Three years ago, almost to the day, I returned to India, landing in Delhi in the wee hours of the morning. I then hopped a direct flight to Chennai before taking an 8 hour train ride, in the blazing March sun of southern India, to Tiruchirappalli. Eight days after arriving in DelhiI I touched down back on the O’Hare tarmac in the blustery cold of early spring Chicago. I returned to Chicago with more questions than answers. This time around, as I prepare for a much longer, 7 week, trip to India, I find myself caught in an all too familiar web of contradictory feelings.
On the one hand, I’ve developed a newfound confidence that I am doing the right thing, searching. I feel confident that this trip is the right trip to take, that this is the right time to go and that I’m doing this in a way that will be healing. I want this trip, this whole process of searching, to be healing for me and hopefully healing for whoever I may find. I feel confident that I am doing this as much for myself as for anyone else. Spending 7 weeks in India will be harder than I can imagine, but it won’t break me. This trip is just another trial in an ongoing life of experiments.
Simultaneously, however, that confidence is undercut by a sense of utter lostness around how to come to a healthy closure to this ongoing search. I feel lost because the written documentation — the court records, adoption paperwork, adoption agency records and all the research we have done — has turned up only wrong or no answers. I feel lost because there is no guide on this journey, no sign posts or guardrails and no omnipotent Morgan Freeman narrating the path that will unfold before me as I venture further into the depths of the unknown. Feeling lost, completely and thoroughly lost, is emotionally and logistically exhausting. The little comfort I do find in being stuck in the abyss is that complete helplessness relieves me of the perception that I’m going about searching inadequately. If searching is full of dead ends, dozens of different potential first steps, lack of information, uncooperative authorities, etc., then it’s not on me to carry the burden of failure and that feels relieving. All I can do is try.
Given this lack of certainty and information I’ve chosen to focus on what I can control: 1) My hopes for this trip and, 2) Wishes for my first mother.
- I want to be able to find a way to celebrate, celebrate this process, celebrate myself and celebrate whatever I am able to find.
- I hope that this trip will not bring irreparable harm to anyone, myself included.
- I want to build relationships with India, with people in India.
- I hope to achieve some level of closure in my search, even if that is just me stepping away from searching.
- I want to establish a sense of reunion with my birth culture.
- I want to find the pathway that leads me out of imposter syndrome in my own skin and into an accepted identity as an in-betweener.
- I hope to develop an initial understanding of what it means to have ancestors and to belong to both the past and future. I currently feel confined to the cell of the present.
- I want to find ways to mourn what I am unable to find, to give the pain of loss space to be seen and felt.
Wishes for My First Mother:
I wish for my first mother to be “ok.” There, done. That was easy. But, what does it mean for her to be “ok?” I don’t know. I mean, getting into specifics is hard, because I believe in her own self-determination, that she should be the one to say whether she is ok or not. I don’t feel equipped to define her quality of life, particularly given how ignorant I am of what her life is like.
Wanting her to be ok is another way of saying I hope her life is more than just surviving. Wanting her to be ok doesn’t have to align with what I think the most likely reality is for her. I don’t need to shape my desires to meet reality in order to avoid or subvert some anticipated incongruity between my desires and reality. I have spent most of my life trying to mold my desires into the reality I’m experiencing in an ongoing effort to avoid abandonment and failure. I now reject the premise that my desires and reality need to be the same. I’ve suppressed my desires for far too long. The only way for me to heal is to allow myself to process what I feel and deal with the fallout, regardless of future abandonment or failure. I can recover from failure or abandonment that is born out of my pursuit of healing. Part of this healing requires me to see my first mother as real and allow myself to have wishes for her.
I want my first mother to be ok. Ok to me means:
- She is in good health mentally and physically.
- She has stable shelter and access to basic needs: hygiene, food, shelter, etc.
- She is not living under coercion.
- She is not alone.
- She has family and support.
- She experiences joy and love.
To dig a bit deeper, I also want things from her, if we ever meet.
I want her to:
- Want to meet me,
- Remember me,
- Recognize me,
- Accept me,
- Remember stories of my time as a baby,
- Be willing to introduce me to other family,
- Allow me to be a part of her life,
- Hug me and let me cry.
Upon reflection of what I want from her, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that I yearn for the chance to tell her that I am ok, too. I’m brought nearly to tears every time I consider that she might wonder and worry about me. I want to be able to ease her mind, to let her rest easy, knowing that I am ok. I want her to be proud of me, just like my parents are. I want so much more from her, so much more from the universe. I want to be able to make up for lost time. I want to slow down the time we may have together. I want to rewind time to see what those almost two years of my life were like before being whisked away.
I don’t have any idea if any of this will actually make me happy or what will actually end up feeling like closure. My late father once said, in relation to evaluating one’s life and its meaning, “Maybe, as we don’t know the meaning of our lives, we should not presume to judge what constitutes a good life. It is true that on no particular basis, I assume that being pleased contributes to a good life.” As I age, I find these words have sunk into my bones, fortifying the marrow and my resolve. The words resonate in part because they neither strip me of my agency nor are they prescriptive. The words are observational and pragmatic. I am comforted knowing that my father, as he was dealing with a life-altering diagnosis, ALS, contemplated similar challenges facing an uncertain future. I hope to write more about this uncertainty as time allows.
Photo Credit: Max Shannon