This I Believe

Judith - Seneca Falls, New York
Entered on July 11, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: change, family, hope

I believe in the possible. But it wasn’t always so, because for most of my life I believed the possible was just for others.

At the age of 8 I was adopted, which to my child’s mind, was more like a well-planned and well-executed abduction from my happy existence at my foster grandparent’s home. Shocked and confused, I stood in the driveway of my new home and gazed down the road, which as far as I could tell, ended at the neighbors. Even though I knew it went to town, it seemed impossible that it had any connection with the road I’d lived on with my foster grandparents, or the road that led to my first school, my friends there, and surely not all the way back to my father who had been forced to give me and three siblings over to the state upon my mother’s death from cancer.

Over time, I kept the precious memories of my early years tucked deep within my heart. As they faded like old sepia photographs, I believed only that these memories were not connected to the real world, just like the road here was not connected to the roads of my past. It was not possible to even share them with my siblings, they had been too young.

My friends would speak of their mother, or cousin, aunt or uncle, but it was impossible for me to honestly say ‘my mother’. It was possible for them to be mad at their mom or dad and know they’d still be there in the morning. The simultaneous adoption of myself and three siblings had been too much on the marriage it was supposed to save, and within two years my adopted mother had left as abruptly as she had come.

When I was a junior in high school, I ventured to dream it might be possible to go to South America as a foreign exchange student through a locally funded program. I made it through the interview process, but when I realized that my family would have to fund $1500, I dropped out. It was not possible to use that money for my selfish desires for fear it would leave less for my brother and sisters.

My senior year in high school, my friends spoke excitedly of going to college. That, it seemed to me was meant for ‘real’ families. I could not expect my adopted father to put me through college any more than I could expect him to love me like he loved his own natural children who came later.

When I was about 25, my sister came to me and said, “I’m going to find our birth family. Maybe our father is still alive, or at least maybe our foster grandparents,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?”

Oh, to be such a dreamer, I smiled. That’s not possible, I told her sadly. I knew a few facts like our birth names, the town we were born in and where we’d lived as foster children. But that was two decades ago. You can’t get there from here, I said. No one there would remember us. But she persisted. I brought out those precious old sepia-toned memories from the attic of my mind and told her all I knew.

Lo and behold, after months of diligently combing census records, old newspapers and other civil documents, she reached an aunt and uncle-my mother’s brother. Of course, they said gladly, we remember you.

We planned a reunion, following the roads back through time and space to meet these people, who were at once strange and familiar, who accepted without question that we were their nieces and they were our aunt and uncle. Was it possible then, that they shared even the same memories, I secretly wondered? I told my newfound uncle that I remembered kneeling on the seat of the chair at the kitchen table watching my mother pour coffee on a plate of saltines, and sprinkling sugar on them as they swelled and softened in the warm liquid. Of course, he smiled, that was a favorite snack.

What a wondrous thing! To have family who knew me before I was born, who could fill in the blanks, answer questions like where did my grandmother live, and how did my father meet my mother. I was told that although my grandmother begged the adoption agency, she could not be told anything of our circumstances, or even if we were well, and that she asked about us till the day she died. My father, it turns out, had passed away a few years after the adoption. How natural it seemed to them that they knew us, and how perfectly incredible it was for me. I practiced tossing out offhand phrases like, “Oh-I talked to my uncle…” or “you know, my cousin…”

My sister had done the impossible. I began to think, then, about other impossibilities. Was it possible then, to raise my children differently? Could I break the cycle of poverty, alcoholism, and defeatism that had been my inheritance? Did I dare believe that what was accepted by others as a matter of fact could be mine too? Was it possible to say “I want” or “I need”?

It wasn’t until the youngest of my three children was safely in high school that I really began to believe that those daring thoughts had actually become reality. Yes, with my husband’s help, we had lived in relative economic comfort. Yes, we had a beer or a glass of wine on rare occasion. And yes, many times my children traveled the road to Grandma’s house to play with cousins.

It wasn’t till I was forty that I dared trust the real world enough to bring out another secret dream from deep within my heart. One day I said out loud, I want to go to college. Yes, I said it out loud. Amazing. When I repeated it to an advisement counselor at a local community college, I expected to hear him laugh at such a notion, but he didn’t. “Unfinished business,” he called it. Yes, it was unfinished business. Today, I matter of factly tell people that I’m finishing my Bachelor’s, and smile at their polite surprise-at my age? Impossible? Of course, not.

And what of larger impossibilities? Can we bring world peace? Can we end hunger or poverty forever? Does our disbelief negate the truth? Does simple faith determine the possible? The Bible says with God, all things are possible. Perhaps we simply need to believe.

My sister gave me the gift of the possible. Her steadfast belief and persistence changed my entire world view. Now, when my grandchildren say to me, Grandma can I…?…I smile and say, Of course you can, darling…of course you can.