Thursday, May 28, 2009

Listening to the Adoptee's Experience - St Louis, MO 2000

Perspectives on Adoption
Second Annual Conference
SSM St. Mary’s Health Center
St. Louis, Missouri
28 October, 2000

Listening to the Adoptee’s Experience
[a discussion on issues of
belonging and not belonging, search and reunion, illusion and truth]

Rev. Thomas F. Brosnan

First, permit me to thank Pat Rice for her kind invitation to speak with you today. It’s been fun getting to know Pat by e-mail and keeping updated about the conference preparation at such a distance. Especially wonderful was hearing of Pat and Dave’s new daughter who was born this past August. And it’s especially an honor to talk with all of you today who are interested in adoption because most of you, I believe, are either adoptive parents or perspective adoptive parents. You want to provide a home and a family to children who for some reason lack parents and a home.

So, first, a disclaimer. Unlike many of you I am neither an adoptive parents, an adoption professional, a psychologist, social worker or pastoral counselor. I offer my remarks today simply as a reflection on what it means to be an adopted person and share with you some insights I have gained from that experience and from the experience of others like me who have shared their story along the way. I present a view of my particular journey and hope it will resonate in some way, be it ever so faintly, with yours – whether you are adopted or not.

Now, since I am no professional and have no data or case studies to present, I rely on telling stories – mostly about me. Now that’s fun (and therapeutic) for me, but I’m not so confident it will be as much fun for you. And so as not to lose you to a daydream or a crossword puzzle I think I’ll take the advice of the great Irish story tellers who long ago, gathered around the heavenly campfire to figure out the key ingredients to every good story. And they came up with three of them: religion, sex and mystery. Their formula eventually filtered down through all the classrooms of Ireland and one day a tenth grade teacher told her class to write a story incorporating the three key ingredients to every good story: religion, sex, and mystery. “Ready class,” the teacher says. “Begin.” Well, not even a minute has passed and the teacher sees Sean in the back row looking out the window. “Why aren’t you writing?” she says. “Because I’m finished,” he says. “Finished,” she says. “Finished writing a story about religion, sex and mystery already. Stand up and read us what you wrote.” Sean stands, clears his throat and reads: “My God, she’s pregnant, who did it?”

My story is about religion sex and mystery too. It’s about what happened in a boarding house on St Paul Street in Baltimore Maryland in the spring of 1952 after a young woman had come to Baltimore form her native Philadelphia leaving what she perceived as an oppressive situation with her mother. The young woman’s father had died young a few years previous and her mother had to become a domestic in order to support the family. She moved into the servants’ quarters in a physician’s house in suburban Philadelphia. The young girl finished high school and then went off to Baltimore to be closer to her older brother. The young woman gets a job and is introduced to Mrs. Kennerly’s boarding house connected with the Peabody Conservatory of Music. All the students are male save one and she needs a roommate. The young woman and her roommate Sophia become good friends and the young woman and her roommate become part of a group of friends who live under Mrs. Kennerly’s strict rules. The young woman falls in love with a music student from Toronto. As the semester ends after her boyfriend has gone back home, the young woman discovers she is pregnant. At first she tells only her roommate her secret. Later she travels to Toronto to ask, to plead, but the young man says, that for religious reasons, he cannot, he will not marry her. She returns, confides her dilemma to another music student from Virginia. This gallant young man offers to marry her. No doubt very confused and desperate, she says yes. The boarding house gang throws a bridal shower, though no one knows she is pregnant save Sophia and the gallant Virginian. For some unknown reason they call the wedding off. The young woman then confides her secret to her brother and he arranges for her acceptance at a Catholic Maternity Home in NYC. There on January 10, 1953 at the Misericordia Hospital then located in Manhattan the young woman gives birth to her first born and then relinquishes him to the closed adoption system through the Catholic Home Bureau of the Archdiocese of New York. Within a period of a little over a year, the young woman has left family, job and friends; she has given birth, surrendered to adoption, returned home, courted, married and become pregnant with her second of seven children.

