As a parent, I am always listening for politeness, especially in my own children. It’s interesting to see who of my kids’ friends remembers to say “thank you” and I know I am not the only one keeping a mental tally of the ones who do or not. I try and remember to say “thank you” often. My big boy recently asked me why I say thank you to the maintenance man/superintendent of our apartment complex. I reminded him that this man, who works seven days a week, spends most of his time cleaning and tending after a whole lot of people, us included. He is the reason our lights work in our building hallways and that the leaves and snow are cleared in our parking lot. It reminded me of something my Aunt told me when I asked her the very same question as she was picking up dirty towels at the spa where she worked. My Aunt lives in Hawaii. While it would seem she lives in paradise, that paradise has been decimated due to hurricanes and other natural elements many times. Each time, the residents of her island work hard to create paradise again for all those of us who go to escape life. Hawaii is life for my Aunt and when she got a job after months of not working, due to a disastrous hurricane that left most resorts and hotels flattened, she was grateful. So she said thank you to every customer who dropped a towel on the floor because it meant she had a job. I will never forget her simple, matter of fact way of expressing it too. “Thank you”…it was so humbly and honestly coming from her each and every time.
The only time I get a bit sketchy on the gratitude thing is in the context of my adoption. Growing up adopted, I had a tendency to itch when I heard people tell me that I should be grateful I was adopted. Gratitude is a hard pill for me to swallow in the context of how I got to where I am. I have a tendency to feel grateful with shame all at once. But I wonder if my allergy to gratitude permeates other areas of my life? We don’t have to be grateful to be adopted, we shouldn’t be made to feel grateful for anything that every other human being seems to have an inalienable right to have and it does not have to remove gratitude from the other aspects of our lives. And yet, if I were really being honest with myself, there is one area I fail to be truly grateful.
Today is my real birthday, the one that my Umma acknowledges. I woke up to a message from my brother and it was lovely. He is happy today too. He has found love in his life and I am so grateful. I am grateful to the woman who has said yes to him and has taken him as the full package, meaning Umma included. Forever the big sister, I had to grill him, much to his amusement. It felt nice, natural, real. Grateful.
As I think about the day I was born, my thoughts of Korea are never too far. Today, I am grateful to Korea and to many of my “people.” This is not an organic sentiment that comes out easily for me. Truth is, my place in Korea, my sense of pride of being Korean, my understanding and misunderstandings of Korea were not created in a vacuum. What I took away from being in Korea recently were not the great conversations I had with other adoptees. I actually had very few of those. Instead, it was the conversations and time spent with the Korean Koreans who worked so hard to put the Gathering together for my fellow adoptees and me. While I don’t deny that the adoptee organizations worked HARD to organize and mobilize, there were Korean Koreans who dealt with the sponsors who only spoke Korean; sponsors and politicians whose perceptions of adoptees prejudiced the way they manipulated the money they were willing to spend, who demanded changes to the itinerary, who wanted certain speakers removed, who wanted many many things. There were the Korean Koreans who woke up earlier than anyone else roaming the hallways to make sure everything was set up correctly, that there was enough food, that the bus came on time, that the drivers were compensated appropriately. There were those who waited patiently for participants who showed up 30 minutes past the allotted time, who stood on line with us to navigate food orders, ticket purchases, all the meanwhile assuring that Korean hospitality was presented with a smile. I humbly thank the Korean Koreans who struggled to speak only English to us to make sure we got everything we needed, wanted, demanded and yearned for. I thank the Korean people for showing me their pride and love for their country. My heart filled with pride and love too as I know I am of these people. I thank the many Korean people who complimented my earnest attempts to speak Korean. I nearly bursted with childish boastfulness knowing I was understood and praised.
In Korea, we need other non-adopted Koreans to not just be our allies. They must at times, many times, be our voices too. They do this with the same level of passion, anger and insistence we would. We speak about needing allies in the adoption community – adoptive parents, birth parents, non adoptees, politicians, service providers. Yes, we need them. But, for the many of us who hunger to claim our birth culture and identity, we could not do it without the gracious, reluctant, confused and overwhelmed fellow citizens of our birth country. I admit great impatience and frustration in learning the “Korean way” and am embarrassed at the many temper tantrums I throw in having to explain and explain why we must be in Korea, seek Korea and learn the Korean way. I admit to thinking “screw the Korean way, I am American, and this is just untenable!” I admit to being childishly angry that I can’t understand and just go with the flow as the Koreans would. Deep down, I suffer from envy cause I want to fit naturally and with ease. But in the meantime, I must express gratitude. I need those Koreans to do what I cannot and at times, will not.
So tonight as my birth day is dwindling down, I say thank you. Kamsahamnida!