Monday, September 18, 2006

When Twenty-Five Years Comes Rushing Back

Twenty-five years ago I was beginning my senior year of high school, and tonight (due to my grandmother's death) I am back in my old hometown. Because there are limited sleeping spaces at my relatives' homes, three of my sons and I are staying tonight in a motel located in a town next to the one from which I graduated high school in 1982. My high school years were not the most glorious of my life (my four years of college take that award), so I've done my very best for two-and-a-half decades to avoid my high school town. So, as I made reservations on Saturday for our overnight stay tonight, I wondered to myself if I could continue to live in obscurity and hoped silently that I would not run into anyone I knew lo those many years ago.

We arrived at the motel in question (a national chain, not a "mom and pop" operation) and entered the doors. As I walked up to the desk I caught the eye of the woman behind the counter and thought to myself, "Those eyes look familiar." She finished helping the person before us and then asked in a matter-of-fact-tone, "Do you have a reservation?" After my affirmative response she asked my last name, which I dutifully reported. "First name?" My answered response provoked a knowing look as she said, "I thought I recognized your name. Do you know who I am?"

Now, let me just say this much. I have always prided myself on knowing peoples' names. In my vocation remembering the names of people is an expectation, and I do a fairly good job, if I do say so myself. (If I were to step into one of the churches I served ten or fifteen years ago, I am confident I could immediately bring to my tongue the names of 90% of those there).

But I have always hated the question, "Do you know who I am?" And I am sure that I will hate the question even more one day when I am elderly, bedragled and memory-challenged. I never ask an elderly person I am visiting, "Do you know who I am?" I always try to identify myself immediately to avoid playing the name game.

So, on the spur of the moment, traversing twenty-five years in my mind as quickly as I could, I had to say, "Tell me more about yourself." She said, "Well, you knew my sister pretty well in high school." And immediately I remembered. The eyes should have immediately given me the information I needed, for she and her sister share the same ocular traits.

"You're Julie's sister," I replied. And then we took two or three minutes to catch up on details and lives. Her sister Julie and I were great friends when I was a senior; we even went to prom together after she insisted that the Senior Class President really needed to go to his senior prom. Although our relationship was not a romantic one, she was a very special friend and in many ways, I suppose, my first "significant other." By the time I settled into my freshman year, though, I received the prototypical letter ffrom the old hometown telling me about a new person she had found in her life. While it was not a surprise to me, I can remember even today the pain the comes from not being the one chosen, of becoming the one "freed."

Suddenly twenty-five years of my personal history came rushing back as I have reflected upon where life has taken me. It's ironic, really, how life has turned out, because Julie -- an ever-faithful Catholic -- has a "normal" family including three children, while I -- a fairly faithful Christian of the non-Catholic type -- has the more traditional large family. I find that amusing.

But what I have been reflecting on even more specifically is the whole idea of not being chosen. In the adoption world we sometimes use the language "free for adoption" to identify children whose parental rights have been terminated. I wonder if the emotional pain I felt twenty-five years (and still remember, although it does not preoccupy or plague me) after having been "freed" is akin to the pain a child feels knowing that his/her birth parent(s) is unable or unwilling to maintain a presence in his/her life.

Even after twenty-five years I remember. And I suspect I will remember in another twenty-five years. And in another, until that day when my ability to remember stalls. And I suspect my children remember, too. And will continue to remember the pain of "being freed" and having litttle or no say in the matter.

My solace is knowing that I have been chosen by a spouse who is dedicated, loving and committed. Somehow knowing that I have been so selected is more than enough to help me overcome my earlier painful emotions. And I hope that one day having been chosen will become a solace to my children, who though not of my creation have been of my own choosing.

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