Friday, February 26, 2010

this box or that box

Which box do I check? Korean or American? I look Korean but really I’m American.

I ask my husband as I stare at the application for an H-Mart card. I feel stupid. I’m thirty-four, not four. I should know what box to check without having to ask someone else.

He responds very rationally.

I think what they’re actually trying to find out is what language is your primary language so that they know what language to use when sending you marketing materials.

Oh, I say somewhat befuddled. Okay. Right. Well, then I guess that means I check “American.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I am feeling pretty devastated and hurt right now.

Sometimes, a conversation in which you’re trying to help others to understand goes awry. And it turns into one giant misunderstanding that snowballs into disaster.

I had a conversation like that recently. A part of it was my fault, I believe, for not being clearer or more concise and for being too emotional about it.

It confirms that some people just can’t get it, or they choose to not want to get it.

Either way, the truth is that everyone has the capacity to “get it,” albeit to varying degrees, if they really want to try.

My husband and also several good friends of mine have shown me this. They are not adoptees, and yet they have made efforts through reading and through drawing on their own personal experiences to understand the adoptee experience. And I believe they would agree that doing so has enriched their understanding not simply of the adoptee experience but of life and the people who live it.

Seriously. You can know what it feels like to be an adoptee. You can understand it, if you’re willing to spend a little extra time thinking about it or trying to relate. Really, I believe that any of us has the capacity to have compassion on anyone, if we’re willing. But that’s the key—are we willing?

That’s why I like to quote Chang-Rae Lee from his book, Native Speaker, "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."

I have come to believe over the years, that if we are willing to go there, we can tap into our own suffering and hardship to reach out to others—to show compassion, understanding, kindness, and sympathy.

Of course, as is it has been said before, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Indeed, it is not as though we can walk in someone else’s shoes or live someone else’s life, but we can learn to relate. We can learn to show compassion and foster understanding.

I may not be able to understand the devastation of losing one’s spouse to cancer, but I can draw from my own experiences of loss and grief to have compassion, to try to understand the emotional journey that someone must take as they cope with such an experience.

If you know what it is to lose, then you can understand to whatever degree you choose, the emotion that others may experience when they, too, have lost.

But the hard part is being wiling to go there, being willing to allow yourself to feel that pain, on someone else’s behalf. In order to feel compassion, we must be willing to feel the pain and hurt ourselves, and not everyone is willing to go to that place of grief and loss for the sake of someone else. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of love.

I admit, I have failed at this time and time again. But I want to keep trying. I want to learn to have compassion, to show empathy—to use what pain and suffering I have experienced to reach out to the world, not in anger and rage, but with hope and love.

I have a long way to go. Sometimes, I let anger get the best of me. I know I can’t be perfect, of course, and at times, I will feel the slow burn or the quick rise of anger. But the goal isn’t to never feel angry.

Rather, it’s what I decide to do with that anger that matters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the Therapy of Art

[dimensions: 15x20 in.]

[dimensions: 15x20 in.]


Sobbing uncontrollably.

I feel as though my heart is going to stop. There are no words. My heart hurts so inexplicably and so profoundly that I fear its weight will wrench so relentlessly that my chest will cave in.

I want these pains, this grief, this impenetrable sorrow to cease. I want the agony to end.

I do not want to cry anymore. I do not want to feel anymore. I do not want to be adopted anymore.


I'm trying to bring order out of chaos.
So many layers. Divided.

But I can't stop crying. I can't stop feeling. I cannot not be adopted anymore. This is how it is. This is my way in life.

* * *

I am friends with too many artists (and married to one) to ever feel comfortable calling myself an artist, but this does not stop me from engaging in my own sessions of "art therapy."

I had a serious moment of meltdown this past weekend, overcome by sobbing and grief, pain and angst. I told my husband that I felt as though my heart would stop, but that I could not find the words to express what I was feeling.

That's when he said, "You wanna do some art?"

Through my tears, I nodded.

Even as I painted, the tears pooled and streamed down my face. My heart continued to ache and twist. Yet, as the night wore on, I felt a deep breath of release, a slow rising of relief as the brush strokes began to say what words could not.

Monday, February 8, 2010

reunion does not "fix it"

To spell it out with clarity: Finding one’s biological family does not fix everything.

It does not make the pain go away. It does not heal the wounds. It does not lift the scars. It does not answer all the questions, and many times, it stirs up even more.

It does not simplify the existing complexities of an adoptee’s life. It complicates an identity and experience of family that is already confusing and convoluted.

I know to many I may sound negative and ungrateful. How can you say that? You are so lucky? Do you know how many adoptees long and ache for what you have?

