Secrets, Lies, and DNA

I read an article today on Huffpost.com titled: The Death of the Family Secret. In a nutshell, the article is about how, with the use of commercial DNA testing, people are uncovering secrets, lies, and hidden truths about their families. The article discusses the ethics involved in exposing such secrets AND questions where privacy fits into the equation for those who desperately want to keep such secrets. Ethics? 

If you’ve read my book, THE LIES THAT BIND, you’d know that I believe that a secret or a lie that covers up the core of another person’s identity is not okay. Never. Ever.

My story deals with the secrets and lies that go hand in hand with closed records adoption. Other scenarios that cause people to keep secrets include the use of sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy, or even just flat out lies to cover up an affair. No matter what the reason, lies about a person’s biological origins–heritage, medical history, family legacy, relatives . . . are not OKAY!

This is the quote from the article that got me going:

“Where do your rights to learn these secrets end and the rights of others to keep them begin? What makes a family? What role should your DNA play in your sense of self or identity?”

A right to keep a secret about another person’s identity? I don’t get it. That’s not a right.

What role should DNA play? Well, no one can answer that. DNA plays the role it plays. It’s science. Human body systems, organs, tissues, and cells play roles in identity. It’s the nature vs. nurture argument all over again. To understand where one comes from is to begin to understand one’s identity.

DNA has been, and continues to be, a lifesaver (literally and figuratively) for adoptees. And it’s not going away. Funny thing is, a majority of the states (California included!) are keeping the closed records rules in place, despite the increasing popularity in commercial DNA testing. DNA testing, combined with the growing trend (and big business of) genealogy, are blowing apart the archaic rules and legalities behind closed records adoptions. It’s about time.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks to DNA, I found my biological father. Read more about my story in my book, THE LIES THAT BIND. And, I’m celebrating by having a sale  for both the paperback and ebook at Amazon! It’s a shameless plug, I know. But, I would like to know your thoughts on the article and about DNA uncovering our truths.

Happy Father’s Day!

3d mock1

THE LIES THAT BIND: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA & Discovery

The book is finally done. Right now it’s the #1 new release in Non-fiction/Family & Parenting/Adoption!

I can’t wait for you to read it. Launching February 5–e-book and paperback on Amazon.  E-book pre-orders available now for just 99 cents!

The Lies That Bind

A memoir, by Laureen Pittman

Reveal 4

Adoption Awareness: I Wrote a Poem

I sat down a few weeks ago and decided to write a blog post about adoption awareness and flipping the script, my journey and the emotions involved, and thought process I’ve been through over the last few years. For some reason, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t do it. Emotions were rushing at me and I couldn’t hold on to them long enough to write about them in any meaningful way.

If you know me or if you’ve read my blog, you know that I’m not usually at a loss for words. I’ve written plenty about my adoption and my journey to find my biological truth But there I was, dumbfounded and feeling something akin to what might be described as the dreaded “writer’s block.”

So I decided to let the emotions back in . . . and I just wrote them down as they came. And this is what I ended up with.

ERSATZ LIFE

Born for no reason; born to no one.
An unending sense of transience
No familiar face in sight.

Identity stunted, limited, inadequate
Shaped by ideas, myth, fractions
Of a history told by well-meaning Others.

Illegitimate; unwanted; rejected; abandoned;
Bastard

Chosen; lucky; thankful; blessed;
Grateful

The utter incompetence
of being.

A saga of secrecy and lies
Stories, justifications and rationalizations
Meant to pacify and soothe
The pain of unacknowledged
Trauma

But serve only to undermine
Truth

That lies in wait.

She nurtures the trust
She has in herself and accepts
That the Truth will be revealed

Quietly, as in a dream, without fanfare
Or like a tempest, with a chaos
Of emotion.

A journey exhilarating and daunting
As the Truth settles
into the cracks of her soul.

