Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's now been almost two weeks since we learned of Rosie ... .

I can hardly imagine what kinds of changes she (and her father, my son, Bob) are living through in these tumultuous days of discovering one another after all these years. So much -- so fast -- and after so long! Such care must be taken to protect her life as it was before these momentous developments occurred. There was/is an existing family to incorporate along with adding our huge extended family to the mix. Figuring out the configuration of this brand new family tree will call for a stepping back and taking into account a brand new set of dynamics.

How on earth does one do all that, and move forward at the same time? Maybe you don't. Maybe we just tread water for a little while and allow our psyches to catch up to the new demands.

And for me? A strange and unexpected development in the proceedings. I've experiencing a freshening of the grief over my son, Rick; something I'd never ever have anticipated. Woke to unexpected tears last night and an unaccustomed feeling of great fatigue -- then relief. Strange.

Why? Not sure, but after reading Rosie's story ( of her obsessive search for her father over the past years since she was 21, I understand for the first time, I believe, the downward trajectory of Rick's life -- ending in an early death. One cannot possibly fathom how visceral is that pain -- the empty space where identity, parentage, legacy, heritage, should be. We adopted Rick at the age of 9 days and loved him dearly for his entire star-crossed life.

He was the eldest of my four kids, and our only child until Bob came along when Rick was 5.
I loved him so, and still mourn his passing.

Unlike Rosie whose dedication to finding her father led her in time to reunite with us only ten days ago, Rick never questioned his adoption and never expressed any wish to locate his parents. It was the practice at that time to seal such records and it wasn't until he was applying for a passport and needed a birth certificate that he became curious; at least that he allowed me to see. I recall his describing how -- having gone to Sacramento to try to get a copy from the Hall of Records, how the clerk brought some papers to the window upon which he'd caught a glimpse of the name, Galvin, before she discovered her error and seized them frantically from him with the comment that these were records she could not release. There was no attempt at explaining; only a curt apology. She then issued some kind of legal paper that would suffice. He told the story only once. Never again.

For a short time he appeared curious, but he was only 21 (the same age that Rosie started her search, incidentally), and was about to leave on a trip to Amsterdam with a friend, and was entering a new phase in his life as an openly gay man (with my blessing). The search for his roots must have been diverted by the excitement of experiencing Europe for the first time.

We were always close, but there was no time when I ever saw that ember of curiosity re-ignite.

But he was gone far too early after a long ... slow ... descent into what can only be described as a thinly-veiled suicide from alcoholism and disillusionment in an unsympathetic world.

I'm afraid that I've never fully understood the nature of the loss that Rosie describes surrounding the long search for her father. It must have been so for Rick who never knew his parents. Having been given up by his biological mother at birth, he had to be adopted or live out his life in foster homes. We tried to give him the best life that adoptive parents could. I never knew that it might not ever have been enough... .

... And that it was never ever something that could have been fixed through love.

Rosie's addition to my life has presented a way to process Rick's death in ways that nothing else could have.

Maybe now I can finally let him go, maybe... .

There simply is no way that I, as his lifetime mother, could have been enough to protect him from the emptiness that I could not have known was there. I'm only now realizing that it was never about me. There has been a feeling since his death that somehow I'd failed him; that my parenting was in question. It was always about him; about the vacuum that I could never have filled. About the demons set in motion by unknown and unknowable aspects of his being.

There have been many successful adoptions, but perhaps Rick's had too many challenges to overcome; race, early parental abandonment, gender; far too many reasons upon which the world could and did base its rejection.

I've never not known just exactly who I am, and, upon just whose shoulders I am standing.

I am a Breaux, an Allen, and a Charbonnet ...

as is Rosie.

... and, like Bob she is also a Reid ... and, and, and ...

and there is a loving husband and a mother who surely has loved her well -- and a host of new and old relatives and sisters and nieces and nephews and another Grandmother ... and a father, my son, Bob, ... for the rest of her days!

I cannot imagine a more bountiful time of life for us all ... .

I can only guess at the ecstatic turmoil being lived through right now as my new granddaughter begins to incorporate all these new elements into what appears to be an already full life.

Photo: Dale "Rick" Reid, Mel, Bob (standing in front of his father), David, and Betty holding 2 month-old Dorian on the occasion of her dedication. The year was 1957. Top center: Rosie with Bob's horses.

Yes, I know. What I'd like to know is just where all these cameras were when there was still enough leftover pretty to flaunt?

