Faith on Friday: Axios!

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves—Isaiah 62:6

"Axios! He is worthy!" Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

“Axios! He is worthy!” Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

This weekend is a significant milestone in the life of our church—Saint John Orthodox in Memphis. Our pastor, Father John Troy Mashburn, is retiring, and our young Assistant Pastor, Father Philip Rogers, becomes our Pastor, bringing along his wonderful wife Kathryn. (And—icing on the cake—Father Alex Mackoul joined us this summer as Assistant Pastor, with his wife Amanda.) An ordinary passing of the baton, right? In many churches this happens every few years, or at least every decade or two. But not in most Orthodox churches. And not at St. John in Memphis.

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St. John started in living rooms in the early 1970s and eventually moved to the Barth House (Episcopal Student Center) on the campus of the University of Memphis, before finally purchasing its current property in midtown in 1990. Father John Troy was there from the beginning. And he was still there in 1987 when the clergy were ordained and the people were Chrismated and the group became an official Orthodox mission, and later a parish. A few years later he retired from his secular job to become our full time pastor, which he has been now for over twenty years. I’m not checking the dates as I write this, but I believe he has been serving this group of people for about forty five years.

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

My husband, Father Basil Cushman, has served as Associate Pastor here since 1988, but our friendship with Father John Troy started way back in college, where the two of them were fraternity brothers at Ole Miss, and Father Troy’s wife, Pamela, and I were sorority sisters. Then in June of 1970, Father John Troy was a groomsman in our wedding. As we continued our journey to Orthodoxy in Jackson, Mississippi, the Mashburns were on a similar path here in Memphis. It seemed almost inevitable that we would end up together again.

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The little group of less than forty people who were the original members of St. John Orthodox Church in 1987 has grown to over 350 members today. Our beautiful old (1920s vintage) building has gradually been transformed, especially the nave and sanctuary (altar area) with its wonderful iconography and recently installed hardwood floors. And this fall we begin construction on a new building next door, which will house our new parish hall and kitchen. (We’ll start by tearing down the duplex that stands there now, which the church owns.) Our growing congregation is full of young families and lots of children—a wonderful blessing to us all.

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So now I’d like to wish Father John Troy “many years!” (an Orthodox blessing for many occasions) and say thank you for all you have done to help build this wonderful parish. I would love to know how many people you have baptized, Chrismated, churched and married over the years (I’m sure the accountant in you knows those numbers) and I’m sure many will join me in wishing you and Pamela many blessings as you enter this next stage of your life. I won’t go into all the ways you have helped me personally, but you know them. And even through our disagreements, I have always loved you.

Holy Week 2016

Holy Week 2016

And to Father Philip and Father Alex, our new pastors, “Axios!” (He is worthy!)

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul, our new Assistant Pastor and his lovely wife

Writing on Wednesday: Feedback vs. Advice

coffeegirl_finOur writing group had an interesting discussion last night. I had sent a link to the group in an email asking what they thought about this article in Writer’s Digest, “Tweaking Critiquing.” (Click on the link and scroll down to page 38 to read the article.) The main idea we discussed was the difference in giving “feedback” vs. “advice” to the person whose work was being critiqued. It turns out that as individuals we seem to respond differently to criticism, possibly because some of us have thicker skin than others, or just have a different expectation. We also talked a bit about the difference in the “job” of fellow writers vs. an editor. Helpful discussion in an environment in which I hope everyone feels “safe” to not only share their writing, but their opinions, and even emotions.

The article, written by Steven James offers lots of food for thought for writing groups. We really only discussed one aspect of his piece—Key #2—“Focus on giving feedback rather than advice.” Here’s a bit of what James says:

When I was in high school we had a basketball coach who would grab the ball from us if we were shooting poorly. “No, no, no,” he would say, “Do it like this.” And then he would demonstrate how to shoot.

Later when I played in college, the coach would watch us closely and then give us input. “Your shot looks flat. Keep an eye on the ball’s arch. Also watch that elbow. Try following through more—see how that works.”

I learned a lot more from that second coach than the first one.

And then James goes on to apply the example to writing:

Sometimes in their exuberance to help others, critique group members grab the ball and in essence say, “No, no, no. Do it like this.” But that’s never as effective as giving feedback to the writer so he can fix his own shot.