Her heart begins to know
Wholeness
Heritage
Family

Happy (or Weird?) Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is hard for some people.  I’m one of them. I don’t need sympathy, just acknowledgment that Mother’s Day can be quite a conundrum for many people—not just for adoptees like me. Some people have lost their perfectly perfect (or perfectly imperfect) mothers—that’s hard, too. To all of you boys and girls and women and men who have a difficult time knowing what or how to celebrate on Mother’s Day—I SEND YOU ALL A VIRTUAL HUG!

virtual hug

I would love to be able to celebrate my adoptive mother on Mother’s Day. But I find it hard to scratch around in the old noodle for memories of good times or happy mother-daughter moments. She wasn’t abusive or mean. She was, however, an alcoholic who basically “checked out” during the formative years of my life. Don’t feel sorry for me. I became a fiercely independent young woman, determined to find my own way using friends’ mothers as role models, vowing to be the opposite kind person that my mother was. Whatever that meant. I do miss her sometimes . . . I find myself thinking of her and wishing that we could have had a better relationship. She passed away in 2003. I think about this on Mother’s Day.

I would also love to be able to celebrate my biological mother on Mother’s Day. But I don’t know her.  Don’t get me wrong–I know her identity. I know where she lives and I know some of her family (my family!). I also know and understand who she was in 1963 when she gave birth to me and relinquished me for adoption. I’m not angry or hurt that she gave me up for adoption. It was her only choice. It was the right choice. What I don’t understand (and what hurts a little) is how after over fifty years, she can’t reconcile with reality and get to know another adult human being. A human being who happens to be so closely related to her. At this point, however, I think maybe she may not be the kind of person I’d want to get to know, anyway. I think about this on Mother’s Day.

There are highlights—it’s not all dark and stormy. I do love it when my kids honor and celebrate me. One year, my little son Zach (he’s now 26) made me breakfast in bed.  He made me an omelet—and called it a “momelette.” I cried happy tears. And I gobbled up the momelette, even though it really wasn’t that good (I think he used some expired feta cheese—oops!). And when my youngest, Garrett, was just a toddler, Guy took both Zach and Garrett to breakfast early one Mother’s Day, so that I could sleep in. That was total heaven. We all celebrated together in the afternoon with a picnic and a lot of silliness.

But still, it’s a hollow feeling that I’m left with when everyone else is celebrating Mother’s Day. It does fill up, though, when my boys celebrate me. Whatever you may be thinking about on Mother’s Day, I hope you get to celebrate some of the good stuff.

happy-mothers-day

I’m looking forward to Father’s Day, by the way. I hit the jackpot with both my adoptive Dad and my biological Father. It’s a totally different kind of feeling. Can’t wait to share it with you!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

 

Hey Bro . . .

Me and TomSo, after many years of denial, my a-brother has shown an interest in his bio-fam. His DNA failed. Twice. It’s really weird  . . . and rare. He submitted his saliva sample to 23andMe. But it was a failure. Jeezus. My poor brother. We tease him that it means he’s got alien DNA in him. Weirdo. I like this analysis. He doesn’t.

This was the explanation: “If necessary, the lab will make multiple attempts at all stages of the process in order to provide results; however, due to biological variability some people simply don’t have a high enough concentration of DNA in their saliva for our technology to process.”worlds_okayest_brother_t_shirt_textual_tees

So . . . he’s considering submitting his  saliva to Ancestry DNA. In the meanwhile, I decided to help him try to find his bio fam. He knew his bio mom’s last name: Traxler. Thanks to the California Birth Index, we were able to confirm the name Traxler and find his bio father’s name: Noble.

After some research, I think I found his bio mom. it’s not my story to share, and we’re not sure we’ve struck gold at this point. We believe his bio mom may have passed several years ago, but we were able to find several potential half-siblings. I drafted a letter to them. Here it is. Comments are encouraged and welcomed!

Dear __________________,

My name is Laureen Pittman (Laureen Hubachek). You don’t know me, nor do you have any reason to know me, but I have a story that may interest you and I hope that you will continue to read.

I am an adoptee. I was born in December 1963 and raised by two wonderful adoptive parents. I also had (and still have!) an adoptive sibling. Thomas Allen Hubachek (I call him Tommy, or Tom) is two years older than me, born November 19, 1961. He was born in Los Angeles County. His biological mother’s last name is Traxler. His biological father’s last name is Noble. He’s an amazing man—a good brother, husband, and father of 7 children—all now grown and successful. He has 7 grandchildren.

