Once again I let a holiday go by without stopping to honor our Indigenous Peoples. I was delighted to find this meditation from Fr. Rohr and the above quote. I encourage you all to read the full story at https://cac.org/sacred-circles-2021-10-13/.
I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite Harry Chapin songs “Circle”
I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…
It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write and post a lot on social media for Opal’s Farm. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was sort of Caller ID in the sixties. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…
Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice. I usually find research on the internet (ever careful to check facts and sources) preferable to the long hours spent in the library, but the library smells of books and newsprint unlike the sterile internet. Unfortunately, technology is frightfully impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.
As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.
I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice Jim, my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…
Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.
The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…
I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships and they are difficult to find inside a cell phone of computer screen. So before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll try the office supply store and see if they have a Rolodex…
We drove all night last Monday evening – or rather, my son Adrian drove all night. I sat in the passenger seat trying to process the events of the previous three days…
I’ve shared with you, gentle readers, that I’m adopted and after sixty-three years I found my birth mother. Last Saturday, Adrian and I went to Kentucky for a couple of days to meet her and my brothers and sisters (Mom says we don’t have “half” siblings, just family…).
I’ve spent this week reflecting on our visit. In a four-day trip my life came full circle. Everything makes sense. I call my birth mother “Mom”. It felt weird calling her by her name. “Mom” naturally rolls of my lips and Mom she is. I’m not confused by this. I’m doubly blessed to have two amazing mothers.
My mom was at the front door before I even got out of the truck last Saturday evening. I don’t know who smiled bigger – Mom or me. We hugged tightly for a long time, as though we had to make up for the years that had passed us by. She held me back and said, “I thought I’d seen a ghost. You look exactly like your Uncle David. You even walk like him”. No one has ever told me I have a family resemblance to anyone. That’s one thing adopted kids rarely hear. It was proverbial “music to my ears”.
My brother, Danny, lives with Mom and I met him right away. If families have “chemistry” then ours was strong. I watched Danny all weekend. The way he takes care of Mom is wonderous. His gentle spirit is what I always wanted in a little brother.
My sister, Dana, came by shortly after we got there. We had texted each other that we were both looking forward to meeting in person, but that it’s a little weird meeting your sixty-three-year-old sibling for the first time. I can’t speak for my sister, but any discomfort faded immediately. I belonged…
Belonging was always an abstract concept for me. I was as much a part of the Joel family as one could dream. My parents and Grandmother Joel made sure of that. Still, there was always that lingering question – “Where do I really come from?”
It hit home when I was tracing the Joel family tree on a well-known genealogical website. No matter how much I want to belong or how proud I am of my Joel family tree, the lineage isn’t truly mine. It in no way means I don’t take pride in the Joel history. In fact, I’m surprised by how many times it overlaps with my birth family.
The family all came together on Sunday for lunch at Mom’s house. My youngest sister, Anne, sat down at the kitchen table with us and promptly announced she had looked me up on the internet. I think I passed muster. One never knows what the internet has to say. Thankfully it wasn’t a mugshot that came up!
Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and their kids filled the house. I stopped many times during the day to simply be amazed by the chorus of voices and endless activity around me. Family spoke loudly and Mom was the matriarch. Repeatedly I heard, “I wish you could have been here when…” I’m still feeling elation at being part of this family, albeit a recently recognized addition.
My brother-in-law took Adrian and I on a tour of town and our family farm. He’s a history buff like me and every place we stopped, I learned more and more of my family’s long history in Logan County. So much so that I still can’t completely process it all. The family has been there a long time and shares a multitude of cousins in Texas as well. The farm has stood since 1804. I know who my ancestors are. It’s a dream come true.
I’ve thought a great deal about the whole “nature versus nurture” argument this week. I’ve concluded that, for me at least, nature plays a huge role in growing up. There were always little things that couldn’t be explained in my life – missing pieces of a big puzzle, things that I knew and had no reason to know. There are simply some things in life that are handed down through DNA: no other explanation is possible.
My siblings all returned to Mom’s house Monday to say goodbye. This was a short, but necessary trip. Opal’s Farm was anxiously awaiting my return to Texas. It was hard to say goodbye after the last two days. I had sixty-three years of life to catch up on. To do so in a weekend was impossible.
Pictures were taken, numbers and hugs exchanged. One by one, my brothers and sisters left for their respective homes. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay just a bit longer. Adrian and I had a long drive ahead of us and time was growing short.
Mom and I hugged for what seemed like hours. Neither wanted to let go of the other. I got in the truck and watched her as we pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Part of me would love to come home, load up Margaret and a moving van, and head for Kentucky. The other part, and somewhat more rational one, tells me that Opal’s Farm is waiting, and God has important work to do in Fort Worth, Texas. Besides, Mom would want me here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m sure I just need to take more vacations…
The drive home was marked by sporadic conversation and total silence: partly because of driving through the night, but mainly because there were so many emotions to process – both for Adrian and me. I called Mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely. The overall consensus among my brothers and sisters was that we are family. I couldn’t imagine anything better.
It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.
Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”
“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)
I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.
“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.
Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.
I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.
We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.
I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.
I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…
She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…
For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.
Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.
This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.
I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.
“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”
My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.
She softly said, “I love you”.
I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”
I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”
“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.
I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…