Sentient gratitude

“I’m precious up to a point…my value isn’t more than anyone else.” – Eve Ensler

“Why should I be grateful for something everyone is entitled to?” – 25 year old me

Apparently, “sentient” is now in the vernacular of pre-adolescent boys.  G used it perfectly in a sentence the other day.  The first time I heard that word, I had to look it up; 3 years ago.

There is something sentient when gratitude is in one’s repertoire.  The absence of it makes me wonder is he/she a sentient being?  As a parent, it is a mind-numbing habit to remind my children, “say thank you…what do you saaaay?”  It is even more labor to stand guard during the “thank you” note writing exercise after a birthday gift or holiday gift was given.  Broadly speaking, when we teach our children to say ‘Thank you’, we don’t tell them to say thank you for anything in particular.  It is with the general understanding that when given, when offered, when served, we say thanks, no discretion is really taught alongside that.

At what point do we forget this as adults?  Is it a sign of adulthood that we begin to discriminate to whom, under a certain condition, around a certain circumstance, we express gratitude?  Some of us become picky about when those words are uttered and even surprised when gratitude is expressed.  I am most astonished by those who simply never say those two words.

So much of being adopted is about projection.  When I sit alone with my own thoughts, I realize that so much of how I feel about being adopted is based on what I have absorbed from others- their thoughts, feelings and opinions about being adopted – rather than my own. I thought I should want to search for my “real parents,” I should be grateful for being saved and yes, I did believe I would be homeless and selling my body to survive in Korea.  How I feel about being adopted is not how I REALLY feel about being adopted.  But we live in a society that needs a label, a quick witted one-liner, a declarative statement – are you pro or anti, grateful or angry, good or bad?  As a child, I was told to be grateful.  Grateful was the undercurrent to everything that came out of my mouth.  If it didn’t come out with gratitude then it was admonished, frowned upon, too uppity.  So, over the years, in order to provoke, stir awake the complacency of the dominant American privileged narrative, I chose to give up expressing gratitude for being adopted.  Why should I feel grateful about being adopted when I had no choice, when no one asked me, when there was so much loss that accompanied me?  Did people who were born to their families express gratitude for being born?  What was I grateful for?  As a young child, I had a family, I knew I had a family.  So the ‘gift’ of family was not necessarily what I was to be grateful for, right?

Temper temper that feisty 25 year old…She was right and well, a bit concrete, don’t you think?  I have come to be less enthusiastic about these sentiments.  In my 20s, I had nothing but my voice, my story, my interpretation.  I was alone, no community, no home, no permanency.

Perhaps it the word choice, the word order.  St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital says, “Give thanks for the healthy children in your life.”  Give thanks rather than be thankful.  It feels more transactional to give thanks.  Perhaps that’s the sticky bit for me.  What am I giving thanks for that is in any way different than anyone else who is living and breathing?  I’m not.  But being adopted and all those projections placed upon me got me thinking and knowing that, this adoption status comes with extra work.  All this “should be grateful” thoughts has given me the opportunity to really think about gratitude, giving thanks in a deeper more meaningful way. The perceptions of how I should feel about being adopted worked its way into my psyche and forced me to come to a place of evolution.  It has allowed me to shine a light on a word woefully inadequate to describe the complexity of how I feel about being adopted.  Being grateful does not commodify me, nor diminish my value to exist. Instead, it has allowed me to stand more solidly, two footed, and less defensive about scapegoating adoption and challenges me and my perception of what makes me, an adoptee, grateful.

Having grown some dimensions now, I believe I have a wider sense of what I am grateful for.  I have community, I have family, I have love in so many dimensions.  I am more than my story and my voice is among a chorus.

I do not believe that being adopted absolves me of the entitlement to feel grateful, to receive kindly and give in return. I know I am right to keep “adopted” and “grateful” in separate sentences, but sometimes being correct is not enough.  Such gentle tolerance allows for other things to fall into place.  Keeping gratitude in my every day vocabulary allows for more love and grace to seep in, notwithstanding good manners.  If gratitude is saved for only particular situations and particular gifts, then it feels like I am falling prey to the very projections others have about me as an adopted person.  Then all the “shoulds” come out only breeding resentment.

Being adopted is still proudly in my grown up girl’s identity.  In the landscape of middle age, I am grateful for my partner and the relationship we created, for my children, for the love that is around me, for the sisterhood that claims me.  In my grown up world, I see the residual, hopeful consequences of being adopted and I am grateful.  My hands are full with nourishment, kindness, friendship, sisterhood, family and love.  If I examine each of the relationships I cherish most and follow that thread behind me, being adopted is a common denominator.  Being adopted has forced me to choose each and every time to take on more, give more, be more than I simply am.  Being adopted has allowed me to examine options, “what ifs”, the other.  The way I see it, to negate my gratitude for adoption would be in ways to mute the colors of my present life.  How could I have known in my 20s what I know now?  I was too busy trying to be heard and validated.  In my 40s I am validated every day by those around me, validated for the work I do, the words I speak, the thoughts I have and the love I give.  Would that anyone try and take what I have away from me now by telling me adoption had nothing to do with it.  I am not an island, I did not do this all by myself, I am not alone.  At every decade of my adulthood, my beginnings become clearer and deeper in perspective.  With that clarity, my present grows in abundance and my future expands.  For that, I am grateful.

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