Tom is a mature, well-adjusted man, but he still has questions about his identity and his origins. It took Tom a long time to decide whether or not he should make an attempt at discovering his roots. When he decided to search, I offered to help him. I have helped several other adoptees find their biological family—most with good results and happy endings. I do understand, however, that not all findings result in “happy endings” and that even mistakes can be made in the process of search and discovery. I hope that you can assist Tom in finding the truth.

We have reason to believe that your mother, ________________ Traxler (born in San Diego and attended high school at West Covina High School) is Tom’s biological mother.

We provide this information in an attempt to reach out and make contact with family. Tom only hopes that, if the relationship can be confirmed, information can be shared, and perhaps relationships can be built. It is quite a conundrum being an adoptee—coming from two families: having one biology, but two familial connections. It results in an infinite wondering of how nature and nurture really work.

I understand that this may be a lot to take in and it may be quite a surprise—I have no idea what your mother may have told you about her past. But please understand that we would not be presenting this information to total strangers without a good amount of research that points to your family as relatives of Thomas Hubachek.

I hope that you feel compelled to contact me to discuss your thoughts. If we can confirm that Tom is the son of ________, we would be happy to take the contact as far or as limited as you desire. Tom would love to have some information about the family. He would enjoy building sibling relationships, as well, but he understands that the family must make this decision.

Please take some time to think about this and feel free to call or email me. You can also find me on Facebook and you can message me there, if you prefer.

Yours in love and understanding,

Laureen Pittman
laureenwrites@gmail.com

Returning . . .

I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.

–Mick Jagger

I’ve left you all alone for so long. Please understand that despite my absence from the blog, I appreciate you all so much! I have heard from so many of you while I’ve been in this “retreat” phase. I’ve been happy to help some of you with the CABI, and answer your questions about search, reunion, rejection, contact and more.  I’m glad you’ve found my blog and you’ve been able to find some hope and connection with my story. And you all must know–I want to hear your story, as well. Every adoption story, whether it ends in a successful reunion or not–remember, I understand it all. And I want to hear it.

family-027_origAs for me, I’ve been busy meeting more family members–wonderful aunts on my maternal side, and more cousins on my paternal side–who have all been so wonderful in opening their hearts and sharing stories.  There is so much rich history that I am still learning. And I am thankful. It’s been a journey with surprises that I never expected. I’m loving it.

The book is coming. Jackson, my bio-Dad, has been reading my memoir and his approval of the story and the details makes me happy. I’ll finally be able to reveal his true identity and his awesome accomplishments. I am so proud of him and can’t wait to share my pride and his awesomeness.

editing-ratesI’m still editing and rewriting. It’s a big job. It will never be perfect, or just right. I am thankful for my editor, who has been guiding me and punishing me (just kidding), so that I know where to go with my story. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

It’s all about the positive.

A Never Ending Journey

This “family” thing just keeps growing. Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not complaining.  Far from it.  On the contrary, I’m celebrating it. Since I met my biological father in 2015, who, if you’ve been following my story here, you know as Jackson, I’ve discovered many more branches on this big ol’ family tree.

Genealogy is an amazing thing.  Especially for adoptees.  From the beginning we’re told we’re not entitled to know our origins or our roots. Well, DNA and the art of genealogy has opened up a whole new world for us.

I owe quite a bit of thanks to others, who are much better at the research and at poring over old documents and putting puzzle pieces together.  For that, I have to thank my friend Nancy. She won’t let a clue go until she’s worked it every which way, deciphering hints hidden in old records and finding hidden meaning in everything from newspaper articles to the spelling of names.

I also have to thank my newfound cousin, Beth. She’s quite a sleuth herself. She uncovered some of the mystery on my biological mother’s side of the family. Things and people I don’t even think my biological mother knows about! I feel so family rich!

Later this week, I’m traveling with Nancy up to Northern California to finally meet some cousins on my bio-dad’s side. At last, I’m finally meeting Heide, Jackson’s first cousin, who is 91 years old. She’s the one who opened the door for Jackson and me to the rich family legacy that we now share. We’re staying with Heide’s daughter (who also happens to be named Nancy) and her husband. I feel so lucky that there generous souls who are so open and kind and willing to share.

What’s all the fuss about the secrets, anyway?

