketchbook and pencil, and began to draw. I still have the drawing I did that night. It’s somewhere in a box of things my mother saved. Anyway, it was a picture of me, my two sisters and two brothers. I was standing in the middle, wearing a birthday crown. Around my neck was a string from which hung a sign. FOR SALE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS ME, it read.

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When I was finished, I turned off my lamp. I remember that for some reason I felt better and was able to go to sleep after that. The next morning when I woke up, I noticed  wet streaks across the drawing. And I couldn’t remember crying. That’s when I saw the note next to the picture. In my mother’s careful handwriting, this is what it said:

IF YOU ARE FOR SALE, I’LL BUY YOU. AND EACH TIME YOU ARE FOR SALE, I’LL BUY YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN. 

Motherhood and Miracles

I always wanted to be a mother. Ever since my first doll was put into my arms, I never played dolls for some strange reason. I played mother instead. I changed diapers on a small wooden dresser, gave all my babies baths in the sink, standing on an old wooden stool, and put them to sleep all around my room under blankets my grandmother crocheted for me. I set a small table with linen from my grandmother’s cabinet, put leaves and flowers into tiny vases and set out a real miniature blue and white china tea set. My babies sat around it on pillows collected from all over the house.  Every day, I took my babies for a stroll up and down the sidewalk in a navy-blue carriage, making certain they were all tucked in safely. Most times, there were at least half a dozen of them, each sent to me by my parents from a different country on my birthday or Christmas or other holidays. I had lots of baby clothes made by my grandmother, that I kept in a box under my bed. Since all my dolls were about the same 14782844084_c299a5c302_osize, what one wore on a certain day could easily be put on another, the day after.

I was a very busy mother. There was always something to do. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. As a mother, my days were long and full.  At age five, when I went off to a convent boarding school, I packed all my babies to take with me. “Girls big enough to go to school don’t need dolls,” the Mother Superior told me, as she reached to take my basket of babies away. I looked at her, astonished “You can’t do that!” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I am their mother. They need me. Who will take care of them if I don’t?” Without a word, the white-faced woman in the long black habit snatched my basket of babies away. When I tried to grab them back she held them high over my head. I tried to jump up to get them, but my attempts to regain my status as Mother was thwarted when she turned her rigid back on me and walked away.

I will always remember the sound of the long rosary beads at her waist swinging briskly as she disappeared out of sight. I would never see my babies again. Since I was the youngest of the boarders it was arranged that I would go to bed ahead of the others. “Your dolls will be sent to starving-orphans-in-China,” I was told that night by one of the younger nuns, as I cried myself to sleep in the unfamiliar white metal bed, one of twenty in a long, narrow hallway-room. I ached for my babies and I knew that they ached for me. Never, I promised, would such a thing ever happen to me again. As long as I lived no one would ever take my motherhood away from me again.

But they did. When I was eighteen the same thing did happen again. But it was one baby. A daughter. And she was real. She would not be sent to starving-orphans-in-China, however. Instead, she would be adopted by a family who would nourish and love her very much. Unbeknownst to her, as she grew up, she would have two mothers: the mother who would kiss her sweet, pink baby cheeks and sing her to sleep at night; and the other mother, me, her birth mother, who would yearn for her and love her, too.

Today, fifty years later, I am happy to share my daughter’s love with another mother. And happier still that she grew up so treasured. It is a miracle that she found me, that we have come to love one another and that we were able to write Secret Storms together. My cup truly does runneth over.

To all of you mothers out there in the world, I send you my deepest congratulations on this Mother’s Day. Creating life is a miracle. Nurturing life is a miracle. Love is a miracle. I believe that tomorrow is a miracle, too.

