this courageous life

today is a special day. remember I said there was another part to my trip to new hampshire and the art workshops at squam? well, I’m also going to meet for the very first time my biological aunt.

i already have several aunts, aunt nancy and aunt jinny and aunt joan. these aunts have known me my whole life, been there throughout. I am so fortunate to have these women in my life.

but I have another aunt … aunt carol. I had first contact with her a little over a month ago, wrote her a letter. and she actually called me, leaving the sweetest message i have ever received.  she said she LOVED my letter and that she would LOVE to speak with me. 

you see, I was adopted. at birth. by my family. the only family I have ever known. mom. dad. brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. a truly most excellent life. i have six first cousins, and our grandparents and our aunts and uncles never treated my also adopted brother any differently than  “blood”.

but that’s just it. blood. something in the DNA, deep inside, a longing for connection to the blood line. 

i first started looking for my birthmother over 15 years ago, when i was a photojournalist in southern california. i was covering a women’s golf tournament, there to photograph the winner. i waited and waited at the clubhouse. then they announced her name, the woman I was to photograph: nancy brooks. i froze. that was HER name. the name of my birthmother. 

i was filled with sudden excitement and anxiety. what if it’s HER?  when i saw her, i wondered …. well, we kinda look alike. after photographing her, i mustered up the courage to ask: did you by any chance have a child on march 21, 1961? she did not. it turned out brooks was her husband's name.

but it was then that i realized i wanted to know my birthmother. it came from deep inside. a wanting. my lineage pre-birth was like a black hole of nothingness, and i wanted to find out where i came from, how i got here. life’s existential questions.

so i started the search. had help along the way. when i finally found nancy, she didn’t want to have contact, said it was too painful. once every few years, i’d muster up the courage to write her a letter, asking questions about her, my birth father, health history, any excuse really to have contact. she replied with brief answers, and eventually seemed to warm to the idea of having contact, said maybe she would see me if I ever was in town.

so i made a trip. but she decided she couldn’t go through with it. i, however, could not NOT go through with it. i just had to see her. had to find out what was in that black hole. so i showed up on her doorstep. 

when she answered the door, i didn’t even have to introduce myself. she knew it was me. i was mesmerized. we have the exact same eyes. and I saw where I came from. the black hole was now filled with life.

she had company. stepped outside. said it wasn’t a good time, that maybe we could talk on the phone. i left, completely satisfied.

it turns out her sister, my aunt carol, was the company she had over. and her sister, with whom she shared everything, did not know of my existence. i was the family secret.

a few months ago i found out that nancy had passed away over two years ago. after my shock, I read on. in the online obituary, it mentioned her sister and best friend carol. so again, i eventually mustered the courage to write to carol. and she made what for me was one of the most important calls i have ever received. when i heard her message of love, i burst out crying, both joyous and sorrowful tears, and my hands went straight to my heart. i sat and cried and listened to carol’s message over and over again, my hands on my chest, crying and laughing and allowing my heart to be healed.

carol and i have had many hours-long telephone conversations, full of love and surprise and laughter and tears and love. did i say love? she is so warm and welcoming and loving. She acknowledges how courageous I have been.

tomorrow I will spend half a day with my dear aunt carol.