Yes, I know. I know all too well. Finding my biological parents after a seven-year search and coming up on my 35th birthday, I am very aware of the pain and longing adoptees endure as they search for answers.

I am not saying that I am not fortunate for having the rare chance to connect with my Korean family.

I am simply adding to the strange and indescribable experience that as awe-inspiring and wonderful as it may seem to you, it is additionally as equally heart wrenching and terrifying for me.

Often adoptees focus on the difficult aspects of adoption because those aspects are generally neglected, ignored, or tucked away as if they are aberrant or rogue. Suppressing or disregarding the painful experiences of being adopted is not only detrimental to the adoptee’s well being, but it also does not somehow magically make it all disappear. It only allows it to fester until a later time, at which it may emerge in destructive and unhealthy ways.

Hence, it is necessary that more and more adoptees have the freedom and opportunity to voice the truth about our experiences. It may not always be pleasant, but when did losing one’s family as a child ever become a pleasant experience? And that’s basically what an adoptee has experienced—the loss of his or her family.

After someone has been kidnapped and subsequently returned to his or her family, although there may be joy upon the return, the consequences and repercussions of such a traumatic and intense experience will unfold over time and require attention and processing.

In the same way, even after adoptees have been adopted and subsequently, if years later they reconnect with their biological families, they have a lifetime supply of tangled emotions to process.

I am not subversively comparing adoption to kidnapping (although, there are certainly cases in which adoptions have taken place as a result of illicit practices—so be cautious and educated). But I am again trying to draw on metaphors that will help others to understand why the experience of being adopted is so emotionally complex, and why it is crucial not to ignore the challenging and painful sides of adoption.

Just as in the case of a child who was kidnapped is returned to his or her family, an adoptee that finds his or her biological family will have to undergo a long process of working through complex emotions and experiences as a result of the trauma of losing his or her first family and then suddenly finding them again. This is in addition to all the complex psychological and social consequences of being adopted into a nation and people from whom the adoptee is physically different and of losing one’s first language and culture as a result of being assimilated.

As I have quoted before from The Spirit of Adoption (Gritter), “We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of adoption; it is really miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. It is interior. The pain of adoption is not something that happens to a person; it is the person. Because the pain is so primal, it is virtually impossible to describe.”

The above explains in part, perhaps, why I may at times seem repetitive in what I say or write, why it may seem at times, that I am blowing the same whistle or setting off the same alarm. It is as Gritter so aptly writes, the pain that I experience “is virtually impossible to describe.”

In addition, I am also what I refer to as a “late bloomer.” It was not until I was well into adulthood (my late twenties) that I even began to have an inkling of how adoption had affected my experience of life. Therefore, in many ways, I have only just begun to deal with and untangle the deep and pervasive emotion that comes with being adopted.

It is a pain that I hope with which to learn to cope, but one that I question as to whether I will ever fully recover or from which I will ever wholly heal.

Friday, February 5, 2010


She wanted to disappear, but she knew just how asinine it was to even think that such an idea was plausible. She could not disappear. She was already here. She was already alive, and she had already done what she had done.

She felt foolish for not having had the foresight to realize the upheaval that would ensue. She felt guilty for the havoc that seemed to be unfolding. And yet as a plant grows toward the sunlight or is shaped by a strong wind, she had always thought she was only doing what was natural by reaching toward the elements that had given her life.

Yet, she grew weary and doubt often took over as exhaustion set in. She felt like biting her nails off or scraping her skin or closing her eyes—until the world dissolved.

She knew she could not disappear, and although she knew that she could not make the world disappear, the illusion often felt more attainable than the reality—or at least, more salient than the hope that she could neither see nor touch but that she nonetheless engaged to either cloak or garnish the reality.

And what was this reality? The consequences.

The myriad of consequences tumbling and flooding out into the open—like swarms of flowers and bodies and rocks and fish by the thousands, pouring over the Niagara. She felt as though she was standing, but really drowning, at the bottom, expected to catch it all with arms wide open as everything pummeled downward, racing with intractable gravity toward her.

And although she was not the one who chose to be standing there, she had chosen to remain there. So, all she could do was tell herself, hold on, this is what you were waiting for all these years.

This is what you went looking for.

Yet as all the debris and life twirled and spiraled toward her, as she gasped to breathe amidst the pounding of the deluge, she realized that although she had been waiting for all these years, although she had gone looking for something, this was not necessarily all that she had ever dreamed of.

Someday, she thought to herself, I will be able to move on from here, perhaps downstream or upstream, just anywhere else but here. For now, though, I must remain. It is the only way I will ever know that I did all that I could do to set myself free.

For to be free means that we must, at times, use such freedom to stay put, to dig in, to stand firm—to choose to be where you do not want to be, because it is the only way to get to where you want to be.