22 October 2018

Shanniversary

Most of my life I've wondered where I came from. I wasn't particularly dissatisfied with my life, or at least no more than the average person. I had a happy enough childhood and I loved my family, including the brother with whom I was forever fighting. But no matter how happy I may have been, it's virtually impossible to be an adoptee and not grow up with myriad questions about oneself: Why was I given up? Who liked music? Who liked books and words? Who had red hair? Who was the smartass in the family? Who had blue eyes? What country did my ancestors come from? I mean, you can only make up your ethnicity so many times before it starts to get a little ridiculous. "It's St. Patrick's Day and I have red hair and freckles, so I must be Irish."  "It's Bastille Day and my surname is French and I like cheese, so clearly I must be French!" "I have a weird affinity for men speaking in heavy brogues and wearing kilts--am I Scottish??" We all end up with so many questions we may never get answers for. We may be loved by our adoptive families, but we are often still "other;" we are unique in the most literal way possible.  Until the day we aren't.

We all have singular moments in our lives that help either to define us or to change the course of our lives (or both). One year ago today, I experienced one of those singular moments. One year ago today, my world was forever changed. One year ago today, I found the yin to my yang. One year ago today, I "met" my big sister Shannon for the very first time.

Me and my Soul Sister
(Photo by Terry Cockerham, 2018)

I say "met" because at the time we first connected, Shannon was waist-deep in a 15-week cooking course in Ireland while I was simultaneously buried in a 15-week (or was it 18?) online genealogy course through Boston University. Needless to say, Messenger and emails rapidly became our new best friends as we began to get to know each other. Finding time to chat around our various course requirements was certainly challenging, but even from the very first I felt an incredibly deep connection to Shan...we just "got" each other straight out of the gate. Having to wait three months to get to meet this new sister in person was nothing short of excruciating, but we finally got together in January of this year. From the moment I walked in her back door, I felt completely at home...like I was home. Shan and her family are some of the most loving and welcoming people I've ever known and, near as I can tell, they should have a revolving door installed on their house because I'm pretty sure they're that way with everyone.  It's just a small measure of how generous and big-hearted they all are. Better yet, they're also all sassy as hell, which is obviously right in my wheelhouse. You simply cannot be in Shan's home without being wildly spoiled, including eating like royalty in a Michelin Star-worthy restaurant while simultaneously trying not to spew asparagus tips from your lips or fine wine (or in my case tea) from your nostrils because you're doubled over with laughter from whatever outrageous thing someone has just uttered. The joie de vivre that emanates from Shan's home and from every single member of her family is absolutely contagious and as exhilarating as multiple trips to Europe, every E ride at Disneyland ever, and winning the lottery all rolled into one.

This past year has been a wondrous journey of discovery, both of Shan and of myself. I would have loved Shan in any case because she is an amazing human being with more gifts and talents than any one person should be allowed to have, and that's without even counting the joy, light, love, and humility which suffuses her soul. She is a creator who walks the stars with her muses while being every bit as earthy, practical, and nurturing as Mother Nature herself. I realize I am exceedingly biased, but my sister is nothing less than a goddess among women, ever-glowing with an unnaturally youthful beauty from both within and without. Small wonder that she has such a wide and diverse group of friends and acquaintances; everyone wants to capture even the smallest sliver of her passion and zest for life for themselves. Who could blame them? In that respect she reminds me so very much of my own girlie, who similarly blazes with an uncontainable life-force, likewise filled with a fire and passion and determination to squeeze out every ounce of life to be had. Thoreau had them both pegged correctly--they equally yearn to "live deep and suck out the marrow of life."

Shan has given me so much this year, both of herself and of her family knowledge. She has gifted me with treasures beyond price--not only herself and her kinship, but the chance to learn my history, to hear the beginning of my story. She gave me the first photo I've ever seen of our father, making me gasp in stunned recognition as I gaped at my own face in male form. She has told me stories of our father, including his love of words, how I smirk exactly like him, and how he had a fascination with glass (as do I), referring to his tchotchkes as his "pretties." AS DO I. It's easy enough to say that someone looks like you or likes the same sport or whatever, but to discover such incredibly specific touchstones was mind-blowing. Suddenly I had a context for so many of the things I do or enjoy. Suddenly I had answers.

My world expanded still further when Shan introduced me to several of our cousins, one of whom I had the privilege of meeting in person in July. For all those of you who think I'm the "funny one" who says outrageous or unexpected things, Cousin Linda (who once lived a mere 800 or so feet from me without either of us knowing it), has me beat by a MILE. She is vivacious and hysterical and flamboyantly larger than life and is completely unapologetic about fully enjoying that life. She is kind and thoughtful, loving and funnier than hell. Next to Linda, I look positively bland and reserved. I absolutely adore her.

Like Shannon, Linda has also gifted me with her love and her family knowledge. Because of Linda, I now know that I am apparently our grandmother reincarnated. She was an expert seamstress who made beautiful quilts (not that I personally do much quilting). I am tallish like her, whereas most of my cousins are shorter. I am built very like her, with a barrel-chest to house our prodigious lungs because I also sing exactly like her, all power and projection, microphones sold separately. There was a certain irony to learning that, because the knowledge took my breath away. Learning that I inherited my grandmother's singing voice when singing has always been so important to me was both stunning and awe-inspiring at the same time. It was so much more than just a puzzle piece slamming into place. It wasn't just "Hey, this is who in the family happened to like music," it was "Hey, you inherited this big-ass chunk of genetics from this exact person with your exact voice." Frankly, it was overwhelming...I've never had that kind of context or closure before. Nor would I have without the sister who introduced me to our dear cousin Linda.

