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Know Thyself - When the Journey Forward is a Journey Back

07/19/2016 4:30 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

We recently received this post from a blog reader, who wishes to remain anonymous in print.  

In this post, the writer talks about their initial interactions with the adoptee world, contemplates their first trip back to Korea and what it means to go with other adoptees. 

BKA is honored to share their thoughtful words here.


Know Thyself - When the Journey Forward is a Journey Back



I found BKA about half a year ago – I don’t even remember what I was searching for on The Internet, but it came up.  I clicked through the website, and it sounded mildly interesting…but I was fairly ambivalent.  In all honesty, I hadn’t really ever put much serious thought into this sort of thing.  Eventually, I decided to reach out on a whim.  On what turned out to be the coldest night in January, with subzero temperatures and bone-shattering wind chill, I went to a beginning-of-the-year get-together event at a restaurant near Fenway.


You have to understand how much of a psychological leap of faith this was for me. I’m not good in large crowds – I get anxious and want to leave.  (I’m better in smaller groups when I can keep track of what’s going on.)  I’m terrible at sustaining small-talk – I get into the whole awkward silence thing when I realize I don’t have anything interesting to say, but it’s totally my turn to say something, and now I have no clean way of extricating myself from the situation, further exacerbating the abject panic that’s slowly creeping its way into my Flight Response.   And I’m generally reticent to surround myself with strangers – why would I meet new people (who I might not like), when there are other people who I know I like already?


But I went anyway.  Everyone was generally very nice, I exchanged pleasantries, and I cordially met some people, as would otherwise be expected in a semi-informal networking function.  As with any situation where you’re inserting yourself into a pre-existing social group, it’s a massive influx of faces and names, and it’s essentially an exercise in futility to attempt to remember anyone’s name or face.  Under normal circumstances, I would have disengaged immediately.


Yet, I was resolved to give this group a try.  (For some twisted reason that I can’t clearly articulate, I kind of felt that if I couldn’t fit in with this group, it was certain that I couldn’t fit in anywhere.)  I went to a few other smaller get-togethers over the weeks, and I met a few more people.  Everyone kept talking about this “Gathering”, which as far as I could understand, was just a trip back to Korea.  I’d thought about going at some point, but I’d never pulled the trigger – I was afraid it would be clear that I wasn’t really Korean…that I’d be an obvious imposter.


One day, I went to an event where we watched a short film about two sisters who found their birth family, and traveled to Korea to meet them.  (BKA Chats event.)  It was heart-wrenching and fascinating at the same time.  But afterwards, we all had an informal discussion about it.  And in that discussion, something happened – I don’t think I really had much to contribute.  I became a passive observer as I listened to everyone talking about the kinds of things that I had never said out loud…the things that you push down deep and bury in a tiny box, never daring to dig it up and look by yourself, because it took so long to imprison them in the first place.


So I decided to go to the IKAA conference with everyone else – I think I finally found some people who really are like me.  Since then, I’ve vacillated on making decisions and I’ve periodically been paralyzed into inaction between the deep-seated automatic response to not pursue this, and the sudden understanding that I probably should.


The Three Fates


So then what it is it like to finally meet someone like you?


The ancient Greeks believed that the Three Fates strung each human's life into a long, winding thread.  It was the job of those Fates to weave us all together into the fabric of existence.


When I think of this metaphor in the context of other adoptees, who come from the same country at roughly the same time, it is dizzying to imagine the potential paths I easily could have walked, had the set of initial circumstances been slightly changed.


If each person's life is a cosmic thread that I could have experienced, then it seems almost tragic that the fickle whims of an unseen hand could launch us in any arbitrary direction.  Our threads, cast of a different cloth and emblazoned with an exotic array of dissident colors, were forced to form a weave with the other people in our new lands.  And that shock of difference is all too apparent...it can be neither unseen nor undone, and it draws the passive observer's eye to the obvious mismatch.  And while the color of your thread in the tapestry of life is apparent to all, it is mostly apparent to you.  The best you can do is understand this difference and carry on.  


But imagine, for once, what if all these strands come back together?  Inexplicably, you find yourself entwined in a rope that was spun from the same bolt.  These lines of experience, unraveled at birth, finally come together again.           


