A year has gone by since I declared my wish to be buried in Korea, and examined those reasons as an adopted Korean American. Do I feel differently? No, I still feel that yearning for closure like a starlit beacon over a faraway sea, the color of blue so dark it shimmers with black. However, my journey since then has changed me in the way a person feels after they have suffered an endless agonizing night, only to wake and see the softest light around the edges of despair that has no choice but to recede and evaporate. The light eclipses the night. This last year has been inner change, the subtle unfurling of being crouched in the dusty shadows for so long that when finally standing, the limbs tingle with anticipation.
What has changed me and why? … Is joy and happiness which has always seemed to belong to other people (and so elusive) finally mine to claim? Yes and no. Of course nothing is ever simple, but I have to laugh at my absurdity and foolishness on how I fought so hard. Only when I stopped fighting and released the turmoil, peace was on the other side. I stopped fighting all the things I could not change. I stopped being righteously angry about the Korean adoptee experience. I stopped being angry that I had no choice but to assimilate well, and thought I was white growing up. I stopped being angry for that lost, abandoned Korean girl that was me when I was two, four or twelve, the one that still emerges and lashed out when she feels lost, and scared. I stopped being angry that even though I had done my “work” and was doing things the “right” way, life still wasn’t going to fix that gaping hole of abandonment, a tender young dandelion being torn from its roots.
I had to stop being angry, otherwise I would continue dying inside and continue alienating people. If I made the choice to be buried in Korea then I owed it to myself to live well and have it count for something. So perhaps on my darkest of nights when I could not forgive those closet to me that had hurt me because it, well, it hurt too much to forgive, I had to make a choice. And I realized I couldn’t do it by myself. The hurt I feel as a Korean adoptee is always rooted in the pain of loss, things unremembered and unknown, of being that abandoned baby, scared in ways she cannot comprehend and to this day, she cannot stand anything that makes her feel vulnerable. The pain of injustice turns into protective walls of anger that swells with rage. I have been told, “The closer someone gets to you the meaner you get.” Ouch. Does my Korean adoptee experience mean others have to pay for my pain—if they want to be close to me it certainly seems to? That’s when the self-loathing starts, which creates a depressing cycle.
The choice to forgive was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. It meant no more protective self-defenses and manipulations—tools that often worked as reflexes against life or people the moment things started careening out of control. I literally prayed my way into forgiveness and at first nothing happened. Besides feeling utterly exposed and admitting I had nowhere to go from there and nothing to lose, I still felt hollow, vulnerable and sad. But that act of going through the motions shifted my life like an incoming tide that was at first barely a trickle, barely noticeable, but building momentum. I began to feel the thanks for the blessings in my life, which is different than acknowledging and giving lip service. I started seeing the blessings in my life differently: family, friends, love that was waiting to be given and received.
I have always said I am not a religious person. I dislike dogma and religious institutions intensely, mistrusting hypocritical views. Yet I believe we all are spiritual beings, is that not the highest level on Maslow’s pyramid—could that not be our highest call as humans? So to believe in a higher power, whatever a person’s religious affiliation, is something I could believe in. Faith is unknown, thus scary and I was in. I began to see how different parts of my life could intersect and work together, even the fragments of my Korean parts still not put back together.
I feel an incredible affinity for Korean adoptees and the dichotomy of our different experiences, yet the similar threads unique to us is what we have in common. The compassion I feel is in the unity of feeling our voices have not been truly represented, whether we are coming to terms with or reconciling our experiences. Still, I could not be politically active in the adoptee movement pro or against because: a.) There are plenty of articulate, well-spoken people way more informed than I. b.) I was confused exactly what they were fighting for… adoptee rights, okay, but the fact that I was adopted in the 70’s after the war was a different time. Where did I stand amid all the changes today, such as the current Russian adoption ban?
In essence I didn’t feel the political fight was mine. What was missing for me was the path in how to find meaning in complex times. It bothers me to be solely defined as a Korean adoptee when I am so much more: female, wife, mother sister and friend. However, there is no denying our early existence shapes us and for me, being a Korean adoptee colors and shades every area/relationship of my life; to deny or repress this is harmful. On the flip side, to filter life only through a Korean adoptee lens can be narcissistic and limiting.
For me, I had to retrieve that abandoned little girl, this time as a loving adult and tell her she is safe, worthy and will never be abandoned again. And when I forgave and opened myself to receive the love I was always rejecting, I can never feel abandoned again when love and acceptance resides in my heart. To receive love is powerful, it’s admitting you can trust enough and are worthy. I thought I was being strong in choosing to give or receive love when it felt “safe” but I was losing out. And so this past year I discovered that even though I can map out my future, I needed to fulfill the truly living part. People and relationships are the most amazing springs of potential, I had to believe that of myself too before I could start living.
I am proudly Korean and American, but more than that, human. To forgive a massive wrong or devastating hurt is beyond my capacity. I am humbled and awed by that. I am grateful. As for the future, I picture a burial mound with a big cross with streams of light illuminating my path in life, leading me towards it like paper lanterns on the water. Eventually the sea turns white with light, transcends the dark and takes me home.
Carrie Min Hall is was born in Korea and adopted at age four. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, two cats, and hopefully two husky puppies in a few days. When she is not working, she enjoys reading, writing, running and hot yoga.