I was placed in foster care with an Italian family named Vesciano in Queens NY. After six months I was placed in my Irish adoptive parents’ home in Brooklyn and adopted within a year. I grew up in Brooklyn, an only child, living in a row house with my parents and my mother’s parents. After 33 years I decided to search and was able to find my birth mother and her family in Baltimore. I met my birth father in Toronto though he still denies paternity. My mother died some 6 years ago after I had known her for ten years. I am in reunion with my six other half siblings who live in Baltimore. My adoptive father died three years ago and my mother still lives in the same house in Brooklyn where she has lived some 60 of her 80 years. I should also mention that I am a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn New York. I was ordained in 1981 under the old Canon Law which forbade illegitimates from becoming priests without special dispensation. As a bastard I received that dispensation in the furtive manner which is indicative of all secretive bureaucracies and of closed adoption in particular.

That’s my story in a nutshell. And like all good stories, adoption stories are also about God, sex and mystery. It’s about sex of course. It’s about what happens when the birthparents to be (usually young and unthinking) do it. And it’s about what doesn’t happen when infertile couples do it. It’s about steamy windows in the back seat of car and about the dread a young girl or woman feels about the first missed period. It’s about taking temperatures at the most in opportune times and the probing with instruments of modern medical technology. It’s about looking at pornography with cup in hand in some sanitized room of a fertility clinic. It’s about telling your daughter she didn’t come from your body. It’s about the pain you feel when your adopted children have children of their own and the feeling of loss raises its head again.
It’s about how the adopted come to terms with being born outside the law, illegitimate, bastards, about being lost and found, belonging in two places, struggling to look at the events of relinquishment and adoption as either the result of accidental chance or intelligent design. Like Forest Gump musing over this wife’s grave the adopted also wonder about the same mysteries: “I dunno if mama was right or not,” Forest muses. “If we each have a destiny or we’re just floatin’ round accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both, maybe both happenin’ at the same time.”

The adopted growing up are like other kids – they learn in developmental stages. Sometime adults forget this and think that if they tell adoptees they’re adopted when their three months they’re going to understand. Like the four-year-old who is sat down and seriously told by her parents that she is adopted with detailed explanations. The next day the little girl sees her grandmother and says guess what I’m a doctor. Frank McCourt captures the innocence of childhood and the first understanding about sexual realities in Angela’s Ashes when Frank is trying to make sense of the arithmetic of his own conception and birth.

“I tell Mickey about my parents’ marriage certificate, how Billy Campbell said it has to be nine months but I was born in half the time and would he know if I was some class of miracle.
Naw, he says, naw. You’re a bastard. You’re doomed.
You don’t have to be cursing me, Mickey.
I’m not. That’s what they call people who aren’t born inside the nine months of the marriage, people conceived beyond the blanket.
What’s that?
What’s what?
That’s when the sperm hits the egg and it grows and there you are nine months later.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
He whispers. The thing between your legs is the excitement…So your father shoves his excitement into your mother and there’s a spurt and these little germs go up into your mother where there’s an egg and that grows into you.
I’m not an egg.
You are an egg. Everyone was an egg once.
Why am I doomed? ‘Tisn’t my fault I’m a bastard.
All bastards are doomed. They’re like babies that weren’t baptized. They’re sent into Limbo for all eternity and there’s no way out and it’s not their fault. It makes you wonder about God up there on His throne with no mercy for the little unbaptized babies. That’s why I don’t go near the chapel anymore. Anyway, you’re doomed. Your father and mother had the excitement and they weren’t married so you’re not in a state of grace.
What am I going to do?
Nothing. You’re doomed.
Can’t I light a candle or something.
You could try the Blessed Virgin. She’s in charge of the doom.
But I haven’t a penny for the candle.
All right, all right, here’s a penny. You can give it back to me when you get a job a million years from now. ‘Tis costing me a fortune to be the expert on girls’ bodies and Dirty Things in General.”

