Because Brenda Huff was adopted as a baby, she didn't know anything about her family tree. But this fact didn't keep her from feeling "rooted," both in the family she was raised by and in the greater human family.
Reaching toward the sky, a tree’s branches can only extend out as far as its root system. Like the complex underground network that nourishes all trunks, limbs, and leaves, I believe in a spiritual interconnection that ties all people to one human family tree.
When I was born in 1964, my chances of showing up on any official genealogy records were tenuous. Children like me, who were conceived out of wedlock, were considered “offshoots,” best transplanted to another setting in order to avoid negative stigma. That was forty-six years ago, when young, single women were commonly sent away from home to nearby cities in their last trimester of pregnancy. My birth mother gave me up for adoption in hope that I would grow and thrive in an environment that she was not prepared to provide.
By good fortune, I was grafted onto another family tree, and along with two brothers I was raised by loving parents. Years later I also had a stepmother, a stepsister, and a half-brother. In my heart and by rich life experiences I am tethered to my wonderful adoptive kin. However, distinct Middle Eastern features have always set me apart. If the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” it is obvious that ethnically, this apple dropped and then rolled.
When I was a child, every birthday I would lay awake at night and imagine my birth mother. I wondered if she was imagining me, too. When I was a young adult, I wondered if the person I was growing into resembled unknown relatives. My curiosity led me to actively look into my biological history. But mostly I just focused on “blooming where I was planted” rather than digging up the past.
My husband and I united our family trees in 1987. Together we have had the joy of welcoming the next generation.
I was so used to carrying a mysterious legacy that I was shocked when in 1994 scattered clues led to actually finding my birth mother, who had also been looking for me. This dream come true has brought connections to her and to her other grown children. Our similarities seem on the one hand common and on the other uncanny since we didn’t come up together. Now we’ve had sixteen years to make shared memories.
Another one of life’s sacred surprises was the opportunity to meet my Lebanese aunts on my paternal side. When we first met, our physical resemblance was so striking that we laughed out loud. The ancestral history I have learned from them is a treasure I am so glad to pass on to my own children.
At middle age I’m still stretching my branches because I’m deeply grounded in the love that has transformed strangers into family and friends throughout my life. Experience has taught me to have faith in the power of families in all the forms they take. I believe with each new relationship comes the potential to enhance our unique biographies, and our collective story as well. Rooted in a universal spirit, we are all part of the tree of life.
Brenda Huff is an educator who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She wrote her essay in order to practice what she was preaching when implementing the This I Believe curriculum in her classroom.
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