The Two Most Important Days

A woman I met at a “Salon”, a week long intensive, hosted and held at the Ashland OR home of Jean Houston) recently asked me – What would you say your role is? – and then quoted Mark Twain shown in the graphic above.

This is what I replied –

Generally being a beneficial presence through any of my writing efforts.

My most recent role was re-connecting my family’s genetic threads.  Both of my parents were adopted and both died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  My mom did try to get her adoption file and was denied (which I was able to obtain in October 2017).  My dad never wanted to, which is a shame because he had a half-sister living 90 miles away when he died, who could have shared real insights with him about his mother.

My dad’s mother was unwed, so I never dared to believe I would discover who his father was but I persisted never-the-less.  In less than one year, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and since late 2017, have made contact with at least one genetic relative for each family line.  I wrote a self published “family history” and distributed 10 copies only to relevant family members – so that what I learned and what made me whole is not lost when I die.

That was major and maybe why Life had not killed me off over some of my younger foolishness.  I lived over 6 decades of my life with a void beyond my parents and no idea of my genetic cultural heritage or family medical health information – all thanks to adoptions.

About that day I was born.  Learning about my parent’s adoption stories made me realize what a miracle it was that my high school junior unwed mother was not sent away by her banker adoptive father and socialite adoptive mother to have and give me up for adoption.  Talk about realizing how your life is a miracle and understanding that my younger sisters, my daughter and my grandchildren would not have existed if this quite plausible situation had occurred. 

I believe I have my dad’s very humble and poor (financially) adoptive parents, in particular, my Granny to credit for my own (and my family’s) preservation with my natural parents.

Now, back to my Missing Mom blog – I continue to follow adoption reform issues and foster care challenges and write something about these every single day.  Some days I write my own personal bits and pieces of the “stories” as well.  BTW, not only were both of my parents adopted but both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption – both of these children have thankfully been reunited (as adult persons) with our family.

That’s probably more than you were expecting.  My daughter has said – it seems like you are on a mission (regarding adoption reform) and she has accurately assessed that.  It is my passion currently. 

I also share spiritual insights daily – in part by bringing forward that day’s essay from my Gazing in the Mirror blog – which has 366 entries and was written between 2012 and 2014 but is universal enough to mostly not become dated.  I also share poems by Rumi, Rilke and Hafiz as well as other spiritually oriented items on Facebook daily. 

Beyond ALL of those considerable efforts – I am a political activist through my Facebook page.  And at a heartfelt passion to be part of an effort to create a world that “works” with positive support of basic human needs for everyone.

Choosing One’s Ancestors

Because I didn’t have any genetic ancestors most of my lifetime, knowing who they were and where they came from filled a void in me that my two adoptee parents were never given the opportunity to receive.  They both died knowing next to nothing and within a year of my dad dying (four months after my mom died), I knew who all 4 of them were – including my dad’s unnamed father (his mother was unwed and he was given her surname at birth).

Because thoughts about race and identity are currently prominent in the United States and because of the horrendous injustice that has occurred here all too often (so that even in other countries, the protests have also grown in awareness of the issue), I was drawn to a conversation that took place between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead in 1970 as shared by Brain Pickings.

During the week I spent in Jean Houston’s home in Oregon, she spoke frequently about her dear friend and mentor, Margaret Mead.  She even has a larger than life portrait in her front door drawing room that she suggest’s Margaret insisted be painted and delivered to her after Mead’s death.  Houston writes about the influence of Mead frequently in her book A Mythic Life.

In this conversation between Baldwin and Mead, Margaret says – “I think we have to get rid of people being proud of their ancestors, because after all they didn’t do a thing about it. What right have I to be proud of my grandfather? I can be proud of my child if I didn’t ruin her, but nobody has any right to be proud of his ancestors.”

She goes on to add – “The one thing you really ought to be allowed to do is to choose your ancestors.  We have a term for this in anthropology: mythical ancestors… They are spiritual and mental ancestors, they’re not biological ancestors, but they are terribly important.”

Mead notes that there are very few black people in America who don’t have some white ancestors, with which Baldwin agrees, and they go on to explore why the “melting pot” metaphor is deeply problematic in honoring the actual architecture of identity.

Before I knew who my parents biological/genetic parents were, I made up my racial identity.  Since my mom was born in Virginia, I thought she ended up being given up for adoption because she was half-black.  I find it interesting now as I steep myself in issues of racial identity, that I believed my dad was half-Mexican because of his coloration and how well he related to the people in that country when he crossed the border at Juarez/El Paso.

Neither of these was actually the truth.  Turns out my mom does have a bit of Mali in her DNA and that on her mother’s Scottish side there were slave owners, a fact that I am not proud of.  Yet, until I knew better, I would say I was an Albino African (and said it quite proudly as I tried to recover a sense of identity that adoption had robbed me of).

