Mirabai Starr in Wild Mercy

Mirabai Starr with daughter Jenny

I am in the midst of reading Mirabai Starr‘s book – Wild Mercy – and today learned she adopted her children. Hers is a multiracial family. She had made the decision in her youth due to a concern about overpopulation (a concern I shared at one point in my own life). The looming shadow of the climate crisis was another motivation.

Between them, Mirabai and her husband, Jeff, have four grown daughters and six grandchildren. Mirabai’s youngest daughter, Jenny, was killed in a car accident in 2001 at the age of fourteen. On that same day, Mirabai’s first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul, was released.

Mirabai writes – I am a mother who has lost her child, Jenny Starr. In the midst of terrible beautiful unbridled mothering I am suddenly childless. I cannot find my way through a world that does not have my girl at its center. I do not understand. I don’t get why you did not make it through the hurricane season of adolescence, why the vessel of our love, of our ferociously devoted love, did not carry you safely back to me.

Her book Caravan of No Despair is the story of her journey through the grief of this tragedy. She has written in an essay Why Mother’s Day Is Still Special To Me that she found her daughter on her thirtieth birthday. “It was early May and we drove to Albuquerque from our home in the mountains of northern New Mexico to meet Jenny at her foster home in the South Valley. I had been prepped for the encounter, and had cultivated a degree of reserve so that I would neither overwhelm the child nor give her false hope in case it was not a good fit and we wouldn’t be following through.”

She continues, “Most children in the adoption system have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and have serious trust issues. I envisioned Jenny as a wild bird landing for a moment in my hand. I must not scare her off. We pulled up to the dilapidated adobe and parked at the curb—my soon-to-be ex-husband, my older daughter, Daniela, whom we had adopted two years earlier on her eleventh birthday, and me. I stepped out of the car and there she was, a toddler on a tricycle, peddling toward us with a shy smile. Look, Mommy, her face said to me, I can ride my bike.

A week later, on Mother’s Day, we brought her home. Jenny’s social worker met us halfway, at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Fe. Jenny clutched the paper bag containing all of her possessions—a couple of pairs of pants that were too small and a flowered blouse that was too big (the new jacket conspicuously missing). She had a “memory book” put together by the staff at her foster home. It contained a picture of a little black baby cut from an ad in a magazine because Jenny did not have any real baby pictures and the Gerber child looked a little, but not very much, like her (and not a thing like me).

Jenny herself dubbed Mother’s Day as our “anniversary.” Every year on that day we celebrated with cake, mostly on our own, as the man who was supposed to be her father never was, and her sister became a teenage mother early on and left home.

The year I turned forty, Jenny turned fourteen. One night in a fit of teenage rebellion, Jenny took my car for a joy ride and never returned. She crashed on the downward slope of a steep mountain pass and died alone under a full moon. It never crossed my consciousness that I would outlive my child or that Mother’s Day would become an unbearable reminder that the daughter into whom I poured the full cup of my love would leave this world, and that I would shatter.

On a personal note – my then teenage daughter once went for a joyride in the middle of the night with a sleep-over friend and they wrecked her step-mother’s car. She called me wanting a plane ticket to Missouri. I knew that her dad and step-mother would look here first and that she needed to face the responsibility for what she had done. It took my parents intervention (who were still in the same city) to keep her from running away (which was my primary concern). I am so grateful upon reading this that she at least survived. It could have turned out tragically.

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