I needed a special dispensation from the impediment of illegitimacy in order to be ordained a priest in 1981. The church law stated that no man born outside the law, illegitimate, a bastard could be ordained a priest without special dispensation. The law stipulated further that even though bastards could be ordained priests, absolutely no bastard could be made a bishop. That law has now changed and bastards are free to seek holy orders without dispensation. In other words under current law even bishops can be bastards – something many have long thought to be true anyway.

This is simply to show that the status of illegitimacy is something real. I believe that it must affect how a person perceives himself and presents himself. The stigma is complicated by the appeal to secrecy, never allowing the person it controls to present himself with complete freedom. I accept this status as bastard, as one born outside the law, and am in good company with the likes of a Leonardo DaVinci or Erasmus, with Charles VII of Joan of Arc fame, or Pope Clement VII whose portrait hangs in my room as a reminder of what the weight of illegitimacy can mean. Clement was the pope who refused to grant Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and, because of his fear of being deposed because of his illegitimacy, would not call a church council thus allowing the reformation to sweep across Europe.

There’s another famous person whose letter to a friend is quite revealing: “I’ll tell you something, but keep it a secret while I live,” the man wrote. “My mother was a bastard, was the daughter of a nobleman so called of Virginia. My mother’s mother was poor and credulous…and she was shamefully taken advantage of by the man. My mother inherited his qualities and I hers. All that I am or hope ever to be I got form my mother, God bless her. Did you never notice that bastards are generally smarter, shrewder, and more intellectual than others? Is it because it is stolen?” So wrote Abraham Lincoln about his mother, Nancy Hanks, of course. But his story is complicated and doesn’t end there. His friend believed Lincoln died believing himself to be a bastard. Lincoln had long been in pursuit of obtaining the marriage license of his parents Nancy and Thomas -- but to no avail. After his assassination the marriage certificate turned up though many historians believe it to be a forgery. It doe not seem they were married. But there’s something more. There were always rumors (and they became rampant soon after his death) that Thomas Lincoln could not have been Abraham Lincoln’s biological father and Lincoln suspected such. I can never forget a few years back touring the south with a friend. We were visiting the home of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, and while waiting on line I remarked to my friend that I couldn’t believe that they would hang Lincoln’s portrait in Davis’ home. The guide overheard me and said a lot of people say the same thing but that’s not Lincoln, its Jefferson Davis. They bore an uncanny resemblance and the rumors have remained persistent that Samuel Davis fathered not only Jefferson Davis but Abraham Lincoln as well. True or not, we do know that Lincoln was haunted by his dubious origins and his parents’ marital status. It remains both fascinating and engaging to me that he believed his successful qualities – those we have enshrined as the great American virtues – he believed he inherited from the unknown birth father of his mother. Most of us I venture to say are proud and grateful that he embraced those virtues begotten through illicit means.

Most adoptees are illegitimate according to societal and religious law. I believe that the designation affects how we perceive and present ourselves. If not because of the illicit sexual union of our parents, then from the shroud of secrecy and denial that surrounds it. Self-perception is the foundation of identity, that mysterious element of the equation that makes for human dignity. When it is compromised by secrecy, lies must be employed to protect the secret. Little by little deception erodes trust between family members and ultimately erodes the ability to perceive oneself as worthy of the dignity with which the human person is endowed.

But secrecy and lies are alive and well when it comes to societal reinforcement of stigmatization surrounding sex and birth. You need only turn on the radio to someone like Dr. Laura Schlessinger who daily pronounces on ethical questions, providing quick black and white answers to complex moral dilemmas. She has recently been challenged, thank God, but unfortunately not for her views on the status of the adopted. Just last week I tuned in (because I knew I would hear something I could use in this talk – it works without fail) and an adoptee called to ask it were morally acceptable for her to have identifying information for medical reasons. Dr. Laura, in a tone of voice that I can only interpret as meaning you ungrateful bastard, shouts across the airwaves: I’m tired of you adoptees always lying. You say you want information for medical reasons, but what you are really looking for is to find your birth families. The next call (the very next call mind you) is from a woman who asks Dr. Laura if she should tell her oldest son that her husband is not his biological father. Why bother him with such unimportant facts, Dr Laura says. Although Dr. Laura seems to despise liars, deliberately keeping the truth about someone from that person is considered the moral highroad for Dr. Laura.