This isn’t a black and white issue, as I learned during our discussion last night, where we discussed specific examples of what some of us considered “feedback” and others might consider “advice.” An important bottom line, for me at least, is to be as positive as possible in the critique process. Otherwise the writer’s spirit can be crushed, and she might be discouraged in her efforts to move forward with revisions on the piece, or even in writing something new.

One more comment from James: (my quote-maker just quit working, but this should be indented)

“Instead of regarding the meeting as a place where writers come to get advice, think of it as a place where they come to get feedback. Group members aren’t there to share their opinion of the writer’s work, but their reaction to it. This is a crucial difference.”

I’m pretty sure after last night’s discussion the most of the folks in our group don’t prefer this approach, and are very comfortable having the members give their opinions. We have several published authors, some folks with MFAs, and in general a group of very polished writers. After our discussion, a new essay of mine was the first piece to be critiqued, and I was happy to see that the discussion didn’t seem to cause anyone to hold back on giving some very helpful feedback, and I left the meeting encouraged, rather than discouraged. I’m ready to revise the essay—using many of their comments—and get to work on the next one. (It’s a group of essays I’m penning for a memoir of sorts.)  I didn’t try to figure out which comments might be considered “advice,” and which ones were “feedback,” but instead just listened and took notes and responded to their questions. I’m so blessed to have these gifted writers in my life, and to also call them friends.

Mental Health Monday: Muscle Relaxers, Facetime, and Air Conditioning

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It’s been two months since my mother’s death. Most of the paperwork is done now… I only need to close out our joint checking account. And although I had “lost” her years ago to Alzheimer’s, and there was much dysfunction in our relationship, I feel that I have been grieving her death in an unexpected way these past couple of months. Just feeling “down” more often than usual.

It’s hard to sort out what is grief and what can be attributed to other factors, like:

Depression

Excessive heat and humidity

Loss of energy for exercising

Boredom with dieting/counting calories

Weight gain

And… for the past two days, severe muscle spasms in my back. The kind that send breath-taking pain through your back when you change positions from sitting to standing. This afternoon I took a two and a half hour nap, and I never take naps.

So that’s it for Mental Health Monday. No inspiring words, just life going on with all of its ups, and for today, many downs.

But—wait! A few minutes ago our daughter called to Facetime with us and we saw our almost one-year-old granddaughter WALKING and laughing, along with her four-year-old sister. Definitely lifted my spirits. We’ll be visiting them in Denver in a few weeks… hopefully my back will be better by then. (I think I caused the spasms by lifting a heavy pot from Home Depot on Saturday, and also a large bag of bird seed, which I had placed inside the pot in my shopping basket.) So for now, I’m thankful for muscle relaxers, air conditioning, and Facetime.

Faith on Friday: Commencing… with Jesus

Since my mother died in May, I’ve been going through some paperwork and discovered a file folder I hadn’t looked at in many years. Mother had labeled the folder “Susan’s Letters, Ole Miss.” What a treasure… letters I wrote home from Ole Miss in 1969 and 1970, my freshman (and only) year there. Other miscellaneous items had found their way into the folder, like report cards from back in elementary and junior high school. I got a kick out of a comment on my choral music report card from Chastain Junior High in April of 1965: “This is the last ‘S’ on attention I will give–improve!!” Guess I was easily distracted… But I was pleasantly surprised to see my first semester grades from Ole Miss: “A”s in art, English and French, and “B”s in western civ, algebra and PE, for a 3.56 GPA! (I didn’t remember doing that well. I spent most of the year pledging a sorority and then planning my wedding!)

One item I don’t remember finding in this folder in the past was the commencement speech given by my husband at his graduation in June of 1970. It was only two short weeks before our wedding, and I remember being so proud of him as he stood and gave his response to Chancellor Fortune’s remarks. He was only 21 years old. As I read his words again today, forty six years later, I’m still proud of him. He will probably be embarrassed, but I’m going to share them here. Be sure and read the final paragraph to see why his speech is included in my “Faith on Friday” post.

 

Bill Cushman, Ole Miss, 1967The University of Mississippi 1970 Annual Commencement

 

RESPONSE to Chancellor Porter Lee Fortune, Jr.

CHARGE TO CLASS

By William Chandler Cushman, President, Senior Cass

 

Let me begin by saying that I identify with the establishment. But there are some basic inconsistencies within this system that have created the polarization that Chancellor Fortune mentioned a moment ago.

