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.