January 18, 2018

Belonging

As DNA testing becomes both more affordable and more accessible, more and more people seem to be hocking up spit samples in an effort to find out something new about themselves. Sometimes they just want to know if Great-Grandma's insistence that they are Scottish and descended from the Bonnie Prince is remotely accurate so they can rush off to purchase that cool kilt they saw in Edinburgh on vacation.  Occasionally they're trying to locate missing relatives for a family member. Perhaps most often, though, they are trying to find birth relatives of their own.  Regardless of the impetus for testing, the goal is usually the same:  making connections. We want to connect with our ancestors, we want to connect with other relatives, we want answers to resolve questions about our histories and personal origins so we can better connect with ourselves.  In all cases, we're searching for something.

For me, initially at least, that "something" was information.  I have always known I was adopted, but I wanted to know my origins...I wanted to stop playing "Ethnicity of the Day" with myself and figure out where I really came from. By the time I started looking in earnest, I already had a fairly good idea of who I was as a person, and I was largely content with that. But most of us never entirely lose that curiosity to know how we came to be: Why is my hair red? Why do I like music? Why do I hate math? Who donated those qualities? Who are my people? Certainly I had a generally happy childhood with my brother and with two parents who loved me, even if they didn't always understand me 100%.  They simply had no frame of reference for or experience in dealing with some of my interests or quirks.  How could they? As a result, even in the happiest of families, there is still sometimes a sense of "otherness," of knowing that, in spite of it all, you are somehow different...a unicorn of sorts. "One of these things is not like the other..." You belong, but you don't.  It can be felt in subtle differences or the divide can be glaring, but it's always there.

Like so many adoptees, when I began my search I was focused on locating my birth parents. The concept of unknown siblings had never even occurred to me at the time, yet here I am today with what appears to be my very own platoon. Go figure.

I first spoke to my new sister Shannon on Sunday, October 22, 2017, while she was studying cooking in Ireland. I often think of those first few moments with Shan as "The Click Heard 'Round the World," because within practically seconds of hearing her voice, it felt as if I knew her...as if I had known her my entire life, and the 50-odd years separating us melted away. If the moment had been any more surreal, there would have been clocks melting down the walls of my office. We both had such an immediate and deeply visceral reaction to each other that I can't possibly describe it in mere words; it was simply a knowing--a like recognizing like, I suppose. This instant connection (just add water!) made it even more frustrating to have to wait another several months for Shannon to return home from Ireland so I could meet her in person. But we were both busy, and so I waited patiently...ish.

Finally, two nights ago, I was able to fly to Texas on my way to a genealogy conference to meet my darlin' Shan in real life for the very first time. I was so excited...I had been waiting THREE LONG MONTHS to see her sweet, kind face and to give her a giant hug. When I finally came through the security doors and we spied each other, I flung down my bags as she ran across the baggage claim to launch herself into my arms. We stood there hugging and sniffling and behaving more like long-lost lovers than siblings, loathe to let each other go. When we finally did release each other, I was greeted by my new brother Kent, who'd decided the weekend before to skiplag a flight to Dallas to meet us. He'd spent the afternoon with Shannon, then drove to the airport with her to pick me up. As Kent approached me for his own hug, I apparently got all weird and awkward (I honestly don't remember) and half-started to shake his hand instead, causing him to give me a look and say, "Really??" Then he pulled me to him for his own hug. Something tells me I'm never gonna live that down. ;)  (Oh, look at that--we're already behaving like siblings!) Between the significantly smaller amount of time I've had to get to know Kent and being all flustered by the rush of emotion from finally meeting Shannon in person, it's probably a small miracle I didn't do something even more dorky or awkward. So much for grace under pressure.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to do much more than clap eyes on Kent before he had to return to his hotel to rest before an early return flight the next day, so we never really had much opportunity to chat at any length. He did bring Shan and I some lovely flowers, though, and no doubt I'll have a chance to meet him one-on-one soon and get to know him properly.


The rest of Saturday night passed fairly quickly in the excitement of meeting Shan's family and getting a brief glimpse of her spectacular home.  My one takeaway for the evening was how relaxed and natural everything felt, almost as though I've always been here. Everyone has been so sweet and supremely gracious, especially considering I was little more than a random person who fell out of the sky a mere three months previously, birth relative or not.  It would have been so easy for Shannon's family all to be cautious and wary of me, especially after past disappointments with other birth relatives, but her family has been nothing but open and welcoming. I can only think of one other time in my life when I was able to walk into the room of a pseudo-stranger and immediately feel as though I belonged there; that first evening with Shannon's family felt just the same.  Even if you've been speaking regularly with someone via technology for months, it's still quite a leap of faith to invite a virtual stranger into one's home, both for the host and guest alike. I am grateful to Shannon and her family for being so willing to extend to me the benefit of the doubt and trusting enough to welcome me in their home--for allowing me a chance to find that belonging at last.

I can only hope that sense of belonging continues as I get to know our two "newest" siblings better, but so far so good. There's nothing quite like entering a new year full of promise and possibility with several new siblings to make things interesting. It's a good feeling.

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