Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Who We Become

Check out this article in the New York Times. In it, the author Ellen Ullman ends by saying "Knowing every single ancestor...will never solve the deeper mystery, which of course is the dreadful question of who we become."

Is it always a dreadful question?
(Does she mean dreadful as in
in causing great dread, fear, or terror? Or does she mean dreadful as
. in inspiring awe or reverence?)

If she means the former, I disagree; if she means the latter, well ok then.

Moving on:

Yes, we humans all want to know who we are going to become as we grow into ourselves, and adoptees tend to be especially curious about this, as we often have been deprived of information about our ancestors.

I believe I'm a result of both nature and nurture: I'm very much like my adoptive parents in that I'm a college professor and so were they; my politics are very lefty and so are theirs. On the other hand, I have this obsessive need for wilderness and wide open spaces, and they're not exactly mountaineers. However, when I met my birthfather last summer, I saw in him what appears to be the origins of my outdoorsiness: we went hiking together and he pointed out to me various birds and plant species; he told me there's nowhere he'd rather be than outside; and he collects rocks (ask my husband how he feels about having moved my childhood rock collection from state to state for the last decade). I haven't found as much in common with my birthmother, which is sad to me. But I do kind of look like her. One thing I share with my birthmother is a deep sadness. I sense that her life, even her personality, was profoundly impacted by the circumstances surrounding my birth. I think she has been very hard on herself as a result of the shame of being an unwed mother in the 1960s, and of giving me up for adoption. She doesn't like to talk about it, but I got a lot of good information from the book The Girls Who Went Away, and I highly recommend that book to anyone who's interested in this topic.

So, what did you think of Ullman's article? What do you think about nature v. nurture? Have you read The Girls Who Went Away?


Leslie M-B (trillwing) said...

Honestly, I couldn't get past the first chapter of The Girls Who Went Away, but I was reading it shortly after Lucas was born and the hormonal winds were at full storm. Also, since Pete was adopted in the early 1960s, I had trouble reading it because I was projecting onto him all kinds of loss that he may or may not feel. Maybe I'll return to the book sometime, but I did give my copy away because it was so saddening and maddening. I am glad, however, that you found it useful.

Andrea said...

Oh, Leslie, I really recommend you try again--it puts adoption between the years of WWII and Roe V. Wade into this really interesting socio-political context that I hadn't figured out on my own. I'd send you my copy, but I gave it away--to my birthmom!!

Lori (ball) Horton said...

oh, i just read the ny times article and i feel like there's enough there to go on forever...i was so upset by her insisting that she didn't need/want to know her birth parents and yet had built a whole story around them and their interests and how those would also have been hers had they raised -- but instead she took a path "un-natural to her" and spent 20 years doggedly pursuing. i am saddened by this long life determined not to know what it seems her imagination is telling her she already does....sigh. Lori

Andrea said...

Thanks for weighing in, Lori. It's always so interesting for me to hear what people who aren't adopted think of articles like this one.