-Julie

Finding My Place in My Family: Part III

Read Part I, Part II

Yes, there was a shadow between us, between my husband and me.  It separated us for many years. It was not a shadow that could be lain down upon or even reached for, although we did try. The shadow was that of a baby, our baby. The baby I was forced to give up for adoption before we were married. Her birth date is engraved in my gold and emerald wedding ring. An emerald, they say, is divine. It is thought to possess phenomenal powers of healing, luck and love. I’d named her Aimee. I only saw her once. She was perfect in every way, ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. She looked at me from five feet away when I told her I loved her and wished her a good life. When I turned and left, there was a tear in my heart that I knew would never mend. 

Julie, Frank, and the emerald ring.
Julie, Frank, and the emerald ring.

It’s said that it is not until a mother actually gives up her child for adoption that she experiences the five stages of grief. According to Wikipedia:

Denial: The overwhelming nature of the mother’s emotions allow her to feel numb to the situation. Essentially, reality has not set in.

Anger: This emotion is a manifestation of reality, the understanding of how devastating an impact the mother’s decision has made on her and her understandable vulnerability. This may cause the mother to lash out to those closest to her or on herself.

Bargaining: The mother begins to rethink the decision she has made. She feels the need to regain control of her emotional state by attempting to bargain with a religious or psychological figure to rid her of her sense of guilt.

Depression: This is a more secretive emotional state, where the mother feels alone. She feels that she is the only one who knows what she is going through, and feels it is best to vent and reflect by herself.

Acceptance: There is no real timetable as to when or if a mother will ever be able to accept her decision, but at this stage she begins to feel at peace with her decision…The eventual acceptance of the loss of her child does not mean that a birth mother has forgotten the child, but instead means that she has integrated the loss into her life.

Although I did eventually begin to integrate the loss of my little Aimee into my life, I did struggle with great depression and guilt. Eventually I went to a therapist with whom I shared my extreme melancholy. But because my growing-up years had been so complicated and unstable, I came to think that my depression and despair were a result of the instability, and not about giving up Aimee. I had, I thought, dealt with her loss in my life.

For many years I was very, very happy and very, very sad. When I rose each morning, I never knew which I would be. I was IMG_8244afraid to open my eyes when the sun came up. Under the covers of my bed, my eyes still closed, I would listen to the sounds around me. The stirring of my husband as he got up and went to shower and shave; the movements of my two other children, a daughter and a son, whom I had given birth to after Aimee, and who gave me such joy. “Dear God,” I would pray, “let this day be free of despair so I can be a good wife and mother. Let me be a part of the light in their life.” But the decision of how I would be when I opened my eyes never seemed to be mine. It never appeared to be a choice I was able to make, no matter how hard I tried. It felt that the verdict of how I would feel that day was solely a throw of the dice. It was never anything I had control over.

I could sense immediately, if the day would be up or down for me, the second my feet hit the floor. Sometimes there would be a surge of such bliss that I would have to hold onto the bed to keep steady. My body would, it felt, take on a radiance and glow. My brain would whiz with delight and my heart would overflow with passion and the desire to be the best I could be that day. Other times though, I would rise with a gush of agony pouring through me that was so sharp and intense that I would have to catch my breath hard and hold it for as long as I could. I dreaded these days. I was so afraid of these days that some nights I didn’t sleep. I was so fearful of these days that I prayed sometimes never to wake up at all. When those days came, the first thing I would do was to step into the shower my husband had vacated, let the ice-cold water run over me until the pain was anesthetized out of me, and, for a while, was hidden.

No one knew. If you asked my husband, my children now, today, to look back at those days, far, far ago, they would most probably—at least I hope that they would— say that they never really knew. They had lives that they were living and I got so skilled at hiding my ecstasies, my suffering, that sometimes even I didn’t recognize them after a while. 

As years passed and life went on, I learned to wrap myself in a protective shadow, but I always turned my face to the sun. I knew someday—maybe it was a fantasy, maybe an instinct, I don’t know— that a time would come, when the daughter that I had been forced to give up, would somehow be mine to see again. I never gave up hope. I always knew.

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Kathy, who was once Aimee.

And I was right.

-Julie

Finding My Place in My Family, Part II

Read Part I here

As I said, I am very lucky. Whenever I get to missing my mother and father, I can just look them up. I can look up everyone in my immediate family: my two daughters, my son, my grandchildren, and my husband, too.

