I am not a philosopher, nor am I a psychiatrist or even a psychologist. I am not a shaman or the Dali Llama.
But I am human. And I do have an opinion on this one. We are all on a universal existential quest to find out who we really are.
Period. Full stop.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently. I am an adoptee in reunion. I found my biological family at forty-seven years old and part of my desire to find them was to answer lifelong nagging questions about how I came to be. Since I initiated my search in late 2016 I’ve been living a life of exploration, learning, contemplation, anxiety with definite moments of resolution and even newfound tranquility.
But what really drove me to search? I have a great family and wanted for nothing growing up. I was raised by lovely, loving people. They gave me direction and purpose. I know right from wrong and how to live an honest life of humility, respect and love. They provided a great education. Yet, I wrestled with something. I was historically quiet as a child. My dad would often ask why I wouldn’t open up more. I felt I couldn’t speak my truth because my truth was slightly different than his. What I didn’t understand then, I do now.
So what really drove me to search? Well, the obvious answer is that I had suffered a severe heart attack in late 2016 and desperately wanted to know if cardiovascular disease runs in my genes. I needed to know this for me and my two children. However, if I am being honest, the heart attack awakened the need to find out who I am. This need had laid in near dormancy for so long.
An overwhelming part of my identity comes from the family that raised me. Dad’s side of the family came to California on the wagon trail along with the Donner party, except they elected to avoid the Sierras and headed south before continuing west to Monterey. My great grandfather was a US Senator and co-sponsored the bill on women’s suffrage. My mother is English with lots of Welsh origins and her father made steel to fight the Germans in World War II. I embrace so much of the stories and heritage of my parents’ families. I do. They are a wonderful, caring family. And while we could share family stories and lore, we do not share blood.
For decades, I didn’t mind not being genetically linked to them. They treated me equally, as one of them. And I returned the favor. However, what I did not know, was that there was a nagging something that had burrowed deep in my subconscious in the way, way back part of my brain that had been ever-so-slowly twisting. Or maybe it was a tiny simmering ember in the vastness of my limbic system as a result of the trauma associated with my relinquishment at birth.
What I have recently learned is that I had some innate desire to know more about who I was and how I came to be for years. Truth is, I yearned for it yet didn’t understand the need from within. I attributed this hard-to-articulate angst to being a maturing male trying to understand his life’s purpose and grappling with life-defining decisions. Time and again, I would bury the angst and get on with life.
Mercifully, I am now learning how to process and address these more complicated sets of emotions.
I came to this realization after my reunion with my biological family, having seen their faces, listened to their voices and shared our life’s stories. It dawned upon me that I felt more complete now. A hole within me had been filled. The ember had been extinguished.
So I had all the answers, right? Did this end my existential quest to find out who I really am? No, it did not. It further made me now want to dissect what makes me tick. Now that I had the story of how I got to this point, I want to know what drives my decisions and my emotions!
I am a product of my upbringing, family, religion, education, socioeconomics, and societal norms. I am also the product of the millions of decisions I have made over the course of my life. But it’s also true that I’m a product of my genes.
I met my biological parents and three half sisters in early 2017. I now know where my looks come from, finally. I get my nose, mouth and shoulders from my birth father, and my eyes, cheekbones and hands from my birth mother. I have learned the source of my physical attributes, and now with time I might learn where emotions, thinking patterns and other things come from. I want to fully dive into why I respond to stimuli and situations the way I do. Is it because of how I was raised, or is it because of my genetic wiring, or a combination of the two?
But I dive into all of this headfirst, unafraid of what I will find. Like a child excitedly jumping into a swimming pool at a Fourth of July party desperately looking to scoop up all the coins the lifeguards had tossed into it as part of the festivities, I’m grabbing everything I can get my hands on knowing that if it’s either a penny or a quarter it’s better than nothing.
Why is all of this so important to me, to us? Because we wrestle with the existential quest to find out who we are and to live in the universe in which we are meant to be. This does not only apply to adoptees. It applies to non-adoptees. It applies to donor-conceived people. It applies to divorced families. It is race agnostic. It doesn’t care about your sex. It applies to all of us. It is a never ending journey.