Beating the Odds – And Keeping the Dream Alive [And How to Write A Letter to Your Biological Father Who Doesn’t Know You Exist]

road-to-the-beach-sunrise-facebook-coverI apologize in advance. This is a long post. Since it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog and my journey in earnest, I wanted to summarize my story and let readers know where I am on this crazy journey. I also wanted to answer a question that I’m asked often: “What did you say to your biological father when you introduced yourself?” Every journey is different and complicated in its own way (although I’m not sure any journey is more complicated than mine!), but I want to encourage everyone who is curious or is being held back by his or her own fears to move forward. And remember, happy endings are not the goal–the goal is wholeness.  

My entire life has been about beating the odds. Don’t get me wrong—I never felt like an underdog. But given my circumstances, at least with respect to my birth and the inexorable journey I would take, I was more likely to be on the side of defeat than of victory.

I was born in 1963 in a prison. A prison baby. At the time of my birth, my mother was eighteen years old and serving a ten-year prison sentence for drug-related charges. She gave birth to me just four months into her stay at the California Institute for Women.

Given that rough start in life, what were the odds that I’d have an opportunity to live a full life with a loving family in a happy home? Thanks to adoption, I did. I was raised by two loving parents and I even had a big brother, also adopted.

My brother and I don’t remember ever being told that we were adopted—we just always knew. As children, it was a non-issue—something that just wasn’t talked about. We were chosen. Loved. We were taught and conditioned to believe that being adopted didn’t matter. So it didn’t. Until it did.

question-mark-faceI was twenty years old when curiosity got the best of me. Of course, adoptees understand that it is much more complicated than just simple curiosity. It’s a need to understand and know one’s true identity. Identity that includes a sense of belonging and a knowledge and familiarity with family history, heritage and ethnicity. A yearning to find someone who looks who looks like me.

Like most adoptees, as I got older, I understood my adoption circumstances a little better. I may have been chosen, raised and loved by one family, but I was given away, relinquished, abandoned, probably even unwanted, by another. I wanted to know more about that. Wouldn’t you?

When my journey of discovery started, I was living and going to school abroad. It was the first time I had lived away from home and away from my adoptive family. I missed them a lot. I wrote letters and telephoned them every other week. They were the only family I knew. During this time, I even wrote and talked to my parents about my curiosity and my desire to search for my biological family. Luckily for me, they understood that my desire to search and learn more about my origins did not mean I no longer wanted to be a part of my adoptive family. I had their support and their understanding.

After graduating from college and returning home, I started to search in earnest. I got in touch with the county adoption services where my adoption was facilitated. They gave me my non-identifying information. What a revelation! I really didn’t think I would learn anything of great value from my non-identifying information, but I was blown away to find that it was packed full of stories and physical descriptions of my biological parents and grandparents and first names of their siblings and their parents (aunts and uncles and grandparents!). I already had my birth mother’s last name from the adoption papers that my parents kept, so I was on my way! I was eager and excited to discover my story.

It was 1986. I hired a private investigator to help me. She started at the prison. She knew my biological mother’s last name and my birthdate, so she checked the records to find an inmate who was in the hospital on or around my birthdate. The names matched up. BINGO! Found.

The finding part was easy. But much to my chagrin, my birth mother was not happy about being found. She cursed the county social worker for giving out the non-identifying information. She cursed the investigator for contacting family members in an attempt to reach her (she had an unlisted number and was difficult to find). She cursed me for . . . well, just being me, I guess. She had no desire for contact. I wrote to her anyway. In the end, we exchanged letters twice, but she was firm in her position that she did not want any kind of ongoing relationship or any continuing communication. She hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy and my birth and she wasn’t about to do it now. I didn’t even have an opportunity to ask any meaningful questions. I know from the private investigator that she’d never been married and had had no other children. I was confused. And hurt.

rejected

An Exclusive Group!

I tried to look on the bright side. In a weird, twisted way, I had beaten the odds—again. Most birth mothers actually welcome contact from their adult biological children. In fact, research has shown that fewer than five percent (< 5%) of birth mothers who give up a child for adoption reject contact from their adult adoptee child. Despite my disappointment with being a member of this exclusive group, I was able to carry on and live a pretty normal life. I had a great job as a paralegal and was considering going law school. I eventually met a great guy, got married, and we started a family. Everything was normal. Everything was great! Except for one small thing. The questions were still lingering. Who am I? Who do my kids look like?

