Bri, Joel, and Indy by Kevin N Murphy on flickr

“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.”
Eva Burrows

 

Last night I was sitting in the amber light of my bedroom, waiting for pain medication to kick in and belly ache to subside, becoming hypnotized by the rhythm of bullfrog snores from the adjacent room where three dogs and a man slept on the couch and a memory returned to me.  Lately my mind has been swimming with ideas of infants, children, and an imagined life resembling  “family” as defined by the traditional history of the western world–including husband, dogs, and kids.  I never considered myself a traditionalist perse but I always felt warmed by the thought of family. 

 

The idea of starting some variety of lineage of my own lead me back to my own infancy.  An international adoptee I have been pondering my own early childhood the last week as I prepare for speaking this weekend (nothing like flight and speaking engagements to hasten surgery recovery) at the Let’s Talk Adoption Conference at Rutgers University in New Jersey. 

 

I am speaking on issues of adoptee trauma, trauma and the body, and yoga for adoptees, foster children, and caregivers.  I have been revisiting many thoughts of my own infancy, childhood, and memories of family growing up–what is that definition of filial love that makes us a part of a cohesive unit under one name and one roof with one another?  For me it wasn’t a matter of blood, biological or racial heritage, or anything so literal it was only a matter of love, unconditional love.  To this day I feel that, that is the best defining point of family and the essence of what we should share with those we love most in this world.

 

In this way, as an adoptee, I was given some liberation from the idea that this status and conception must be limited to those we share blood with or a name or even a roof.  I was, in some respects, given a freedom to define and find family where it organically grew from bonds of unconditional love and support and not because of sharing genetics.  I know many people, both as a therapist and in my personal life, who were bound to unhealthy love and unhealthy bonds with people they did share genetics with, but little more in abusive family relationships and neglectful or cruel childhood histories.  I always found myself reflecting on the fact that birth giving does not make a mother, a lifetime of nurturing, loving, and mothering earns that title–birthing is just that, a physical act. 

 

The relationships we have in our life that have forged their way through hardship and trials and come out with love intact are the ties that bind us.  And love that makes a family can come from every place–it is the same love that brings life partners together and keeps them together whatever comes and what brings friends back to each other after years and miles and life lived at distances, but hearts that remain faithful to the relationship. 

 

We are, in some ways, the makers of our own lives and the molders of our own family units.  What love and which relationships make up our world is ours to embrace or reject at every turn.  We must work to create love and must work one hundred times harder to maintain and care for that precious gift.

 

So, as I thought of all these things again, preparing for speaking, and thinking of my future and what my future family might look like it also brought me backwards–to an early moment of mine, a maternal flicker in time, and the moment I first fell in love with a baby girl named Seuhedi.

 

I was fifteen at most and she was only a few months old.  It had been the year following my mother’s most recent miscarriage (actually the stillbirth of a son named Christopher) and via family meeting we had made a decision to work with an organization called Healing the Children who paired families in the USA with children from third world countries in need of housing during major operations or medical care only available in the States.  It was sort of an international short-term foster care program.  Seuhedi was the third child we had sponsored who had come from the Dominican Republic and she suffered from spina bifida.

 

crib by valentinapowers on flickr

 

She had the most beautiful face, with soft olive skin and deep brown eyes filled with a quiet intensity far to powerful for her age.  She was gentle and never cried except at bedtime.  I think it was the only time, in the darkness and silence of night that she realized she was alone–foreign smells, strange sounds, and no face she knew. 

 

My parents urged me to go in, speak to her, hold her hand hoping maybe I could placate her.  I walked into the room with her soft sobs the only noise echoing through darkness and silence.  The hallway outside brought in the only brightness and her crib sat covered half in shadows and half in light.  I stood over her and she reached out her tiny fingers for some comfort.  I held her hand and spoke whispers of spanish into her crib and looked at her looking at me with deep brown eyes that were so familiar–as if I were looking into a picture of  my past, hovering over myself in some orphanage from years before. 

 

In those moment something linked us together, outside of words, outside of time, locked in a familiarity of loneliness where we both understood being in an in-between world.  Night after night I would go by her crib and speak softly in my limited spanish and look into the deep eyes that knew me as I knew them.  She would not sob and my heart would fill with light and tears: in those moments with her I fell deeply in love with her tiny soul, her open beautiful heart, and the honesty that resided in her never-ending brown eyes.  She trusted me completely for no reason besides a vague sense of familiarity and understanding.  I loved her completely for allowing me into share in that space in the in-between–to connect with a part of myself I had forgotten and to give something to her that I never had.

 

That first love of a child in that kind of unconditional way was something I never felt before, never could explain, and never fully understood except that it was pure and real and based on nothing but shared moments and unconditional love. 

 

So, in thinking could I ever love a child that much–the answer is yes.  Could I love so much it expands and breaks your heart all in the same second–the answer is yes.  Am I ready for the responsibility of that kind of a love sustained for a lifetime–that is the question.  But in remembering myself, my infancy, and that first love of a child with unconditional proportions I know that it is something I am capable of.   “Am I ready?” is the only real question.

 

I share this story with you for a multitude of reasons, but I send it out there because I know that nearly everyone in their life has someone they love so much it both breaks and expands their heart in equal measure.  That kind of love is a gift and a blessing–the gift of family.  However we define it or create it, whether it be in a traditional context or one of our own making, love is love, and it is the essence of what binds us together.  I am glad that my journey through mind and memory brought me back to the blessing of knowing and loving Seuhedi–even for the brief time I knew her.

 

“What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.”

George Eliot

 The Sanchez Family by Kevin N Murphy on flickr

Advertisements