Frank at White Barn Theater
Frank at White Barn Theater

The things that pop up under my husband’s name, which is Frank von Zerneck, make me very pleased indeed. From the moment I met him in the sizzling summer of 1963 I knew he was ferocious with importance and bursting with self-belief. He was a cyclone, a tempest, and a great force of nature. And he sent me soaring one tranquil day, high into the great blue yonder, spoiling me forever from all that was ordinary and dull.

But wait a minute. I might be getting ahead of myself. Maybe you need to know a little more about him before I show you what he became. Perhaps I need to explain to you that when I met him, he was all bluster and gusto, with humongous dreams.

Possibly, I should clarify that he was just a kid from the Bronx with delusions of grandeur, before I show you what pops up on the internet under his name. And maybe I ought to explain where he came from first.

He was the first-born of immigrant parents—his mother a Sephardic Jew, his father the son of a baroness from Austria-Hungry. He was a child who learned to avoid the grass between the Bronx pavement stones, lest it leave its green tint on him. He grew up smart as a whip. He grew up on a cot hidden behind the family couch in the living room, so all his toys had to be small enough to fit under it. And he grew up looking out the window of the one-bedroom apartment, four flights up, imagining what it would be like if there were no telephone poles or buildings blocking his view.

The High School of Performing Arts, circa 1950
The High School of Performing Arts, circa 1950

As a child he acted on live TV and in the theater, selling drinks and programs in Broadway lobbies. Spending most of his summers as a teenager at White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, he stage-managed and learned to light plays, and design and build sets. The White Barn was a small theater founded by Lucille Lortel, which premiered numerous plays that went on to successful Broadway and Off-Broadway runs. Miss Lortel aimed to present unusual and experimental plays, promote new playwrights, composers, actors, directors and designers, and help established artists develop new directions in ways they might not have been able to do in commercial theater. From the age of thirteen on (claiming he was older,) Frank became Lucille Lortel’s go-to guy, living in a small trailer behind the theater for seven summers, and then

Theater de Lys, 1955
Theater de Lys, 1955

eventually moving to work at her other theater in New York City, Theater de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theater) in Greenwich Village. That was where The Threepeny Opera by Bertolt Brecht played from 1955 until 1961, which was then a record-setting run for a musical in New York City. In between all that, he attended the High School of Preforming Arts in Manhattan, and then he went to Hofstra College on scholarship.

When I first met him he was selling tickets in the box office of a tented summer theater in Westbury, Long Island. From there, that winter, he would go to The Phoenix Theater, the first American repertory company on and off-Broadway, until he went to manage the Martin Beck

Martin Beck Theatre
Martin Beck Theatre

Theater (now the Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on Broadway, where The Ballad of The Sad Café by Edward Albee was opening in October. By the age of twenty-three there wasn’t one thing he didn’t know about the theater. He knew it inside-out, upside-down and backwards.

We were polar opposites. Where he was dark, I was light. Where he was outgoing and spontaneous I was held-back and shy. I had grown up in an insulated world on Philadelphia’s Main Line. He, on the other hand, had grown up in a world full of so many dimensions it boggled the mind.

Here is some of what the internet has to say about him:

Frank von Zerneck, born 1940 in New York City, is an American television producer. His career began as a theater producer in Los Angeles, but moved to television in 1975 in collaboration with Robert Greenwald, which resulted in the Emmy nominated docudrama 21 Hours at Munich. Of the company’s most notable productions are four Native American films produced for Turner Network Television which included the Emmy winning Geronimo, nominated Crazy Horse, and Golden Globe nominated Lakota Woman. Tecumseh, which concluded the series, was also critically acclaimed. During a career in entertainment that has spanned more than 40 years, Frank von Zerneck has been responsible for theatrical motion pictures, several Broadway plays and numerous highly rated television movies. His many credits as a producer include the Emmy-nominated mini-series Dress Gray, written by Gore Vidal and starring Alec Baldwin; and Queenie, starring Kirk Douglas and Mia Sara.