When I was rejected by my bio mom for the second time, I was devastated. Not so much because I’d never get to know her (I’ve come to realize that I don’t think she is the sort of person I would like anyway), but because she shut down any chance of me getting to know any other family members and finding out who my biological father is. She was the only one who knew and she wasn’t about to give me any answers. I thought I would never learn my truth.

dna_trailLuckily for me (and other adoptees from the closed records era), the evolution of science and technology over the years helped keep the dream of finding answers alive. For adoptees, a DNA test can provide the first ever connection with a biological relative. You may only get distant relative matches at first, but by contacting those relatives and exploring family connections and sharing stories, many adoptees are able to identify close family members and even birth parents. And today’s internet-strong social media makes it easier than ever to connect and make contact. It’s tricky and can even feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack at times, but DNA testing can reveal so much. Even when it feels like you’re fighting against all odds.

Sure, maybe you won’t get that one-in-a-million DNA family match, but there is much to gain from a DNA test. Most adoptees I know, myself included, don’t (or didn’t) know their true ancestry or ethnicity. With the results from a DNA test, we may be able to discover where our ancestors came from. I found out that I am German, French and English. Mind blown.

Some DNA testing services also provide health related information. For adoptees who keep having to fill out medical forms for family medical history with the words “UNKNOWN/ADOPTED,” even a small amount of health related information can be gold. Science is awesome. So do it, even if you think the odds are against you. You may be surprised at what you find.

Back to the relative finding thing. Adoptees have two issues when it comes to finding relatives: (1) we want to identify family members — if not immediate family, then those closely enough related so that they might be able to help identify immediate family; and (2) we’re racing the clock because we want to identify family while they — and we — are still living. Again, we’re trying to beat the odds.

adoption-treeUnfortunately, a large percentage of the distant relative matches will not respond to requests for contact. But because the databases are so large and growing daily, you are still likely to make many important contacts. And here’s the key: you have to be consistent. You have to be willing to tell your story over and over again. You have to talk about your adoption and provide every bit of information you know. Names, places, even stories that may or may not be true. Share and share again. Someone out there knows your truth. Or, someone out there knows just enough of your truth so that you can put the puzzle pieces together. And you never know—you may beat the odds—like I did.

I never imagined that spitting into a plastic tube could reveal the answer to the burning question: “Who’s your daddy?” But that’s exactly what happened. I beat the odds again. My biological father didn’t even know I existed. He doesn’t even remember my biological mother, or the encounter that resulted in my coming into this world (we blame those crazy free-lovin’, drug fueled, beatnik 60s).

When I logged on to 23andMe to check out the DNA Relatives section, I was initially stunned and overwhelmed. 23andMe had matched me with 762 distant relatives (3rd to distant cousins). I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this information. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Then I saw it: 1 CLOSE FAMILY. What? Who?

I clicked on the link, but before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up. I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information. This was not a game.

23andMe actually asked for two layers of consent before it would reveal my close family relationship. First, a warning was presented via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases. Upsetting? Been there. Done that (with my bio mom). Of course I wanted to know.

You may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate. Such information may provoke strong emotion.

Thanks, 23andMe. I was nervous, but I clicked “proceed” anyway.

Father?! My biological father?! 23andMe found my biological father when no one else (except for my bio mom) knew who he was?

I could hardly think straight as I typed out a message to Father.

Hi,
I am contacting you because 23andMe has identified you as a relative of mine because of our shared DNA. 23andMe has predicted, through our DNA match, that you are my biological father. You won’t recognize my name, because I was adopted and bear the name of my adoptive parents. However, my birth mother’s name is Margaret Michaels. I hope that this name is familiar to you, although it was 50 years ago and I understand that it was a difficult time for both of you. I hope that you will respond to my message and that you are interested in exploring our relationship. I look forward to hearing from you!
Laureen Pittman (original birth certificate reads: “Baby Girl Michaels”).

 

That was over three years ago. My biological father and I first got to know each other via email, then a few Skype conversations. He lives over 1,200 miles from me, so the slow start to our “reunion” was necessary, and good. We needed that time to get to know one another and for him to feel comfortable that I wasn’t some crazy stalker up to no good. We finally met in 2015. I flew up to his home in Washington State and was welcomed with open arms by him, my half-sister, and my sweet little niece.