Aquinas would teach that the most decisive human trait is that human beings are truth-seeking animals, moved by love for the truth come what may…so inherent is this drive that in human nature it is an imperative – to address a human being in any lesser mode is to do his nature violence.” In other words, lies do violence to the human being. Lies, especially concerning a person’s origins and parents and name, do special violence to the innate dignity of the person resulting in an assault on his very soul. Those that support these lies abet in that violence and assault. Such a truth was brought out admirably in that wonderful British film from a few years back Secrets and Lies about the effects that relinquishment and adoption had on an interracial family – how where race and class might be at odds, secrecy and lies were the underlying more significant problem for all involved. Simone Weil, that perceptive observer of human motivation, once said “it is secrecy that is everywhere the soul of bureaucracy. It is the condition of all privilege -- and consequently of all oppression.”

In the mystery which is identity, we need mirrors – that’s how we begin to perceive ourselves and begin to discover and form identity. The initial reflection is of tremendous importance in how a person will perceive himself throughout life.

“…the primordial intuition given in childhood is that of love awakened by the smile of the mother.” The theologian von Balthasar writes. He links it to the great religious intuition. “The religious question arises for man in th(at) primordial moment in which his I is awakened by the mother’s smile.” But, of course, for those relinquished at birth or shortly afterward -- especially for those of my generation who were denied any interaction with the mother – is it possible to imagine that smile of the mother – that smile reflecting relief and gratitude. Recent studies of new-borns reveal that emotion is passed from mother to child. The anxiety and sense of dread experienced by the mother who must decide so quickly to give up her baby is passed on to the infant and stored in the cellular memory of the infant’s body, perhaps, much like a crack addicted mother might pass her dependency on to her child through their intimate connections. Dr. Alice Miller writes in The Drama of the Gifted Child, the Search for the True Self that “without the mother’s concerned gaze the child would remain without a mirror, and from the rest of his life would be seeking this mirror in vain.”

Self-perception is at the core of identity. How we perceive ourselves comes from what others tell us of ourselves, or at least from what we understand them to tell us about ourselves. For those of you familiar with the Christian scriptures I’d remind you of that scene from the gospels when Jesus asks his disciples the central question on which Christianity is founded: “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks and the proceeding twenty centuries have sought to answer. Whatever answer you might give, you would agree I hope that asking such a question is at the very heart of what it means to be a human being, the drive behind all human actions and endeavors, the very fuel of the spiritual life that governs our physical lives in ways we seldom appreciate.

Looking out on the audience today I see a few gray heads – I think a few baby boomers like me might be here today. And maybe you remember, like I do, a popular TV show way back when – the Patty Duke Show. I’m not sure I could tell you any particular plot of the series, though I’m sure I saw every episode. What is etched in my memory, though, is the way in which the show opened each week as Patty Duke would begin her routine in front of a full length mirror, challenging her reflection to follow each gesture and movement, until we realize that there is no mirror – the “reflection” is her identical cousin. Patty Duke sees her reflection in her cousin. All those born within the same biological family share a genetic connection which may or may not be obvious but I present in myriad ways. There are continuous and taken-for-granted similarities that unconsciously but solidly help the developing child see himself as fitting into a family. He is, in a word, mirrored. And this is precisely what the adopted have lost -- that genetic connection which allows for accurate self-perception and self-identification.

All great literature and cultures offer variations on the same theme about what it means to be a human being in search of the mirror to see oneself. From Homer’s Odysseus through Moses’ Exodus to America’s Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz we come to understand that life is about finding that Promised Land, about returning home after a great adventure.