Among the many other highly successful projects which von Zerneck (and his partner, Robert Sertner) are proud of: Too Young to Die?, starring Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis; Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid, starring Val Kilmer and Wilford Brimley; the record-shattering drama, The Pregnancy Pact

Frank, bottom left, on the set of Armstrong Presents' "Teenage Junkie"
Frank, bottom left, on the set of Armstrong Presents’ “Teenage Junkie”

Gracie’s Choice, a depiction of drug and alcohol abuse, starring Anne Heche in an Emmy–nominated performance; a miniseries adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novel, Reversible Errors, starring Tom Selleck and William H. Macy; The Mystery of Natalie Wood, a miniseries for ABC directed by Peter Bogdanovich; the critically acclaimed and highly-rated We Were the Mulvaneys, based on the best-selling Oprah Book Club novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which was nominated for three Emmy Awards; and Within These Walls, starring Academy Award winners Ellen Burstyn and Laura Dern.

Over the years, Frank von Zerneck has produced over 150 movies for television, some of television’s most successful films, enjoying both critical and commercial success. As an independent long-form producer, von Zerneck is second to none.

He has just finished filming Cleveland Abduction, a Lifetime Original Movie, the true story of Michele Knight, a 21-year-old whose life was irrevocably changed after she was abducted by Ariel Castro in Cleveland on August 22, 2002, and held as his prisoner in his home for over 11 years. Taryn Manning, of Orange Is the New Black, stars as Knight, the woman who refused to be broken by Castro.

***

Yep, that’s him, all 5 feet 10 inches of him. My husband, who went from rags to riches, as they say. But I hold that he was rich from the start, for he has always been a man of dreams. I saw those dreams the first day I met him. I saw them in the sparkle of his hazel eyes and the manner in which he walked. It was, and still is, a jaunty walk, a gentle swagger of a sort. I have, however, watched him fall hard a couple of times over the years, too. But always he picks himself up and starts all over again. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, even when you are following a dream. He is still a cyclone, a tempest, and a great force of nature. And he still sends me soaring high into the great blue yonder. I am spoiled forever from all that is ordinary and dull.

Despite all, there was a shadow between us for many years. It was not a shadow that could be lain down upon or even reached for, although we tried. The shadow was out of our reach and because of that it brought us much pain and suffering. The shadow was that of a baby, our baby. The baby I was forced to give away before we were married.

To be continued…

-Julie

The Dress that Broke the Internet and What it Teaches Us About Reunions

juliekathweddingThe dress that broke the internet got me thinking. The age-old question, “is your red the same as my red?” applies to so much more than color perception. In some ways, it’s the true foundation of all our relationships: negotiating a dance between one’s own perception of the world and another’s. If I perceive nighttime as the time when I wake up, have breakfast, and live my life, and I have a husband for whom the same is true only of daytime, chances are we won’t get to grow old together. That’s an outlandish example, of course, but it stands in for countless subtler perceptive differences that we often don’t even notice compromising on. More importantly, it’s what illustrates the true breadth of blind faith we all must have in order to function in the world. When we hear the words I love you, for example, we have no guarantee that the word love represents the same feeling in the person professing it as it does in us. We just have to trust that it does.

This is heightened and even more extraordinary when thinking, as Kathy and I are wont to do, about adoption reunions. The meeting between, in our case, an adoptee and a birth mother, is a meeting between relatives who are strangers to one another. While we recognized each other as family the moment we set eyes on one another, that had little bearing on the kind of relationship we would have. Kathy still had no idea what kind of person I was. Just because she recognized her own children’s features in mine did not mean that she could expect her values to be in harmony with mine. Or that I was an affectionate person. Or empathetic, or kind. Because these assessments can only be made with time. For example, she may have asked me, are you an affectionate person? To which I would have responded, thinking about what affectionate meant to me, yes, and by doing so created in her an expectation of me. We lived thousands of miles apart. What are the chances that the way I expressed affection would be in keeping with the way she expected me to express it?