As with all adoption stories and reunions, it’s complicated. We’re still getting to know each other and we’re helping one another to understand how we fit into each other’s lives and families. Together, we’ve uncovered a rich family history and an understanding of life, love, struggle and the evolution of a complicated, but strong family. My life is definitely much richer for knowing him (and other biological family members I’ve met on this journey) and I’ve learned so much about myself. I believe he feels the same way. Beating the odds has its perks.

My memoir, The Lies That Bind, will be published in 2017.

Adoptee and Adoption Stories Matter

story

I heard this morning that the movie Lion was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama. That made me happy. It’s based on the memoir written by Saroo Brierley (A Long Way Home, G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Reprint edition (June 12, 2014)), an Indian-born Australian businessman who was separated from his family as a small boy and adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years (and one incredible journey) later, he reunites with his biological mother. Dev Patel plays Saroo (he’s nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, as well) and Nicole Kidman plays Saroo’s adoptive mom. You can watch the trailer here. It’s pretty powerful.

I love to hear other people’s stories. I especially like to hear stories from other adoptees. Every story–every journey–is different, yet similar in many ways. The same threads are woven into nearly every adoptee story: feelings of rejection, wanting to belong, the questioning of one’s identity, and questioning the very stories that have been told to us by those who lovingly (hopefully) raise us. We also often wonder whether anyone is thinking about or looking for us.stone-symbol-question-mark-5282223

Adoptees and their stories seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The subject of adoption–once a subject shrouded in secrecy–is becoming a big part of the public interest. Adoptees are actively searching for answers to the most basic questions we all take for granted: Who am I? Where did I come from? Who do I look like?

Birth parents are searching, too. Shame is no longer an issue. It’s all about healing. You can even see the healing on television (shows like Who Do You Think You Are?, Long Lost Family, and Geneaology Roadshow), in books, and on the big screen (Lion, Philomena). Genealogy has become its own genre. It’s clear that the interest in family history is not just a phase.

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against most adoptees and others who want to know their stories. Thirty out of our fifty states still have sealed records laws on the books that deny adult adoptees the right to know their origins. California is one of those states living in the past. Seems so archaic, really, with all of the other ways to get to the truth: from good ol’ gumshoe detective work to social media, registries, even DNA testing and forensic genealogy. And what about international adoptions? Getting to the truth in those stories can be even more complicated. In the story behind the movie Lion, the main character uses Google Earth to search for his childhood neighborhood, using  his fuzzy childhood memories as his only guide. Google Earth! Amazing! Technology is so powerful!

storiesStories are powerful, too. Stories communicate, connect and strengthen. Even in everyday conversation, when people tell others about themselves, they to do it in a narrative way—that’s just how humans communicate. People story their worlds. And it’s not just about the adoptees. The subject of adoption and the real stories behind who adopts are inherently connected to people dealing with complex and sensitive personal issues like infertility, surrogacy, illegitimacy, mixed race families, and families with same-sex parents. Adoption, like the family issues mentioned above, contributes to a distinctive and often challenging form of family. These stories are for everyone.

My memoir about my adoption journey, titled The Lies That Bind, is nearly complete. It will be published in 2017.

The Journey – A Musical

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I love this quote for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: It’s about the music. It explains why I have a playlist for my life. Music speaks to me. My playlist isn’t written down somewhere–it’s subconscious; subliminal.

Reason 2: Deitrich Bonhoeffer is German. I’m German. It’s my heritage; one I didn’t know about (and wasn’t entitled to)  until I discovered my ancestry through DNA. Since learning about my biological father and German heritage, I became a little obsessed with learning about German Americans in WWII and all kinds of spy stories and sabotage operations mounted against targets inside America. Why have I become so obsessed with the dark underside of espionage in WWII? The story of my German ancestors is fascinating and still holds many mysteries waiting to be uncovered.  It’s a long story and I won’t connect all the dots for you here, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a musician, a theologist and  a member of the Abwehr (defense) section of the German Military Intelligence Corps, the organization that originally was charged with espionage missions in Europe and the US by Hitler and the Nazi party.  Eventually, however, under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer became a participant in the German Resistance movement against Hitler and Nazism. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr to assassinate Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in 1945, shortly before the war’s end. So I have a soft spot in my heart for this Bonhoeffer guy.