Cousin Linda, Sister Shan, and Me

Through Shannon, I have not only have been given back my history, but I've been given family I never knew I had, from several new cousins to a new brother-in-law to nieces and nephews with whom I actually share blood. Don't get me wrong; I adore ALL my nieces and nephews, but this is all definitely a novel experience for me because I now get to see the echoes of my own ancestors in both my child and in Shan's children. It has been such an inestimable privilege to see those genetics in action. For example, my nephew Kincaid reminds me so very much of my daughter, from their boundless energy to their drive and ambition. Plus both were Irish dancers! What are the odds of that, really? I mean, that's a fairly niche sport, after all...how surreal can you get?  Meanwhile, I have reveled in my niece Arden's love of writing and literature (something we both share), as well as in her wicked sense of humor that quietly sneaks up on you and whacks you over the head when you least expect it like some sort of jocularity ninja.

In July I also had the pleasure of finally getting to meet my other nephew, Obie, who is technically the oldest of all my nieces and nephews (if only by 10 days). He was also born on my girlie's half-birthday, because genealogy is full of weird little serendipities like that. Obie is a charming young man with a mega-watt smile who bears more than a passing resemblance to actor Colin Farrell (something he's no doubt sick of hearing). Obie is one of those guys who can make you feel like you're the only person in the room when he's talking to you; before you know it you might find yourself telling him things you never expected to tell anyone. He's just that compelling...I think it's his superpower.  As with his siblings, I see bits of myself in Obie too; while it may not be my superpower, I think perhaps we both find it easier to encourage others to speak than to bare our own souls. We're also both watchers...observers. From what I can tell, there is little that Obie misses. Even with his attention fully on you, you get the distinct impression that he's taking in everything around him at all times. At one point during the evening Obie asked if I was "cheating on his brother's bed," in reference to a post I'd written months earlier about how comfortable said bed was during my first visit. I remember gleefully thinking, "Oh, yeah--I see what you did there. This is gonna be fun." I adore people who can keep me on my toes like that; the challenge is exhilarating.

Shannon and I may not look much like each other, she being as near a physical clone of her birth mother as I am of our father, but she and I are so completely alike in so many other ways. We think alike and we both have the same creative mindset even though we express our art in different ways. We are both singers, albeit with very different ranges. Our adoption experiences and our search for identity have many differences, yet echo each other on a visceral level. We are both lovers and givers, striving to make life happier and/or better for those around us, even when it comes at a cost to ourselves. Perhaps that's an adoptee thing, or perhaps that's an "us" thing...it's hard to say. If we lived nearer to each other, Shan would undoubtedly also be my regular partner in crime. My gratitude to her and for her grows each and every day, as does my already incandescent love for this superlative creature. She is my better in virtually every way possible, not least because she has an uncanny knack for never letting me feel "less than," even when I am. She is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered, much less had the privilege of being related to. We may only have known each other a year, but it already feels like I have known Shannon forever.

Shan truly is the yin to my yang, and nothing better exemplifies the depth of our connection than what happened today. Because I was going to be out of town for a conference and research all last week, I made a point of arranging for flowers to be sent to Shan today, in honor of our first anniversary together as sisters. I even texted my niece to find out what Shan's favorite flowers were (hydrangeas, fyi). I selected an arrangement specifically because it had a vase with a "wave" design in ocean colors (my sister's favorite) and because it had both blue and white hydrangeas and thistles, (which she also loves and which were a nice nod to Shan and her husband's anniversary trip to Scotland earlier this year). I admit I was excessively pleased with myself, especially after Shan called me this afternoon to thank me for the thoughtful flowers. Imagine my absolute surprise when a delivery van pulled up in my driveway just a few minutes later, causing me to rush to the laundry room for pants because I was still wearing pajamas while catching up on paperwork from my week-long absence. I met the guy halfway down the sidewalk (he'd waited all of maybe 2 minutes after knocking) and was presented with a large vase of flowers. At that point, I just knew. I mean, who else would have sent them?? I got the arrangement into the house, set them down, and grabbed the card first thing. Sure enough, they were anniversary flowers from my darling sister...including blue hydrangeas...received less than 30 minutes after she called to thank me for her flowers. I laughed and laughed till tears rolled down my eyes...and possibly my legs. Because of course.  OF COURSE. Who else but the two of us would send virtually the same flowers to each other at virtually the exact same time?? I knew she was working, so I sent her an audio text to thank her while wheezing with laughter. A while later she called again, excessively pleased with HERself for keeping the secret when she earlier called ME.  My sister and I could not possibly be bigger nerds if we tried. Great minds, and all that.



I will never fail to be amazed me how open Shan has been with me, even from the very beginning,  given some of the disappointments she's faced in finding other birth family. Sometimes that's par for the course, because you never know where someone is at on their own journey or how their past experiences will inform their current actions. I've likewise run the birth family reaction gamut, from finding a new brother who is also very sweet and thoughtful to other siblings who still don't know about me (and likely never will), to siblings who aren't interested in knowing me, and even to relatives who have chosen to block me from their lives. Still other potential relatives hang in limbo, having yet to return messages. That's part of what make's Shannon's openness and generosity of spirit such an priceless gift. She hasn't just given me back my story, she's given me her family--our family--and all of herself freely, even knowing the risk. How could I not adore this fierce little warrior sister with all my heart as a result? Shan has made me a far better person in these twelve short months and I will aspire every day of the rest of my life to deserve her love and her faith in me.  She is a treasure of incalculable worth.

She is my sister.

Happy Shanniversary, Dear One. I hope it is the first of many.