This is just one small factor that complicates reunions. As we research reunions for our next book (stay tuned for more information about that!) we are more and more convinced of the wisdom in slowly getting to know each other rather than jumping in headfirst, spurred on by the euphoria of the ‘honeymoon period’.

Because sometimes all it takes to break up a fledgling relationship between reunitees is, “No, you’re wrong. It’s obviously black and blue. And I can’t be around a person who insists it’s white and gold!”

-Julie

When One Story Becomes the Only Story

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

According to Patricia Irwin Johnston’s book, Adopting After Infertility, there are 14 common stereotypes about adoption:
1. Adoption is second best.
Birth parents don’t live up to their real responsibilities, children don’t live in real families, and adoptive parents aren’t real parents.
2. Birth parents are irresponsible.
Even though it’s completely acceptable for people to become pregnant out of wedlock, society says that those who do, and place their child for adoption are irresponsible.
holding-hands3. The flesh and blood bond is sacred.
No civilized person would give up their own flesh and blood.
4. Family should come through.
If you’re too young to parent a child you birth, your family should accept the responsibility.
5. Birth parents forget about their child.
Not only do they forget, but they’re supposed to forget, according to the stereotype.
6. Real parents give birth.
People posing as parents adopt.
7. You can’t really love a child unless you birth him or her.
The love an adoptive parent has for a child is less than natural, less than complete.
8. The only logical reason to adopt is because you’re infertile.
9. Adopting is the easy way to have a child.
10. Real children were not adopted.
11. Adopted people are so lucky that saintly people adopted them.
12. Adopted people wouldn’t search for their birth parents if they were grateful to their adoptive parents.
13. When adopted people from open adoptions locate their birth parents, their adoptive parents become secondary.
14. Adopted people are less emotionally healthy than other people.

The mixed messages these stereotypes send boil down to one public image—or one single story—of adoption. However, the dangers of stereotyping does not just affect adoption. If you haven’t heard Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I suggest you carve out 18 minutes of your day to imbibe this universal wisdom.

-Kathy

The Tree

In Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon introduces the intensely intimate and complex stories to follow, by defining two terms. Vertical identity: “Attributes and values [that] are passed down from parent to child across theapple tree generations not only through strands of DNA, but also through shared cultural norms.” Horizontal identity: [When] “someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents…”  This is a book that brings together the divergent stories of families with biological children whose horizontal identities fell…well, very far from the tree. The whole business of being human is a messy endeavor. But it’s noteworthy that if you tease out the concept of identity from the larger concept of humanness, identity is what is ultimately defined in direct or indirect relation to family. Some parts of who we are exist because of who loves us and how, and other parts exist despite who loves us… and how.

This is why I’ve always been deeply curious about adoption. Not because I’m confused by how a parent can love a child who isn’t biologically related, but because I’m fascinated by how the soup of identity is molded when there is no biologically shared, common language (an absence of vertical identity). I’m using very broad strokes here, of course, but this curiosity is somewhat akin to trying to figure out whether what you’re drinking is the water or the wave. It’s more complicated than nature or nurture (because it’s nature and nurture) and less easily definable. In my travels through the peripheries of communities of adoptees, I have informally gathered that an overwhelming majority of people who were adopted were perfectly “fine” until they discovered their true origins. With the knowledge that they were adopted, usually gained around the start of adolescence, their entire concept of identity is rattled (and, in most cases, shattered).  Of course, the obvious familytreereason is that when even one of the  truths–previously thought to be inalienable– that are the foundation of identity, is threatened, the whole thing comes crashing down. And yet. Is it really that fragile, I wonder. What is it that compels adoptees who have had idyllic childhoods to nonetheless go in search of birth parents? All things being equal, why does not knowing the body through which you passed in order to enter this world feel like a “missing piece in [your] soul”?  I suspect that to answer by simply using the known tenets of biology is the same as defining love as “a powerful neurological condition”. It’s true… but it doesn’t feel like the whole truth.