Take the World Series and Baseball as another example. Bart Giomotti, the former Commissioner of Baseball who died a few years ago, was also the President of Yale University and a medieval scholar by profession. He once wrote about the great myth behind baseball and offered a reason for its having been an American invention and always popular. He said it appealed to Americans precisely because America was their adopted land, we and our ancestors are of course all immigrants. He said baseball is all about coming home. It’s about starting out at home base with the goal to return right back to the very same place, though when you do it will be different. You will either have struck out, or been walked, or hit a homerun. Baseball is about homecoming. “We shall not cease from exploration,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.” “All journeys, G.K. Chesterton said, “are about coming home.”

A 19th century East Indian fable tells the same story. A small tiger cub is orphaned in the jungle. A passing herd of goats takes pity on the lonely tiger cub and adopt him into their herd. The goats bring the young tiger up to speak their language, eat their food, emulate their goat values and in general to believe that he, the tiger cub, is a goat himself. One day a king tiger emerges from the jungle and lets out a mighty roar. All the goats scramble in fright. But the tiger cub remains by the pond nibbling away at the grass in the manner of a goat – afraid, but somehow not afraid. From the distance the king tiger studies the young cub eating grass. The king tiger approaches and asks the tiger cub what is meant by his strange behavior, but the tiger cub can only bleat in the manner of a goat and continues nibbling at the grass. Perplexed the tiger cub grabs the cub by the nape of the neck, takes him to the pond and forces him to look at their reflections side by side in the pond. But the cub only bleats some more. The king tiger sees a deer in the distance and with dazzling speed slays the deer and drags its carcass back to the cub where he forces the cub to eat his first piece of raw meat. At first the young tiger recoils from the unfamiliar taste, but then, as he eats more and begins to feel it warming his blood he digs his claws into the earth and raises his head – and the jungle trembled at the sound of his exultant roar.

What happens though if the mirror is cracked and our self-perception hard to establish? When I first began working in a Korean parish I received a phone call from an Anglo woman who was frantic. She called to ask me to visit her 16 year old son who had attempted suicide. She was not a parishioner and I asked her why she called me. She said she just found the number for the Korean parish in the book. She said she was white but her son had been adopted from Korea when he was six. She did not know me or my story. I visited Andrew in the hospital. The psychiatrist said he did not respond to anyone. I tried to engage him in a conversation, asking questions, but no response. Finally, frustrated, I just sat down and told him my story of growing up adopted and my search for birth parents. Andrew started to talk and eventually we became very good friends. During his stay in the hospital Andrew had to participate in group therapy. He was not responsive at all within the group and the psychiatrist asked for the therapist to give me a call since Andrew seemed to open up to me. The therapist asked if I wouldn’t mind telling him how I engaged Andrew. I told the therapist that I was adopted and simply shared my feelings about it with Andrew. The therapist went biserk on the phone incredibly defensive saying this had nothing to do with the fact that Andrew was adopted etc (this, by the way, is not an uncommon reaction among mental health professionals). I simply asked him if he didn’t think that an Asian boy growing up in a white family (which was a very good loving family) being the only Asian in his elementary and high school classes – didn’t he think that at the very least it might have had an effect on Andrew’s self-perception. I’m happy to tell you that when Andrew was 19 I took him back to Korea for a visit for the first time since he had come here at 6. He began to date (Asian girls of course) and just married three months ago.

A priest friend of mine once told me about visiting a home for emotionally disturbed adolescents. The priest entered the house to hear someone singing the sadly beautiful Irish ballad Danny Boy. The young man singing had his back to the priest, and when he had finished the priest went over to thank the young man for such a beautiful rendition. The young man turned quickly revealing an Asian face. The priest instinctively laughed. “I thought you were Irish,” he said. The boy’s eyes filled with tears and he shouted back in anger: “I am Irish. My name’s Michael O’Brien.”