On Friday I met the crew from the local Contra Costa County public access channel to shoot a segment for a program featuring the Rosie the Riveter Memorial with me as a secondary subject, or so I thought. I'm deeply moved by the memorial and only the day before brought a group of visitors from a Berkeley theater company to walk the time line in this lovely park.

The memorial was designed by two women, Cheryl Barton and Susan Schwartzenberg, and completed in the late nineties, I believe. It was actually the inspiration for the creation of this national park, and has fast-become a source of great pride for the city and for Kaiser Permanente, the corporation which figured so prominently in the home front history of WWII.

However, the purpose of the television program (I learned only after arriving at Marina Bay Park) was to talk about seniors in general and about my personal experience of aging in particular. Should have suspected that the question asked during the preparatory phone conversation was a clue. "Are you still dating?" My answer, "I'm old not dead!" But I was still intent upon talking about the memorial and for the first 15 minutes the young interviewer humored me by asking questions that displayed my knowledge of and keen interest in the telling of its story.

The question leading into the second segment of the taping was personal. I mentioned my age (86), and then a question I hadn't expected at all: "Do you have children and do they approve of your dating?" I know that I mumbled something about all of my "children" now being eligible for AARP, and that it never occurred to me to ask their permission! Do others cede that much power over their lives to others; even to loving family members? I can't even remember what my answer was, but I'll watch closely when the program is aired. I can't imagine what I might have said. Hope it wasn't too curt or dismissive.

The interviewer was so young ... but then isn't everyone these days?

Monday, May 19, 2008

It was years ago; lessons learned ...

We were gathered in the chapel at beautiful Asilomar; California State Conference grounds in picturesque Pacific Grove. Don't recall just who the presenter was, but it was one of the theme talks that made up our annual Stebbins Institute week in what we considered our family's August holiday -- always a period of major growth.

It was the expected edgy talk -- reflecting the human potential movement that dominated the Eighties -- important to the re-making of the more humane world that we fully expected to usher in on our watch. The speaker was probably someone who would have passed muster with Esalan Institute or who mirrored practices emanating from Werner Earhart, Fritz Perls, Charlotte Selvers, or Sam Keene.

As we gathered that morning in the historic Julia Morgan-designed fieldstone and wooden chapel, we were greeted at the door by volunteers who provided each with small white cards with instructions to write down our deepest secret fear and toss the cards into the basket. It probably occurred to each of us that to fake it -- to not be fully truthful -- would waste the chance at learning what was there for us to know. The speaker would use these in some imaginative way, we were sure, but just how was an intriguing mystery. This exercise would provide another way to be revelatory; to lay bare some aspect of our fears. We'd been together in many kinds of experiences for many days by now and were wide open to the experiment -- willing to go wherever it would take us.

As the (approx.) 150 of us probed deeply into ourselves for the answers in the quiet, several of the volunteers passed among us gathering up the cards as we thoughfully completed them. They disappeared into a side room to carry out whatever their mission was -- with the complete acquiescence of their audience.

The speaker then spent the next hour giving a forgettable talk about stuff and things relevant to the times while the volunteers went off somewhere nearby to score our answers, or, whatever the next steps in the process might be. As it turned out the lessons were dramatic and have stayed with me all these years.

When they returned with their basket and the tally sheet the goal of the psychological experiment was suddenly clear for all to see. The speaker had been little more than a time-filler. This de-briefing was the exercise.

Of the 150 of us gathered in that chapel at the ocean's edge, there were only 7 secrets expressed once the adjustments for differences in the use of language had been taken into consideration. Seven secrets from that large group of participants. There were gender differences, of course, and those were accounted for in the numbers, but it was actually surprising how many were free from any gender implications.

We were all holding the same secrets!

I've thought of that over this past several days of dramatic new revelations which brought together my newly-discovered granddaughter and her surprised and ecstatic "new" father, my son, Bob.

I've felt no hesitation in sharing the story because it has been clear to me since that day in the chapel that we are but one human family, and that our humanness is expressed in these shared life experiences that only deepens our connections across cyberspace and beyond.

I suppose it is the reason that I've so little fear of invasion of my "so-called" privacy.

I've learned well the lesson that it is in those places where we're most vulnerable that we are most alive... .

Which reminds me of a conversation with the late author, Ken Kesey, (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) -- on the sand dunes -- at one of those conferences long ago when the world was moving at a breakneck pace and the lessons were coming at the speed of light! But never too quickly to not be absorbed, even when there was no sign that it was happening at all... .