Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Giving Away

I am grateful that my birth mother relinquished me.

A horrible thought to have, is it not?

Yet the more I learn, the more I am filled with relief that my fate
broke free from the hands of Korea in 1975, when my birth mother handed me over to the care of another.

Perhaps a "true Korean" would read such a statement and gasp with shock and horror that I would even dare to think such a thought.

But I look back with such a shock and horror that my birth mother would feel forced into such a decision due to the pressures and stigmas of the Korean culture placed upon an unwed mother.

Truly what choice did she have? It was a choice between worse or worst.

It is not that I am grateful that she faced ostracism. It is not that I am grateful that she had to suffer. I am not grateful to have no recollection of her. It is not that I am happy that I know nothing of her life or who she was. It is not that I am grateful that I cannot find her or talk with her. I am not relieved that I have never known her but only for a brief and passing second.

I simply said that I am grateful that my birth mother relinquished me.

I am aware that chances are she felt she had no choice. I do not doubt that the decision and the experience afflicted her with intense grief and trauma. I am almost certain that she had no support or comfort from her family. Most likely she was poor at the time, not only materially but emotionally. In many ways, I believe, due to her distressing circumstances, motherhood could have been an uphill battle for her. Not that she could not have done it. There are plenty of mothers who have.

And who knows, maybe things would have worked out somehow. Maybe she and I would not have been considered the scum of the earth. But chances are we would have struggled. My birth mother, without a doubt, would have encountered great obstacle to finding work to support us.

It is a harsh reality that no upstanding Korean man would have given thought to marrying her. Her family most likely would have, if not disowned her, at least despised her even more, for the remainder of her life if she had chosen to hold onto me. At least by relinquishing me she could have the hope of one day being restored to her family. By keeping me, such hope would have been lost.

Of course, all the above is only speculation based on what I am learning of the culture of Korea at the time during which my birth mother and birth father knew one another. So, really, anything is possible. But, as they often say in the medical field--rare things are rare, common things are common. It is possible that my birth mother's family could have been an exception to the status quo, but not likely. It is possible that had I remained in my birth mother's care, I would have grown up with as much opportunity as I have had growing up with my American family, but not likely.

I am comforted by the life that I have had the opportunity to live so far--and not simply for the educational and material comforts provided to me. I am comforted intensely by the family that is mine. When I say that I am grateful that my birth mother relinquished me, it is not primarily the material comforts afforded to me that I ponder, but rather the love and hope of my family to which I cling.

I say that I am relieved that my birth mother relinquished me, because without her doing so, I would not know or have my gentle, honorable graceful, resilient three crazy yet endearing brothers.

So really, by relinquishing me, it is not that my birth mother took away my family but rather she gave me the family that both she and I needed me to have.

She gave me away, and in doing so, she gave me perhaps what she herself could not--those absolutely vital and lasting things that I needed that she herself could not provide at the time.


And so, by giving me up, she still was able to give to me all that she wanted me to have and all that I needed.

Life loves paradox.

Some may not see it as such. I actually don't always see it as such, and there are times during which I most certainly do not feel it as such.

But I have come to believe that once a mother always a mother and once a daughter always a daughter.

There are awful circumstances and ensuing sentiments that can tear a mother and daughter apart. Hurt and pain, bitterness and rage can deteriorate and corrode the deepest of bonds. And yet, that bond is never quite broken. As weak and as feeble as it may become, it always remains, often to the dismay and discomfort of those involved.

It is as though, against our own will, even across oceans and lands, a thin, meek thread stretches out between hearts and minds. Even those estranged from one another cannot completely blot the other from memory or emotion.

And is it not true that the deepest of hate often arises from the the deepest of love?--for it is those whom we love most intensely that have the power to hurt us the most deeply.

I recognize also that I am, in part, able to say all of this because overall my life has worked out well. Perhaps I would feel differently if my overall experience had been negative. Perhaps I would have retreated to a fantasy in which all would have been perfect had my birth mother kept me. Perhaps I would have idealized my birth mother and Korea had my experience with my family and America been more negative.

However, I must also clarify that although I say my life has worked out well, do not doubt that there certainly was a time during which life was not going well. During those tumultuous years, I did not feel great affection for my family nor were they particularly fond of me at the time.

As an adolescent, rage consumed me--it was destroying me from within and alienating me from the rest of humankind. I just had no idea that it had anything at all to do with being adopted.

Quite honestly, I thought that I had lost my mind, that I was inherently defective, crazy, unstable. There were not enough meds or shrinks in the world to console me or placate me. I was out to destroy myself and anything or anyone who dared to draw near.

In addition, there were external forces contributing to my rage and sense of alienation. America loves to tout itself as a tolerant nation. Indeed, it is a tolerant nation. It tolerates those of different races, ethnicities, religions, and social backgrounds enough to allow us to live here and work here.

But tolerance is often confused with acceptance. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but they most certainly are not mutually inclusive.

You can have tolerance without acceptance, indeed.

It's one thing to tolerate that Korean girl. Sure, we'll tolerate her as long as we can throw rocks at her back and chunks of ice in her face.

We'll tolerate her as long as we can address her not by her name but with terms as we see fit including "chink," "slant-eyes," and "flat face."

Of course, I'm not playing a violin here--as much as it may sound as though I am. America was founded with the threads of discrimination and prejudice already built into its fabric. Everyone who has come to America has experienced prejudice and name-calling since the nation began. Certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups often react or behave as though their particular group is the only group in history that has ever faced prejudice and injustice.

The truth is we all have.

"I ask that you remember these things, or know them now. Know that what we have in common, the sadness and pain and injustice, will always be stronger than our differences." (
Chang-Rae Lee, "Native Speaker," )

If only we all could embrace this truth, and in doing so, allow ourselves to feel empathy for the other.

Then perhaps, my birth mother would have found the comfort and compassion, the understanding and kindness that she needed during such a time of need and desperation.

Then perhaps, so many others today would find the kinship and connection for which we long.

Then perhaps, we all could find it within ourselves to reach beyond our own little worlds to find that other worlds exist that are not so different from our own.

Although I live on the other side of the world now from where my life began--although I now speak a language foreign to my birth place, I realize that although the two worlds of America and Korea are very different, the people who live in these places still share common bonds. Human bonds that are inescapable and universal.

I am grateful that my birth mother relinquished me over thirty years ago, because in more recent years, I have come to realize that the sadness, the pain and the injustice that not only she and I, but that we all have experienced can now bring us together rather than tear us apart.

In other words, redemption and reconciliation need not remain elusive nor contingent upon circumstance. I can find comfort knowing that even with all of our differences, the human experience of pain and suffering has the power to call us all together and present us with the opportunity, the choice to share in forgiveness and hope.

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