Sometimes through no fault of our own, our mirrors get cracked and we cannot see ourselves too well. I don’t think we can ever underestimate the importance of self-perception in our lives. John Courtney Murray, perhaps the greatest Catholic theologian America has yet produced, once wrote that self-understanding is the necessary condition of a sense of self-identity and self-confidence...the complete loss of one'’ identity is, with all propriety of theological definition, hell. In diminished forms, it is insanity.” (2x)

But cracked mirrors can be just as valuable in our pursuit of identity. Back in 1984 my bishop asked me if I would be willing to go to Korea to study the language and culture. I agreed, always fascinated with Asia and languages in general. But during those first months in Korea I experienced culture shock big time. I felt lonely, alienated, lost. I did a lot of thinking and finally decided that I had to begin a search for my roots. On my return to America I began the process that would eventually lead me to find my birth mother and father. I continued my Korean studies and worked for nearly fifteen years with the Korean community in New York being the only Anglo in the largest Korean Catholic Parish in the United States. I lived in Korean style, eating and speaking Korean in a manner quite different from my classmates in regular American parishes. They would often ask me how I cold live like that – it being so different. But I had come to realize that I had always been comfortable in places I didn’t seem to belong.

I believe that’s the gift of the adoptee, his adaptability and chameleon nature, able to fit in where he otherwise wouldn’t belong. But as strong as we adopted are – successful at adaptation – we yearn for that mirror which will reveal a reflection that we will, on some primordial level, recognize. Perhaps it is not possible for everyone to see that reflection clearly, and for some it will only be the effort at searching for that mirror which will be the source of health, but we all seek that mirror and when it is cracked or without any reflection things begin to fall apart.

And residential treatment facilities are filled with adoptees in far greater ratios than in the general population. Why are there such a large number of adoptees in the penal system. Why do so many of us have problems with intimacy. We see dimly now as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. It’s all about self-perception, self-knowledge, identity.

This notion of identity and its importance in everyone’s life is why the adopted, I believe, are emblematic of the pilgrim-seeker in us all. We are all on a pilgrimage of self-identification, of self-knowledge. The adopted just embody that human desire more obviously because they are the lost and found of this world. They might suspect that they really do belong in more than one place.

The spiritual quest is the same – there is only one road on the pilgrimage toward the divine and that is the road of self-knowledge. I’ll quote my boss here. “In both East and West,” Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical Faith and Reason, “we may trace a journey which has led humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more deeply – the fundamental questions that pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? It is a journey which has enfolded – as it must – within the horizon of personal self-consciousness: the more human beings know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness…The admonition Know Thyself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi,’ the pope continues, “as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as human beings, that is, as those who know themselves.”

Perhaps you will think me guilty of going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the pope’s words remind me of my favorite myth, a defining one for my life. I remember as a boy coming home from school each day, changing into my comfortable clothes, and turning on my grandmother’s TV -- waiting for the daily episode of Superman. Hoping, in those pre-VCR days, that they would replay that very first episode when Superman had been ejected (for his own good of course) from his home planet of Krypton and then, landing on earth in a field by night, he would be adopted by the kindly Kents. Superman, you know, had two identities -- but he never suffered from schizophrenia. His x-ray vision would work whether he was posing as Clark Kent or as Superman. But, of course, the one thing that could get to him was kryptonite, the piece of his home planet, the physical reminder of home. That part of the myth intrigues me as an adoptee. It is only when he is in the proximity to kryptonite is Superman weakened. In other words when he comes near home, Superman becomes vulnerable. Penny Partridge must have had the same thoughts when she wrote a poem about Superman the movie:
“they got it right when they had/ him leave home after high school/ not showing up at the Daily Planet/ until he is thirty ready to lead/ his double life quite admirably/ after what we’d call a search/ which looks on the screen like a / trip to the frozen far north/ where he sees and hears his own/ Marlon the Godfather now/ more like God the Father/ where he sees and hears his own white-haired birthfather / who acknowledges him.”
When I was to meet my birthmother for the first time I drove to Baltimore from New York and we had a long lunch, talking about her other children and my life. I got back in the car to return to New York and suddenly realized something that really scared me – I realized that I felt nothing. I was like the 5,000 year-old Iceman they found a few years back emerging from a melting glazier in the Alps -- hard cold no emotion escaping. I had long been that Iceman. What my search and reunion did for me was many things not the least of which was meeting a wonderful family – but on an interior plane it helped me begin to thaw. It helped me emerge from that ancient glacier which long entrapped me. I was beginning to thaw, becoming more vulnerable, like Superman in contact with a piece of krypton, I had finally begun to feel vulnerable too.