Many people predicted that my generation would live in a world of near utopia—a world with no fear of war or hunger. And yet, we find ourselves confronted with increasingly crucial problems.

Young men today are literally compelled to risk their lives in a war from which the majority of Americans feel we should withdraw. By and large these young adults are denied the right to express their views with a vote. Ironically this sounds like involuntary servitude, or, at least, conscriptive taxation without representation. Is it any wonder that thousands of young people feel compelled to create a disturbance in order that someone will listen?

Unfortunately, they continue to be frustrated, being written off as “mere children” who will someday “grow up.” This frustration has persisted for so long that many young people now believe that the only way to improve our society is to present an active opposition to the existing system. This activism manifests itself in the violence we have witnessed on many college campuses today.

I am strongly opposed to these violent expressions, but I cannot, and I hope you will not, categorically condemn a confused and disillusioned generation.

Some have said that student violence in this country began at the University of Mississippi in 1962. Whether this accusation is true or not, this University has matured a great deal since that time and has undergone many changes:  For the most part it has not been change merely for the sake of change, but rather for the sake of definite progress in a constructive, and not a destructive, manner.

Nevertheless, even our campus has not been free from the political polarization and other dilemmas that colleges throughout the United States are experiencing.

What I am saying, then, is that, as graduates, we will be confronting a multitude of problems. Perhaps we will solve them, and then again, we may not. But as Chancellor Fortune has challenged, we must be individuals and seek out our own answers.

The way that I have found to deal meaningfully with these problems is through what I feel to be the wisdom and love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ. This is my personal response, and it does not necessarily represent the convictions of my fellow graduates. But let me urge that each one of you honestly seek out your solution.

Writing on Wednesday: The Best Medicine

If laughter is the best medicine, then maybe cartoons about writers and writing is just what I need today. Taking a break from my more serious work this week, and getting ready to host another literary salon tomorrow night. Sometimes promoting another writer’s work and toasting her success is just what’s needed. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.”
And now… enjoy!

Many thanks especially to the talented Debbie Ridpath Ohi and the hilarious Cathy Thorne. And to one of the brilliant writers in my writing group, who shared this first one with me today! (I’m afraid it really does remind me of our writing group!!!)

book group robbers

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Mental Health Monday: Depression is Not a Lazy Susan

Still-Life-publishedI know, I know. I didn’t write a “Faith on Friday” post this past Friday. Funny… but I was busy with coffee with a writer friend and lunch with another friend… and yet by mid afternoon, I was depressed. Because depression knows no favorites and takes no captives. It just kills creative impulses.

So, today, I woke up thinking about what to write for Mental Health Monday. And here it is… 3 p.m. in the afternoon, and what have I done?

Two loads of laundry.

Some necessary paperwork.

Planned the menu for a literary salon I’m hosting this coming Thursday night.

Read more in an incredible book, Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression by Gillian Marchenko (watch for a review on this amazing book soon).

Watched the 1989 movie, “Dead Poets’ Society,” which is now one of my favorites.

Downed two vodka martinis.

Next up? Working out on the elliptical, supper prep, and ????

It’s hot as Hades here in Memphis today. Our house has been invaded by flies (we’ve killed dozens the past two days) and I’ve got 25-30 women coming here for a salon in three days. I’m going to buy some fly strips at Home Depot if they are still here tomorrow. Wouldn’t you be depressed?

But that’s not really the point. The point, as Marchenko so eloquently says in her book, is this:

Depression is not a lazy susan. Depression is a savage. It sucks my life down its gullet; I slide like a sip of bourbon. I’m worthless. A waste. I’m no longer a wife, a mother or even a Christian. I am depressed. Here. Now. People say you can choose happy. Okay, I choose it every day. But it doesn’t choose me.

Happy doesn’t choose me. That’s how I’ve felt much of my life. I’m only half way through this amazing book, so I”m not going to say more today.

Except that I wish I had written The Dead Poets’ Society. Brilliant.

That’s all.

