Just last week I went to see the movie “Philomena” at the Pickford Film Center. Here is what the Internet Movie Data Base writes for the movie’s summary:
“When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged.”
As an adopted child, this was an especially interesting movie to view. It seemed at times Philomena, played beautifully by Judi Dench, bled out a mothers heart, washing the audience with the experience of a mother being separated from her child.
I cried through most of the movie, and as a poet and an author, I feel forced to categorize my emotions on paper. Not even sure that’s possible. In the meantime, below is a re-posting of “What Are You?”. A post I wrote in 2012 on adoption and family trees.
A psychologist friend of mine shared once, the earlier in a person’s life that a tragic event occurs, the more of an impact it has on the foundation points of the person’s character. An adopted child is, sometimes, unwanted at conception. It’s forming ears hear it’s mother struggle: loving the child, hating the child, doesn’t want the child, wants to keep the child, the guilt and anger. Some adopted children end up as “transplanted fruit” attached to a new family tree, loved, cared for and happy, others may bounce around in foster homes. I would guess that most of us have a puzzle that we carry with us, a puzzle that needs to be solved: who are my people? The family blood connection, especially mother/child, is undeniably strong.
The main point, I am glad they highlighted in the movie, is forgiveness. It is a blessing to me to forgive. To allow myself to forgive. You can forgive people you never met, even people who birthed you, then walked away.
My mother was 32 when she had me, information on my father is unknown. If they are still alive, I wish them well. Too much energy in this world is wasted on hate. God bless you both, whoever, wherever you are today.
-Shannon P Laws
WHAT ARE YOU
|Harborview Hospital, Seattle WA
photo taken in the same decade I was born,
from the western slope of First Hill
and part of Yesler Terrace
For the first two weeks of my life I was an orphan. My birth mother left me at the Seattle hospital I was born in. She walked in to the emergency room in labor, gave birth and left the next day. Gone. Nothing but a one page form filled out. It’s doubtful that the information she gave was truthful, I never found out. Fortunately, when I was just two weeks old, my future parents took me in as a foster child. They adopted me a year later. I grew up in a happy home. I was lucky.
Throughout my life there were little moments when not having birth family health history was an issue, usually with trips to the doctor. Most forms ask for family history. For example when I was pregnant, the form asked if miscarriages, natural or multiple births ran in the family. Always I entered “adopted” on the blank line.
|My brother and I at the beach
My Aunt called us “Irish Twins”
In my younger years, growing up in an area with a low minority population, people, sometimes strangers, would ask me awkward questions. Some people are not graceful when they ask about your adoption or race. In America , there is still a sense of taboo about being adopted, especially by the folks from my grandparents generation. However, the question of WHO gave me up and WHY, is shadowed by another. The most asked question from others is “What are you?” …’scuse me? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes I’ll respond, “I’m human. What are you?” However, when I’m in a cheeky mood, I answer with the only one I have: “Me? Oh I’m Irish and German.”, then watch them try to figure out how my features fit into those categories. “You mean Black Irish?”
What are you?
|Painted faces from the World Cup 2012
Folks are often confused by my features and can’t figure it out, and sometimes really need to figure it out. Of all the little issues with being adopted this one is the most confusing for me. People have guessed that I could be Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Jewish, Slavic, Black Irish, even Gypsy. No one guesses German or Irish. I do wonder about my blood line, but WHY is it so important to other people, especially to people that I just met, what my race, nationality or ethnicity is? Is there a box in their head they are trying to put me in?
Over time, my position regarding what I am changed slightly. Since I don’t know what race I am, I decided to be ALL races. This attitude comes in handy and lightens the conversation at times. Once I offered a friend some hummus. They went on a rant how they do not like “foreign” food. I informed him that he was insulting my people. This friend knew I was adopted and joked back, “You don’t know who your people are.” I responded proudly, “Then I am ALL people.” We were joking around, but honestly aren’t we all a little bit of EVERYBODY?
The truth is that we are everybody… or I mean everyone. Genealogy is a fickle beast. Did you hear about the guy who discovered he was a direct relative to King Charlemagne? NPR ran a great article about the issue of Pedigree Collapse. It goes something like this: if you count your direct ancestors backward through time, the further back you go, obviously, the more ancestors you have. But when you do the numbers, something strange happens.
|King Charlemagne 742-814,
The “Father of Europe”
Go back to A.D. 800 and the number of direct ancestors is, well, puzzling. You start with two grandparents, then four great-grandparents, then on to eight, 16, etc., and by the time you get to A.D. 800, the number averages to about 562,949,953,421,321. That’s a lot of people. In fact, that’s more people than have ever lived.
So somethings wrong.
What’s wrong is at some point up the line, people get counted twice, or three times. Your great-great-great-great-grandma on one line turns out to also be a great-great-great-great-grandma on another line. The same person can show up multiple times. You get duplicates. And way back, when the population of humans was much smaller, pretty much every line is duplicating heavily till at some point, everybody is your direct ancestor.
So see I wasn’t too far off. I am related to all and all is everybody.
(…oh and don’t insult my people!)
Philomena Official Movie Site- © 2013 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
“Philomena” IMDb Movie Page