This is where community comes in, I suppose. It is such a singular experience, being an adoptee, that to find oneself in a community of people who share that horizontal identity, is often a source of great relief and joy for many. Humans’ chief complaint in life is loneliness. Despite  the great value we place on individuality, we’re always seeking others who are like us.  Whatever it is that happens to identity when the rug of where-I-come-from is pulled from under it, it seems to find solace in company.

Secret Storms is a book written by two people who were able to heal. Who, for reasons no one can fully know, were among the lucky (very) few who reunited, worked hard on a relationship that depended a great deal on forgiveness and empathy, and have a beautiful heritageconnection to this day. This is rare. What isn’t rare is that their story is out there to inspire relief and joy in others. Because I’ve yet to read both sides of the story of a failed reunion, or a story about the fruitless search for a birth family or child who was given up for adoption, I suspect there is a great need for them. Many people search their whole lives and find nothing, while many more find what they search for and are deeply disappointed. Because whatever it is that happens to identity at the moment of learning the truth, one can only imagine what happens to it when the truth turns out to be a tragedy. This is why The Adoption Reunion Stories Facebook page, and many networks like it,  are so important. They are forums, virtual communities, where thousands of people get to share their truth, a lot of which is the kind not found in inspiring books…and find solace in company.

-Aida

A Sixth Sense

I heard the rumor on the way to the lunchroom.   Mary Ellen, my best friend since second grade, whispered in my ear, “Melissa is adopted.  Shhhhhh, don’t tell—”  Her secretive tone cloaked the news in shame.

Melissa was the new girl at our small Catholic grammar school, and today, she was sitting two down and across the table from me.  At first, I couldn’t bring myself to look at her face, for if I did she would certainly see the pity in my eyes.  I watched her twiglike hands slowly and methodically unpack her red-trimmed Holly Hobbie lunch box.  First, she opened and squared her paper napkin parallel to the table’s edge.  Next, she arranged the contents in order of nutritional importance:  turkey sandwich, front and center; carrots at 2 o’clock; thermos opened, and apple juice poured into cap and placed at 10 o’clock.  Her gestures were robotic, her moss-colored eyes without feeling.   If my mother had given me away, I’d be dead inside too, I thought.

Blog Picture Sixth Sense

Melissa’s heartache was not completely foreign to me, however; we did share a sorrow in common:  we were both motherless daughters.  My mother had died when I was in kindergarten, and although I felt the extremity of that loss, I was glad my mother hadn’t willingly abandoned me.  Cancer had taken her from me— and somehow, that made my situation more palatable.

I became increasingly curious about Melissa’s circumstances and began to study her from afar.  I’d watch her twist wisps of her long auburn hair as she read from chapter books, bite the end of her pencil when she was stuck on a math problem, and cross her arms impatiently when the kid in front of her at the water fountain took too long.  After a few weeks, I decided she needed a friend.  At first I just let her cut in front of me in line, but within a week, we were trading cupcakes at lunch and passing notes when the teacher’s back was turned.  It wasn’t long before Melissa and I became friends.   Now that I was on the inside, I was convinced I’d see the true despair of being adopted,  but all I saw was someone  like me:  sometimes happy, sometimes not, but mostly okay.   How could she be okay knowing she’s adopted?  Poor Melissa, I thought to myself, she’s pretending.

One morning before standing and reciting the Daily Offering, Melissa leaned across the aisle, cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered, “Wanna come to my birthday sleepover Friday?”

“Got to ask my grandmother,” I replied.  Finally, this was my chance to see Melissa in her inner lair.  Surely, when the family was assembled shoulder-to-shoulder, a hint of her unhappiness would surface.

Friday came, and with my grandmother’s blessing and a Skipper doll wrapped in happy-birthday paper tucked in my overnight bag, off to Melissa’s I went.  Dad drove me the six blocks to her home and on the way struck up a quick conversation with me.

“I know Melissa’s father,” he started.  “He works with me.”  He paused for a minute and then asked, “Is she tall?”

