For more on Madeleine L’Engle, check out this post on Brain Pickings. Thanks for Maria Popova for the link.
By Laura Jenkins
About four years ago I connected with one of my sisters for the very first time.
I was 48 years old, and she was 57.
Honest to God, the only thing I was after was medical information. At the time my mother was dying of cancer, and I’d never even had a clue about what kind of genetic foes might be lurking in my paternal DNA. At nearly fifty years of age, I decided that gaining the other half of my medical history was worth the risk of whatever response I got from my biological father’s family. So I sent an apologetic message to my sister Laurie, expecting the worst. And instead, I got the very best.
When we talked on the phone for the first time, she asked, “Do you have any pictures you could send me of when you were younger?” I emailed her a few. And she was so blown away by our resemblance, she drove to a storage unit to get a photo of herself at around the same stage of life. She came of age in the sixties; I in the seventies (comparison above.) What do you think? I imagine that if you took away the hair and the clothing, and I was facing the camera as she is, you might not be able to tell the faces apart.
The entire story is super interesting, but it’s long. I could talk your ear off about how meeting the Italian side of my family has changed my life. However, in a writing workshop I frequented last year, Spike Gillespie came up with a super cool challenge that made me condense part of the narrative: Write about a significant life experience in 100 words. Then tell it in 50. Then tweet it. And finally, write a haiku about it.
Ninety percent of my experience with meeting my father’s family is infused with surprise, joy, and delightful twists and turns. I can’t even begin tell you what wonderful people my sister, brother and their extended families are. I also met my father’s warm and gracious sister, and a cousin I love as though I’ve known her all my life. I adore them. But the week before I did Spike’s brilliant exercise, the writing prompt was “outsider.” And when reflecting on that theme, one of the two things that immediately came to me was the ten percent of this whole experience that didn’t go so well. And writing about it in this format was strangely cathartic; it helped me get to the heart of what I was feeling at the time. What does it feel like to be EXcluded? Here’s one take.
Quick note: I initially thought the assignment was 200/100/50/tweet/haiku, so I decided to leave the 200 in.
I’d been standing on the precipice for 25+ years and finally made a split-second decision to jump. Four months earlier I had discovered the obituary of my deceased biological father, whom I’d never met. And now I was staring at Laurie, my half-sister, on Facebook. “Wow – my heart is pounding as I write this,” my message began. For most of my life I feared that if I contacted my father or his other children, I’d be scorned, vilified or outright rejected. Folks usually don’t kill the fatted calf for the child of the other woman.
To my great surprise, I found a beloved sister with whom I have everything in common. She eventually introduced me to our big-hearted brother, John and we, too, have become close. The youngest brother, however, reacted much like I imagined my father would’ve, had I appeared on his doorstep. He asked to meet me when I was in Washington visiting our sister, and he and his wife were more cold, sullen and patently rude than I could’ve thought possible. When I feel indignant at the way they treated me, I try and remember that he’s facing a dilemma he cannot fix: that of reconciling his view of our father with who he really was.
Two out of three ain’t bad. I never dreamt I’d have any kind of relationship with my biological father or his children, given the fact that I was tangible proof of his philandering. Four months after discovering his obituary I found my sister on Facebook, and today we share a close friendship and soul connection that’s difficult to explain. I also found a rare bond with our older brother, who is an incredibly generous and loving soul. The third sibling, however, couldn’t summon any response beyond suspicion, contempt and hostility. He invited me to his home and then brusquely shunned me the entire time.
I never expected anything but dismissal. Surprisingly, I found a large, loving family when I contacted the daughter of the father I’d never known. The only exception was one brother, who made it clear I’m unwelcome. Good thing my existence doesn’t depend on his approval.
Found an amazing family behind my abandoning dad, but am unwilling to sacrifice myself on the altar of one brother’s angst. #notworthit
You wish you could fly
And preempt my conception.
Like father like son.