And let me end my pilgrimage through myth and history with another favorite Homer’s Odysseus.
After the Trojan War has ended the ingenious Odysseus sets out for return home, to the far distant island of Ithaca and to his beautiful wife Penelope. His journey is long and arduous, not only the physical terrain – but that interior geography as well -- the inner psychological dangers he must undergo to find his way back. Homer tells us that Odysseus is nostalgic, two Greek words meaning literally the pain for home. The Greek nostos is the word for home. It is not unrelated to the Greek word noos, meaning conscious awareness. When Odysseus finally arrives on Ithaca, he finds Penelope engulfed by suitors. The main suitor and Odysseus’ greatest enemy is a man called Antinous. Near the end of the epic Odysseus kills Antinous in a scene that would rival any modern movie for gore and bloody detail. But don’t miss Homer’s point which he makes linguistically. Odysseus slays Antinous, that is he slays the man named anti-noos, the enemy’s name means against conscious awareness, the bringer-of-illusion. It is only when Odysseus kills Antinous, as the bringer-of-illusion, that Odysseus has truly returned home. Home is that conscious-awareness, that clear self-perception of knowing who you are and where you’re at.

The great 16th century mystic, the Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila experienced mystical ecstasies which she wrote about and shared with her sisters. The younger nuns pestered Teresa to teach them how they could achieve such divine ecstasies. Teresa, ever the practical and wise, said to them as she does to us: For never, never, however exalted the soul may be is anything else more fitting than self-knowledge.”

Teresa and Odysseus both abhor oblivion and illusion. They want the truth. I’ll end with another movie plug. Did you see The Sixth Sense last year? I liked it for two reasons. First, because of the title. The sixth sense is a term that is used not only for people who exhibit extrasensory perception but also, in the 19th century, for the physical reality of how the body situates itself in time and space. It would later be called proprioception – how your hand knows to place the glass of water right to your lips or the way your foot judges the height of a step without you looking or thinking. It’s a great metaphor for the search for self, the perception of who we are from the inside, the spiritual pilgrimage toward groundedness. Well anyway in the movie, we witness Bruce Willis’ journey from illusion into truth. It is a painful journey, one where he is tempted to remain safe in an illusionary world, until after gradual steps he hears a wedding ring drop from his sleeping wife’s hand, he sees it is his ring and the truth is made manifest. Then he is free and so is the little boy and so is his wife. I’d like to suggest even though you might think it a stretch that The Sixth Sense is the story of what we mean by purgatory where we are slowly and steadily released from illusion so we might embrace the truth – to recognize who we are and where we’re at.

I believe that every human being has a right to know the truth of his origins because it is integral to that self-knowledge that is at the heart of all spiritual endeavors. It is the necessary condition for a sense of well being and wholeness – cognate to holiness. The search for self is a holy endeavor, a sacred pilgrimage. Adoptive parents are just like any other parents, looking out for what’s best in their children’s interests. What makes you distinct and so important is the key you hold the key that acknowledges that adoption makes sometimes for special circumstances within a family, that difference is not bad, that your children can indeed belong in two places, that love is never lessened because it is shared – the key that will help unlock the gates of our purgatory and bring us closer to the end of our pilgrimage toward home.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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