“Is who tall?”  I countered.

“Melissa.  Her father is 6’4”.  I bet she’s tall, too.”

With that one comment, I started to think how weird it would feel to not look like anyone in your family.  Every time she looks in the Blog Sixth Sensemirror, she’s reminded that she doesn’t belong, I thought.  I glanced at my reflection in the passenger’s side window looking for my own family resemblances.

“Whose eyes do I have?” I asked.

My father tilted his head and shot me a sideways look as if he was surprised by the shift in our conversation.

“Well,” he hesitated, “you have your own eyes.”

“No, who has the same eyes as me?”  I persisted.

“Same eyes?” he asked, hedging for more time.

“Yes, who has the same eyes as me?”

“Well—“ he paused again.

A wave of fear suddenly washed over me:  Am I adopted, too?  I twisted forward in my seat.

“Dad, please just tell me,” I begged.  “Whose eyes do I have?”

“Well,” he hesitated, “some people say your eyes resemble your grandmother’s.”

I slid back in my seat, relieved and mostly satisfied, as Dad pulled into Melissa’s circular driveway.  I kissed him goodbye and gave him an extra- long hug, feeling silly for thinking that I, too, could be adopted.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, I saw what life was really like for an adopted child.  Melissa had thoughtful parents who adored lite-brite Blog Sixth Senseher, despite her don’t-embarrass-me-in-front-of-my-friends attitude. Her home smelled of Lemon Pledge, the refrigerator was covered with her A+ papers, and the gold shag carpet in the living room begged to be replaced.  She kept her Lite-Brite on the floor of her closet and her shoes underneath her bed.  Her life smacked of ordinary.  I had assumed she led a lonely and miserable life, bluffing a well-adjusted front to avoid detection; instead, I was left with the realization that Melissa’s life was just like mine:  sometimes happy, sometimes not, but mostly okay.

***

Three years later, I was told that I, too, was adopted;

somehow, I believe my instincts already knew.  

***

There is no instinct like the heart.

-Lord Byron

-Kathy

Both Ends Burning

While Secret Storms is a story about a great deal more than just adoption, at bottom, it’s concerned primarily with family. And family is perhaps one of the broadest, most all-encompassing terms in our language. Its definitions are as many and varied as the people who define it.

In a world spinning maddeningly quickly toward ever more malaise and widespread strife, where problems are being identified at dizzying speeds, while their solutions and the resources required to implement them are always a step or two behind, it’s hard to blame anyone for being so overwhelmed as to throw up both hands and give up. And this is where wisdom steps in.

Wisdom (or a cliché, depending on your view) tells us that every journey begins with one step. That rather than take on the impossible task of envisioning an entire future, whatever that may mean, one should instead focus on a single tomorrow. That when you look out the window to your garden and see it has been trampled and left devastated, you bring it back to life one flower at a time. That when anxiety and pain overtake you and you find it hard to breathe, you concentrate only on the next breath. And then the next. And the next. Wisdom tells us to find the source. The lowest common denominator. The thing which you can hold in your hand and nurture and breathe life into, so that maybe one day that thing will grow and do the same for another. That “thing” is a child.

That “thing” is a family. That “thing” is loving in such a way that love becomes the meaning of one’s life. And when it is the meaning of one life, it can only spread to a second. Then to a third. And, eventually, one day, to billions. And what is “the world” if not the collective reality of  those who live here?  There are few nobler things humans were pc_candle_both_endsgifted with, than the ability to give a child a home. The ability to create a family. The ability to be what is often the only source of goodness, safety, and love, in a world otherwise occupied.

So today we’d like to highlight the work being done by Both Ends Burning, the makers of the documentary “Stuck”, an organization “dedicated to defending every child’s human right to a permanent loving family.” Theirs is a mission worth learning a little about. Because even a little knowledge is a step forward. And whether it is simple and short or harrowing and labyrinthine, with no end in sight… every journey begins with one step forward.

 

 

-Aida Raphael, Editor