Two main themes that seem to be contributing to my anxiety:
I. The Why
Why did my birth mother relinquish me?
Was it that she did not want to take care of me? Or is it that she felt she could not take care of me?
If she could not take care of me, why did she feel that she could not take care of me?
Did she think she was not fit to be a mother?
Did she lack the resources? Were her circumstances at the time such that she viewed herself as incapable of caring for me sufficiently?
Could it be that the Korean culture applied certain ways of thinking that made her feel prohibited from keeping me and raising me herself?
All the above.
And they are all intertwined. Like dominoes pulled by a string.
II. The How
The language and cultural losses are profound, and are in large part, what make this reunion and post-reunion process so painful and overwhelming.
If you have ever traveled to a country with a different language and a different culture, you can relate to both the wonder and terror of being somewhere completely foreign to you.
Now to what you may not be able to relate is being in a completely foreign country among foreign people—and although you yourself are a foreigner, you are expected by the natives to be a native.
That alone is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the natives are warm and helpful, loving and accepting. When they understand your situation.
But what if they do not understand your situation—or do not want to understand your situation—and upon discovering that you do not speak the language they speak, you do not eat the food they eat, and you do not think the way they think, they immediately hold you in contempt with great disdain? They heap judgment, shame, and condemnation upon you. Not because you do not belong there, but because, in their eyes, you do belong there.
In appearance, you look just like they look. Therefore, you should speak just like they speak, and think just like they think, and eat just like eat. Forget the fact that you were sent away as an infant or a child. Forget the fact that you grew up completely removed from anything that even remotely alluded to their culture.
* * *
I’m not playing a violin here.
I’m not seeking pity.
I don’t want a career as a poster child.
Understanding. I am simply striving, maybe even campaigning, for understanding.
As I say repeatedly, this is a complex set of circumstances with multi-layered and multi-faceted experiences and emotions. It’s not as simple as, Hey, you—glad you got to go to Korea, now aren’t you glad to be able to move on with you life?
Going to Korea to meet my biological birth parents wasn’t a quick go-and-get-your-fix-and-then-return-all-better.
It’s only a few layers down or a few facets examined.
We’ve got a long way to go.
* * *
The wounds cannot begin to heal without a common language.
To quote a fellow blogger and transracial adoptee, Mei-Ling wrote in a post (not really mama), I must learn to contend that what I receive will only ever really be equal to what I am able to give.
As this pertains to language, it’s quite difficult to build a relationship with someone if you do not speak the same language.
If I can only give looks and hand gestures, that is the only depth—and that’s not very deep—to which our relationship can extend. Certainly, body language is said to comprise a large percentage of actual communication.
But in a situation like this, you can’t get to the truth with facial expressions and hand gestures. You can’t get the answers to questions of why and how.
* * *
In some ways, it would seem bliss to remain in this state of superficiality. Why should I want to delve more deeply and know what dark truths and raw emotions may linger beneath?
To be cliché, I can’t leave alone, alone.
That is simply not who I am. Some would call this weakness.
Some would say that I need to be more accepting and simply let it go and move on. You’ve had your precious reunion. You’ve met your biological mother and father. You know in general what happened. What the heck else do you need to know?
That’s like telling someone, look, you’ve been 90% cleared of cancer. You’re essentially in remission. Just go on and live your life. Don’t look back and don’t think about it. And hopefully, it won’t come back. Er, really?
Somehow, I think most would agree that such a course of inaction and passiveness won’t do in a situation like that.
Certainly to continue living one’s life to the fullest is not only advisable but healthy.
But to never go in for check-ups, to simply think that if you don’t think, you’ll be just fine is almost disturbingly laughable to most.
You have to monitor things. You have to be wise. You live. But you can’t just forget.
I can’t just forget.
That’s the thing.
And why should I feel as though I am supposed to forget? A puzzle is not complete without all the pieces. My life is not complete, I am not complete without all the pieces.
I am going to have to learn the Korean language if I ever want to have a real and mature relationship with my biological parents. That is simply the inescapable, albeit, frustrating and overwhelming truth.
* * *
You say, well, then, get cracking. Just learn the language. How hard can it be? Right? Sure.
Have you ever tried to learn a language at 34 years old—specifically, a language that uses a completely different alphabet and has a completely different structure and linguistic background, not to mention, it has traditionally been a somewhat reclusive and exclusive language because the people who use it are incredibly nationalistic and xenophobic?
Not to mention all the heavy emotional baggage and implications that this language holds for me.
It’s not like learning Spanish. Spanish uses the same alphabet as English, has a similar structure and linguistic background and most significantly, the future of my individual relationships with my biological mother, father and family does not depend on whether I perfect the Spanish language. There’s no pressure. (Ironically enough, I happen to know just enough Spanish to get by—too bad my Korean parents don’t know Spanish, eh?)
If I were comfortable with maintaining a cordial—although distant and superficial relationship—with my biological parents, the language and cultural walls wouldn’t be so distressing.
If I did not want to eventually ask the harder, deeper questions, learning the language would not hold so much consequence.
If I did not want to know who they are, where they have come from, and where they have been, then, sure, what would all this language mumbo-jumbo matter?
But that’s not my case.
That’s not my situation.