But I digress. Back to the music. After all, this post is about the music. Everyone knows that the right music can evoke deep emotional response. Think about what composers are able do with movie soundtracks. And that’s without lyrics!  Add some lyrics that might speak to time and place, intended or unintended, and it can leave you in a puddle. It happens to me sometimes.bellingham

Like the time I was traveling twelve hundred miles to Washington for the first time to meet my biological father. I was traveling solo. My husband and my boys were supportive of my personal journey and Guy did offer to go with me, but I knew that if he was with me, I would be distracted by constantly keeping tabs on how he was doing during the trip. I also thought it would be important to have this experience on my own so that I wouldn’t be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to gauge my emotions based on what I thought Guy was thinking, or to play up or down my emotions or reactions for any reason. I didn’t want to feel like I was measuring my reactions or being careful with my words. I wanted to experience everything authentically and honestly.

Once the plane was in the air, I put my earbuds in and turned on some music. My phone was loaded with all of my favorites—mostly U2. I’m a huge fan. Some of you already know that. The sounds of The Edge’s guitar and Adam’s baseline in tune with Bono’s emotive voice never fail to soothe me. Larry’s percussions punctuate each song perfectly. The lyrics of most U2 songs are nuanced with spirituality without being preachy, which is perfect for me, since I consider myself a spiritual person without subscribing to any particular line of religious reasoning. U2’s music is often drenched in emotion, while at the same time the sound is pure, raucous rock and roll. U2’s music has always been a sort of soundtrack for my life.

Invisible was the first song I listened to as the plane settled into cruising altitude.  It was a fairly new song at the time, but I knew the lyrics well. That day, however, while sitting on that airplane headed to a truly new world, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time.

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You might just need one

Everything I had been told or taught to believe as a child about my adoption was that it was good, simple and straightforward. Be grateful. You were chosen. You are lucky.

I was grateful. My life as an adoptee most definitely didn’t suck, but what was missing was an acknowledgment that being adopted naturally comes with questions, emotions and even fears. Being adopted also comes with confines and rules that have been imposed not only by those individuals closest to me (like parents who never openly discussed adoption), as well as by the law and by strangers who can’t even begin to understand, despite their sincere efforts to make sense of the enigma of adoption on my behalf. The mantra has always been: Don’t question where you are, how you fit in, or where you came from. Just be the person “they” want you to be. You have no right to self-discovery.

But now it seemed that the adoption fog was finally lifting. And in that moment, on the plane, Bono was singing to me.

I finally found my real name
I won’t be me when you see me again
No, I won’t be my father’s son

Real names eventually translate into real history and truth. I found mine. And Jackson—we found his real name, too. Our lives are changed forever.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible

Margaret, of course, would prefer that I remain invisible. For so long, her rejection of me defined me when it came to thinking about my adoption. It took me some time and soul searching to realize that my existence and the truth about it mattered, even if Margaret felt otherwise. I finally turned the rejection into a redirection. I can accept that Margaret will never know me.

I don’t dream, not as such,
I don’t even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all
All those frozen days
And your frozen ways
They melt away your face like snow

The anger and the pain of the rejections are melting away. But it had to be realized first. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I was angry about Margaret’s second rejection of me, I would have told you flat out, “no.”   But in reality, I was denying it. I pushed the anger and the confusion deep down. Now I am finally finding answers about who I really am. I can accept that I may never know my story in its entirety—that there may still be gaps and questions in the grand scheme of it all. It’s okay.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here

Thank you, Bono.

bono roxy

My son, Zach, actually took this photo at the Roxy in Hollywood earlier this year. We were there. Did I mention I’m a huge fan?

Of course, the song really isn’t about my journey–or anyone’s journey–through the adoption maze.  It’s really about how helping others is important.  It is about human dignity and the one human family. The lyrics persuade us to reflect on small movements toward justice, participation in something bigger than ourselves, and solidarity. Bono is a humanitarian of epic proportions.

But in that moment on the plane . . . Corny? Maybe. That’s okay.  I don’t mind being corny.

I’d like to end with another quote.  This one is from Aldous Huxley.  Those  of you that have been following my journey and my quest to get to know my biological father will understand why a quote from Aldous Huxley delights me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
― Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays