We became a foster family when I was the age of eight. My older brother and sister were already out of the house so it was just my mom, dad, and I. We took care of newborns that were in transition between birth and their future adoptive family, usually for a few months or so. We had quite a few babies come in and out of our house and of course they were all uniquely beautiful. But it wasn’t until I first held William, a doe-eyed boy with thick lashes and a bright, soul-melting grin, that I felt a deep connection. People claim love at first sight exists. If I were ever a believer it would have been in that moment. I was 10 years old, and I immediately knew that this was my new little brother. After a month or two I confessed to my parents how I felt and they confirmed that they had separately been having the same thoughts. He belonged here. So we called the agency and asked to adopt him.
The problem was, in the mid 80’s rural fishing town where we lived there was a lot of racial tension. The adoption agency told us that they would rather an African American family adopt Will and well, we were white. The day about a month later is still ingrained in my memory; when we took Will to meet his new family at the agency. The family seemed nice enough and without knowing his name their young daughter decided to call him William; the same name I had picked out for him months before. As we handed my wailing brother over we all tried unsuccessfully to hold back a floodgate of tears. When we drove away the family van felt quiet and empty. My heart was broken; I was so sure he was meant to be in our family.
For the next couple of months I went about readjusting to “regular” life without a baby brother. Until one day in the fall when my mom sat me down as soon as I got off the school bus. She said that she had called the agency to check on Will. They told her that something had gone wrong with the adoption and that it wasn’t going to stick. So my mother had exclaimed, “We want to adopt him!” and the agency finally conceded. I was overjoyed! My brother was coming home for good!
From that moment on my life was changed. I was a big sister and I loved it. And I had the pleasure of becoming a big sister not just once but three times. Two years after Will came to us we found out that his biological brother was born. When we met Paul it was a no brainer that he was also a part of the family. His infectious smile and affectionate cuddles melted my heart into an immediate warm puddle. His outgoing personality and love for adventure are beating strong to this day. I truly believe he will do great things in this life.
Two years after we knew our family was finally complete with the adoption of my youngest sister Maria. She is the kind of gorgeous that everyone wishes they could be. High cheekbones, dimples, and flawless face. You wouldn’t know it though because she is humble and has a temperament sweeter than molasses on a warm summer day. She is loyal and when she laughs I can’t help but join her. She has become one of my best friends.
The agency called us a “rainbow family.” I think that was supposed to make us feel special. But trust me, being one of the first mixed race families in a racially tense town made us feel “special” enough. I remember two different instances where the police approached us in the grocery store. Random strangers had called them because they assumed we were kidnapping Will. Actually I suppose looking back that they assumed my mother was kidnapping him; I was only eleven at the time. But being extremely aware of constant stares I had always felt that they came to accuse me too.
It took some time to adjust to the eyes steadily boring through us. But after a couple of years I suppose I did what most people do, I adapted. In fact I was no longer even aware of the stares. To me this was just my family. And like most families we are mixed up with lots of flaws and trials. But we were also made to be together. Each of us was brought uniquely to the other in order to make up this particular family; as was yours.
Recently my brother Will came to visit me here in NYC. More than once since we have become adults people have assumed that Will and I are a couple when we hang out. I suppose because we seem comfortable with one another, not to mention he is now half a foot taller than me and larger in general. One day during this visit we were traveling on the subway and I noticed an elderly white man staring at us throughout the ride. In NYC it is not common for people to stare as it is known as an invasion of space in an overcrowded city. When Will and I reached our stop and exited the train the man suddenly burst out screaming what he thought about my dating a “N-word”; screaming obscenities over and over from back inside the car. A gambit of emotion swept through me in an instant. First, extreme anger and hate towards the old man. I honestly had visions of trying to jump back on the train as the doors closed in order to fight him. Then extreme embarrassment of NYC, considering it was supposed to be open. Accepting and tolerant of everyone right? I felt that I should apologize to Will on behalf of my city. How could something like that happen here, I mean yes we have experienced some similar prejudice in the south, but never here before.
Racism is alive and well, even here in the melting pot of the world. And with all that is being brought to light in the media recently, it seems that tensions are rather high. I have started to read a lot of material by men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. I’ve been trying to glean from their wisdom in order to find direction through the confusion and pain streaming around us today. Looking to them as a beacon of light through this fog and darkness we have been living in. It’s almost like the band aid has been ripped off of a scab and our country is bleeding a fresh bout of blood. What do we do with all of this?
There were things in common that I noticed from these and other respected leaders that have helped to change parts of our history for the better. Two themes seemed most prevalent throughout all of the teachings. Forgiveness and Love. These are not things that one would look to do when involved in a battle for dignity and rights. And yet they each made point after point concerning these two subjects. Perhaps that is why they were so great; because they did not do what is natural, but rather what is more difficult and most beneficial.
Marianne Williamson a NY Times best- selling author says, “Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” Forgiveness does not mean lying over and playing dead. It means bringing issues to light. Speaking truth as Mandela did; with the purpose of peace in place of retribution. Nelson Mandela stated, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it will kill your enemies.” We don’t know when our country will be at a place that each can choose forgiveness for wrongs; even when wrongs are yet happening. But I hope towards a day where that can be true.
The second point that continually came up was love. I find this interesting since 2014, through all types of scenarios and situations, has continually brought me back to this theme. Love has been an attribute that I have been exploring personally and I have noticed it resonating throughout some of the most important times in our history as well as throughout daily life. One of my favorite quotes is from the great Dr. King. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And though love may seem like a cliché answer to a large and bleeding wound, it repeatedly shows up in history as the balm that our greatest leaders have led us to. It makes me think of that verse in I Peter, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Our country is full of a multitude of wrongs; ignorance, bitterness, hate, pride, and fear. And to be honest loving that old man on the train the other day was the farthest thing from my mind. It is hard to love attributes that contradict love.
And yet is it possible that the only true weapon in transforming these attitudes is love? It is something I will continue to think on.