Monday, January 12, 2009

Dreams From My Mother

I try to imagine how scared that young mother must have been as she walked up to that orphanage in Seoul, South Korea more than two decades ago. I think about the social pressures, mental reservations, spiritual battles and personal conversations she must have had to endure. It’s beyond my comprehension as to how much courage, morality and vision it took before she bravely let go of all responsibility of her child. Ironically, even though she walked away in a sense it was probably the most responsible thing she could have done.

A lesser woman would have probably opted for a completely different path altogether but instead, this young mother left her baby at the doorsteps of strangers without the slightest notion of reward or compensation. She most likely left with the hope that this boy would grow up in a world more privileged and better suitable for the ambitions that she knew she could not provide. Just where did her strength and fortitude come from? I hope one day to find out.

Until recently when I heard Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father,” on CD, I hadn’t given much thought to my Korean background. I often shunned it and poked fun of how separated I was both geographically and culturally. For most of my life I had thought less about my ethnic heritage and more about the family that I inherited through my parents. Too many times I have failed to see a connection aside from physical traits that would have tied me back to the place where I was born. After all, what could such a place teach me anyways?

Obama’s story gave me a deep appreciation of my background. His story taught me that one can come from many different backgrounds and still have stake in each of those places that have shaped him or her. His lessons on race and inheritance brought me to believe that there is another side of my story out there that I ought not to avoid, but embrace openly.

Obama took off to Kenya shortly after his father’s death and before he enrolled into Harvard Law School. To him, there was something incomplete in his life. He knew that he could not continue to grow and move on without knowing his entire family story. He chose to go on a fact finding mission to find out just how everything came to be. He eventually came across the answers to some of his most pressing questions and came to appreciate the origins that he had never known. It was through this trip that he was able to find the deeper meaning to his heritage that went beyond simply the color of his skin.

I don’t know if I will ever have a similar experience by meeting the lady who gave me away. Right now that seems like such a large request. And so rather than thinking such grand ideas, I put things into manageable terms that seem more within reach. I’ll often ask myself how old she might be today or if she had other children. I picture her in my mind, although her face doesn’t come to my imagination and I wonder if she ever thinks about the choices that she made and in particular if she ever thinks about where I ended up and what had become of me. I know it’s vain of me to think that my life is at the forefront of those who brought me up in this world. If she thinks of me even a quarter as much as I’ve been thinking of her lately, then I know I owe it to her to find out just where I came from.

I could very well be moving to Korea next year as I put it on my list of assignments. I don’t know if I’ll ever end up walking up to her door and meeting distant relatives. I’m not even sure what I’d say to her if I did get that chance. I might have to settle for the small gains of trying the authentic food or learning about the history of Korea. Heck, I’ll start off by learning the language!

To say that I owe my birth mother a debt of gratitude is an understatement. In fact, I can no more disown her than I could my real mother. For both sacrificed enormously so that I could be where I am and who I am today and that is the beauty of mothers. For the good, responsible and kind hearted moms think about their children before themselves. I have two great examples of them in my life. If there was ever a person(s) that I owed more in this world aside from God, it would surely be them.

I often wonder what most people think when they see me for the first time. A Korean kid with an Irish last name who speaks with a slight New England accent. I know in many parts of the world, that doesn't even make much sense. Whatever it is that people think about when they first encounter me, I hope it is both a combination of the characteristics that I inherited from both sides of my past that are known and unknown to me. I hope I can continue to carry on my family name with pride and conviction while still respecting and representing the Korean ancestry that consumes me. I can no longer pretend to ignore my much distant past, it is time that I own up to what I am. Hopefully, others will not judge me or stove pipe me into a category based solely on what I look like or how I speak. Rather, we must all work to find that rich history that is within each and every one of us. Once that is revealed, we will begin to live with much more meaning and perspective.

I think we can all appreciate the type of person it must take to give their children up for adoption. There’s not a better example of “doing the right thing,” than that act. If we could all make such brave choices, then there’s no doubt that this world would embody that place that these mother's must have dreamed for their children.


Anonymous said...

I will always be beyond thankful that your birth mom sacrificed so much so I could gain you. There would be a life long empty void if you were not my brother. You were the missing piece, God's blessing and gift to our crazy Carroll family. Love you bro, proudly your big sis, Chris

Jen said...

This is really a moving entry (and there's something very peaceful about reading it). You are so respectful of your family and also of your birth mother. I hope you're proud of yourself when you see how far you've come in your process of growing. And I also hope you continue blogging if you end up going to South Korea.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Dear JoJo: I'm grateful you took time to write me at "Silent Canticle." As an adoptive mother, I find your post so touching ... It expresses our strongest hopes, that our children will always hold tight to both parts of their heritage, recognizing the sacrifices both families made on their behalf.

With your permission, I'd like to post this at my adoption blog, and invite you to come and visit the "Extraordinary Moms Network" very soon. God bless you!

Heidi Saxton

Kaisa said...

Josh -
Thanks again so much for letting me know when you blog about adoption! Its amazing how sometimes you write, and its almost like we are sharing a voice.
While our adoption stories couldnt be more different, it is nice to know that someone, somewhere (even better that its someone I know!) is feeling or has felt some of the same feelings I often feel, too.
I share many of the same feelings that you wrote about in the 6th paragraph - wondering how old your birthmother is, if she thinks about where you are now...and strangley enough, I also "imagine" what my birthmother may look like, yet the face is always blurred. Sadly, returning to Egypt to see where my roots came from didnt give me a clearer picture either. I returned from my trip and scruitinzed the way I looked, from my hair, to my facial features, to the depth of my skin color. No matter how hard I tried, I couldnt find anything about me that seemed authentically Egyptian! How ironic!
Wether you move to Korea, or just go for a visit, I hope that you find it a healing and peaceful experience. It wasnt until months and months of processing my trip that I was able to make sense out of what it meant, and why I felt that way.
Even today, the answers are not always clear. Every birthday, every family photo, reminds me of what my "other life" could have, or would have been. Everytime I see Egypt in the news (especially when it is a bus/train crash which is all to frequent),I wonder if my birthmother is involved. I wonder if I passed her on the streets when I was there - and if I did, how could we have missed each other???
I believe that adoption truly is a lifelong journey, and I wish that you continue well along yours!
For me, it has helped to direct me into a career field - when I stop traveling the world and settle down, I hope to build a solid career in Adoption Social Work. So maybe that is why I am here! To help other families come together in the same ways that you and I were brought together with ours!

MississippiZen said...

Thank you for such a moving and heartfelt commentary about your birthmother. Being an adoptive mom, I pray that my little girls will one day see and feel exactly what you wrote ... it is one of my deepest desires.

Many blessings to you,

william said...

That's why you're my boy and I love you. You're one of a kind, and the best friend anyone could ask for.