ACW

ACW

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Orphans and quests by Philippa Linton

Death of a princess - eclipsed by a precious letter
I remember the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1997 for two reasons: firstly, Princess Diana died.  Secondly, that was the weekend when I got the most important letter I had ever received.   My birth mother had written to me.  This was our first contact since she gave me up for adoption when I was six weeks old (I was now thirty-five).

A few days later – just before Princess Diana’s funeral – I phoned my birth mum.  A month later, we met.
As an adoptee I have always been able to celebrate the ‘romantic’ side of adoption: it appeals to the writer in me.  Unsurprisingly, some of my favourite literary characters are orphans and/or adoptees: Sara Crewe, Anne Shirley, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Jane Eyre.  Many famous orphaned characters go on some kind of quest either to find themselves and/or defeat evil in the process – and that’s another great literary trope, that of the Quest, which often means the rediscovery of the self through death and rebirth.  Many of these orphaned heroes and heroines are profoundly changed by the quests they undertake, whether they are saving the world from total destruction by a Dark Lord (thus putting themselves at great risk), or breaking free of stifling convention and rigid legalism to become their real, liberated selves.  Most of them suffer intensely at some point; some of them ‘die’ in a symbolic sense.  The stories that resonate most with me reflect the loss and pain we face in the real world: the redemptive elements in the story are deeper and richer because of this. 

There is far more to adoption than the romantic myths surrounding it. Adoption has a shadow side, and those shadows are abandonment and relinquishment. In saying this, I am in no way disparaging the very real and powerful bonds which many adoptees form with their adoptive families. The ties of nurture can be just as strong as the ties of blood: my adoptive family are every bit as much my family as my birth relatives, especially as I grew up with them and share my history with them.  But to acknowledge adoption’s shadow side is simply to acknowledge reality.  My birth mother’s story (as with thousands of unmarried mothers in the post-war era) included pain, betrayal and societal condemnation. Fortunately my reunion with her, in October 1997, gave us both the happy ending we had yearned for – except it wasn’t really an ending but a beginning, because I gained yet another family.  Win-win all round.
All human lives have patterns, symmetries, God-inspired incidences.  A tapestry is being woven out of the story of our lives, even if it looks messy on one side.   Real life is messier than fiction, and our life-stories often become tangled and chaotic: often there aren’t neat resolutions or tidy closures.  But our stories always matter, because we matter.  We matter to a Master Storyteller who is intensely interested in our story, and whose creativity we echo.

Tangled threads ... image via Pixabay

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Phillippa. I'm not adopted but have three different cousins who have been and are. For two of them, twins, this, like yours, was a great success. For the other, it was a tragedy and he died, which is why I wrote partly in the past tense. I still miss him a lot. I'm so glad your story had a happy ending.

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    1. Thank you, and I am so very sorry to hear about your cousin. :( Reunions can be complex and don't always work out for everyone.

      Blessings to you.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post, Philippa, with all its literary associations. I have similar stories in my own family and indeed it can be bitter-sweet.

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    1. Thanks very much, Fran. :)

      Yes, it's an emotional rollercoaster ...

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  3. Thanks Philippa, I too enjoyed reading this. Appreciate your positivity and honesty.

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  4. What a beautiful post, Philippa. I am an adoptive parent and one of my brothers is adopted and i have grieved with them when a reunion has not been successful.

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