I was one of those babies. All I knew was my dad was Irish Catholic and I had his coloring. I had my mom’s petite build, and she was from old New England stock. To a kid, what is that? A Campbell’s soup flavor? Coloring is what I did in books.
It wasn’t until I grew up and had my own baby that these few bones of origin fit together with current circumstance. I was a young mom sitting at the breakfast table, dandling my first born daughter on my lap. Looking at her little pig tails, a thought shot through my brain. My daughter was the same age I was when I was adopted—nine months. As long as it takes to conceive and carry a precious child to term. As long as it takes to give birth to relinquishment.
Suddenly I felt the frigid knife that cut me loose. Surely I was a jagged scar on my birth mother’s heart. Instinctively, I wanted to find her, to make it all right, to salve the wound with my happy childhood, to say I don’t blame you. I understand. It was impossible.
But my brother was also adopted, from a different family. Recently he’d found his birth parents, and it was a big fat Jerry Springer mess. Both parents deceased. Living siblings dysfunctional. I couldn’t cope with my own Jerry Springer episode, not while learning to be a parent myself, so I did nothing—for thirty years—nothing—until my adoptive mother died in her late eighties.
My dad had passed away a decade before, and my husband said, “If you really want to find your birth mom, you’re running out of time.”
So we opened a dusty, green strong box and found the name of the agency who handled my adoption. We went for an interview and were given all the none-identifying information about my birth parents allowed by law. My husband became a private detective. His new hobby, finding my true identity.
About the time I lost my adoptive mom, I also lost my job. I’d been teaching at a small private school and it closed. I was at that school because I’d resigned from my previous assignment at an urban middle school. After two years, it was too sad, too hard, too overwhelming. I couldn’t do it. I quit. In this culture, you are what you do, so who are you if you fail? Without being a teacher, who was I? Maybe I didn’t even want to be a teacher anymore. Maybe I couldn’t be a teacher anymore. In my heart of hearts, I dreamed of being a writer.
I took my big fat mess to my prayer group, women who listened and loved me, women I trusted with my confusion and imperfection. Together we took everything to God. It grew late, and I parted with a tear stained face. I drove towards home on a country road overlooking a meadow. It was a warm August night and Perseid meteors showered the sky. I stuck my head out the window and called to the heavens, “Show me the dust I’m made from. Who am I? And what am I supposed to do now?”
Burrr! My cell phone purred from my purse. I checked caller ID.God? No, my husband. I started apologizing for making him worry, for being so late. But the first words out of his mouth stopped me in my tracks. “I called,” he said, “because I know who you are. Your grandmother’s middle name was Hawthorne. I’ll tell you the rest when you get home.”
I hung up and turned into the dark forest. A chill went down my spine. Hawthorne. Of course. Old New England stock. My adult brain ran immediately to Nathaniel. God was answering. Nathaniel Hawthorne is the dust I’m made from. Writing is in my blood. My deepest desire aligned with His purposes.
How ironic to confirm identity through rejection, to confirm a calling through failure. But so began the book I felt compelled to write: Broken, 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School.
And how ironic not to find a Jerry Springer episode, nor an Oprah moment, but a mother who was a stranger, standing awkwardly on the other side of a suburban screen door. Neither of us sure where we fit in the other’s life.
Yet we have inched closer, my mother and I. My husband says, “See the way she shakes her head when she wants to make a point? See the way she pantomimes when describing something? That’s just like you!” I’ve never met anyone else who used the word, abscond, in an email. Yes, she is my dust and I am hers, dropped into each other’s lives like burning comets.
It is on days like this, when I sit at my desk feeling like an impostor as a writer, that I need to remember this story. With no best sellers to my name, but only piles of files submitted and rejected, with only this blog as an ethereal connection to my readers, I need to never forget that I am only dust, but dust in the hands of a God who hears my cries, and answers in ways beyond imagination.