My dad’s father was a Danish immigrant and quite dark complected.  I don’t know enough about the Danish people to know why that was their skin color or why their eyes were brown.  Maybe someday, I will explore that aspect of my own racial identity.

I found this story which Baldwin conveyed in that discussion quite illuminating –

“I remember once a few years ago, in the British Museum a black Jamaican was washing the floors or something and asked me where I was from, and I said I was born in New York. He said, “Yes, but where are you from?” I did not know what he meant. “Where did you come from before that?” he explained. I said, “My mother was born in Maryland.” “Where was your father born?” he asked. “My father was born in New Orleans.” He said, “Yes, but where are you from?” Then I began to get it; very dimly, because now I was lost. And he said, “Where are you from in Africa?” I said, “Well, I don’t know,” and he was furious with me. He said, and walked away, “You mean you did not care enough to find out?”

“Now, how in the world am I going to explain to him that there is virtually no way for me to have found out where I came from in Africa? So it is a kind of tug of war. The black American is looked down on by other dark people as being an object abjectly used. They envy him on the one hand, but on the other hand they also would like to look down on him as having struck a despicable bargain.”

So it is for adoptees who’s rights are second-class, some basic rights of knowing where they came from often denied them.  Over decades worth of time, they have been robbed of that sense of identity that so many people take for granted.  However, as a woman who’s skin is white, I am grateful that racial identity was not emphasized in my childhood home and that as a white person growing up on the Mexican border, I was definitely part of a minority race.  I will admit that I didn’t suffer the slings and arrows that the black race has in this country but I could not fully embrace any idea that I was somehow superior because of the color of my skin.  I consider that one of the few blessings of being ignorant for most of my life about my racial identity.

To Raise Up A Child

It burgeons like a night mushroom beneath a protective cover of fallen leaves that look sickly and forlorn. The leaves are the symptoms that protect and in some strange way nourish the spores of the hidden genius that it may arise at the right time, possessed of its own unique and unadulterated powers.
~ Jean Houston, A Mythic Life

I think that those people cut off from their own, whether adoptee or foster child and their original parents, are in the early stage of changing the myth. The unicorns and rainbows story of how wonderful it is to be plopped into a stranger’s world. We are seeing that it is an outmoded perception and it needs to change or go away.  These individuals now speak up loudly to help those unaware to see what is going on.

Life is complex. The child (and even the matured individual) who has been impacted may be scarred by a trauma, those who haven’t been subjected to it may struggle to understand.

Finding a way to make sense of it all is something I have been doing for a couple of years now.  A good starting place for my own self has been to accept and acknowledge the sad and tragic circumstances that are part of the thread of continuity which makes me who I am.

For those adoptive parents and foster care givers, it is critical to see, not only the trauma and the wounds and certainly to address those, but also to seek to see the core self that is at the deepest level of the soul, before those impacts arrived. What are the natural talents and capacities, yes gifts, this child has to give to the world ? Nurture those !! Even as you attempt to heal the wounds that will always be within the personality.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ?

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

I’m not thinking of the famous movie but of the author.  Like my grandmothers, she lost her own mother at a young age.  I was encouraged to read her book “To The Lighthouse” by Jean Houston when I attended a week long Salon at her home in Ashland Oregon.  There is an element of her personal story to speaks to that loss of a mother.

Virginia Woolf was concerned about the injustice of patriarchal domination of women, the horrors of incest, the consequence of a social system which places no value on educating women and the astonishing liberation of moving from acceptance of a Victorian sentimental notion of marriage to easy and tolerant attitudes toward sexuality.

She was a genius at conveying inner experience.  At age 25, she wrote a set of reminiscences for her sister’s child, though it is actually a memoir of her childhood and adolescence.  In it, she sets out to convey how the death of her mother when she was twelve affected the family.

Shortly after her mother’s death, Woolf became violently emotionally ill – hearing voices, physically violent, racked by physical pain, unable to sleep or rest. Neither her half brother’s forced physical intimacy or her bout of insanity – form any part of the story of her coming of age.

In “A Sketch of the Past” (written when Woolf was 60 yrs old) she speaks more directly.  Her stepbrother’s abuse gave her such a fear of male sexuality that she had another breakdown and was in a nursing home for a long spell.

Finally, she retrieved her self-confidence enough to take up her writing career, and even marry, though she remained sexually frigid.  Woolf went on to write some of the strongest feminist fiction and nonfiction to be produced in the twentieth century.  She became an icon of the liberated female consciousness – sensitive, ironic, detached, capable of profound human insight because she embodied the androgynous blending of reason and intuition.

Woolf would have insisted that human affairs are much more complex than the confessional autobiography suggests.