Strangers in a Strange Land


For someone who has not experienced this, it is impossible to comprehend.  It seems odd that a person would have such a strong affinity for strangers who have never known each other, who have no shared experience, and who come from radically different upbringings.  But I would argue the following – is it so strange to understand that a person has a natural kinship with others who share a similar circumstance of birth?  Is that not the fundamental basis of family and community and nation?  A common affinity to those who are born like you?  It is the singular, arbitrary event over which no person has control, but which binds us together nonetheless.


Now imagine that you had been missing that.  Imagine that, in your life, a core part of your identity is an uneasy feeling of dissimilitude; of not truly belonging; as if you are a visitor temporarily granted free passage in an alien land.


Imagine something absurd … everyone else has a third eye, but you do not.  You only have 2 eyes.  It is clear to anyone that you don't have a third eye, so everyone asks you what it's like.  "I don't know", you reply, and you wish people would stop asking you.  Does it hurt?  What is it like in the 2-eyed land?  Some people feel sorry for you, and some people treat you like The Other.  None of the advertisements have faces that look like yours, and society is subtly constructed without your interests in mind.  But it is deeper than that.  You cannot see with a third eye – you cannot see the iridescent shimmering of the pre-morning dawn through the lens of a third eye.  You cannot see the dazzling hues that contrast the translucency of the noon-day grass with the foreboding obsidian of the concrete walkway.  You cannot experience the pulsing radiance cast off by a burning fire in the same way as everyone else with their third eye.  But you can fake it.  You can understand the differences and learn the metaphors and become assimilated into this culture through action and deed and speech.  


One day, something strange happens: you meet some ambassadors from the 2-eyed land.  They do not talk like you.  They are confused that you don’t understand their metaphors or customs.  Now you feel a pang that pulls you in a new direction.  Do you learn about them?  Do you join them?  Will you forsake an entire lifetime of trying to fit in with the 3-eyed world, just to attempt to return to a people who didn't want you in the first place?  How do you straddle these worlds, when your very identity teeters on a balance beam?  You don't really belong anywhere, do you?


All of this weighs on you.  Forever.  It becomes so ingrained in the core of your being that it never occurs to you that it's abnormal.  So you navigate the length of this razor-thin wire, strung over a chasm of inexplicable darkness… you are a tight-rope walker across the unending maw of existential void.  All you can do is hold your head up, and never look down.


Black Holes


So where am I through all of this?  I am orbiting a black hole. 


A black hole’s gravity is so strong, nothing can escape – not even light; not even information.  That means that anything that falls into a black hole can never return…and anyone on the outside can never know what has happened to it.  At the same time, an object falling into a black hole will be torn to pieces by the gravity – stretched and violently pulled apart.  As long as you can orbit around it at a safe distance, you won’t fall in.  You won’t know what happens on the other side, but you’re safe where you are.


And that’s where my mind is.  My psychological conception of identity slowly circles the black hole – never entering, but well-aware of its presence.  I know that if I tip my way towards it, I could fall in.  What would I find down there?  Would it be a better place than out here?  Or would it be terrible?  I won’t know unless I make the plunge, but I’m safe here right now.  Do I risk forever upsetting the familiar?  If I decide to drop down into the unknown abyss, I risk having my mind be rent asunder by the mental gravity.  I risk having my psyche be devoured; gobbled up by a voracious inner demon and strewn about in a thousand different directions, to be lost forever in an inky and unforgiving subconscious.  I risk losing the stable orbit I’ve painstakingly managed to establish, and I will never be able to claw my way back to where I am now.


So what will it be?


I think that’s the ultimate question, with all the fears and apprehensions that such a simple question brings.  I think it’s why I’m going on this trip, and why I found this group.  I don’t know the answers, but I’m willing to try to find out.




On a closing note, a random person might wonder what the big fuss is about…why spend so much time and energy doing this and thinking about this?


It’s not just an adoption thing – it has something to do with mankind’s unquenchable desire to understand.  Today, scientists try as hard as they can to understand the precious few seconds leading up to the Big Bang…because no one knows what happened before it.  The first moments of the birth of the entire universe is shrouded in mystery.  We are driven by a desire to understand these moments, because an answer can provide context for why and how we exist.  We are driven to understand the nature of life itself.  We are driven to ask the ancient questions:  Why are we here?  Why us instead of something else?  It is embedded in the very spirit of humanity – to wonder, to explore, to dream, and to fear.  It compels us to search and to discover, with interminable will and inexhaustible determination.


Perhaps this is just how it expresses itself in people like us.


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