 

 

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: Sculpting Myself into a Character

"Despair" Auguste Rodin

“Despair” Auguste Rodin

A few days ago I came across a piece in The Writer that was so good I read it twice. In “Essay is the New Black,” Keysha Whitaker shares nuggets she collected at a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2016 Writer’s Conference called  “Getting to the Heart of the Personal Essay.” The three panelists were Philip Lopate, author of many books of essays and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, a personal favorite of mine; author Pamela Paul, the New York Times Book Review Editor; and Ada Calhoun, an author and essayist with two “Modern Loves” and four “Lives” columns in the New York Times. (I have great respect for Calhoun, since I’ve had a half dozen submissions to the “Lives” column rejected over the years.)

Georges Kolbe 1947

Georges Kolbe 1947

Back in April I wrote a post about my renewed efforts at penning a personal essay. In “I’m Trying” I quoted from Lopate’s anthology and shared my journey with writing another essay, which I sent to a journal for potential publication. (Haven’t heard anything yet.) And now, three months later, I’m trying again—this time to begin what might become a collection of essays circling around my lifelong love/hate relationship with food and drink.

Two years earlier—in April of 2014—my post about markets for personal essays drew a reader comment that I believe is worth sharing here. Kathryn S. is responding to my words about writing (contemporary) essays while reading and learning from the (historic) essays in Lopate’s anthology:

The Lopate book is indeed a great anthology of essays. But the vast majority of the essays in there would not likely appear in any of the seven “major markets” mentioned here. Part of the difference, for me, has to do with what we consider an “essay.” The stuff in Modern Love or Lives tends, in my view, to be personal stories, not essays (the more ruminative and/or exploratory and/or digressive stuff in Lopate, most of which is probably not “quick” to write) — though of course there are exceptions in which the lines are blurred. They’re all good — I don’t mean to make a judgment, and I’m glad for the major markets list. But they do tend to serve different purposes and satisfy different reading desires.

Kathryn brings up a good point about what we consider an essay. And Whitaker ends her article in The Writer with a great quote from Ada Calhoun, who has had so much success writing for the “Lives” and “Modern Love” column in the Times:

“I think personal essays are a public service,” Calhoun said. “When personal essays are good and really honest, they make other people feel less alone.”

Flavia Robalo

Flavia Robalo

So there’s the rub—to make them “good” and “really honest.” I don’t have a problem with the honesty party, as I’ve been doing “confessional writing” for many years, not only in essays but also here on my blog. It’s the “good” part that most writers struggle with and strive for all of our lives. The essay I’ve just penned for consideration as the opening chapter of my new anthology on food—“Yeast Rolls, Fried Corn and Frozen Custard”—is extremely honest, as I bare not only my soul but a painful experience from my childhood in Mississippi. But after tweaking it a few times and trying to decide whether or not it’s complete at just over 2100 words. I might submit it to my writing group in a few weeks and see how they respond. I might ask the members of my group to keep Calhoun’s words in mind as they read the essay—will it help other people feel less alone?

I return again to Whitaker’s article as I consider this series of personal essays I’m beginning. Again she quotes Lopate from the panel:

“One of the tricks is that you have to sculpt yourself into a character. If you write one personal essay, you can’t tell your whole life in it. You have to take a good look at yourself and work with some elements of your character but not everything.”

I love that, because each of my thirteen published essays contains some elements of my character. Some reveal my relationship with religion; some reflect on the importance of art in my life; others delve deeply into the dark realms of abuse and addiction; and my most recent attempt shares my joy in adopting three children in the 1970s and 80s. Until I read Lopate’s words, I hadn’t thought about the big picture of my work penning essays. The artist in me loves the word picture he shares—I am, indeed, trying to sculpt myself into a character.

Mental Health Monday: Insomnia Redux

7834597_origAlmost nine years ago I wrote a post (for my old blog) about anxiety, insomnia, and related matters. I titled it “Once You Know Where True Is.” I re-read that post this morning, having been awake since 3:30 a.m. I can usually trace the source of my (infrequent) insomnia to anxiety, and I think that was the case again last night/this morning.

 

I spent some time on the internet researching possible causes. I worked out on the elliptical machine. I read. I watched Law & Order reruns. I watched the house turn from dark to light (a happening that I’m rarely awake for). And now I’m exhausted and a bit nauseated and it’s almost 8 a.m. and time for me to get started on my day. So instead of writing more for this post, I’ll just encourage you to click on the link for the post from 2007 if you want to read more. Please come back Wednesday… I’ll try to be awake!

Faith on Friday: (Our Nation is) Yearning for Mother-Love

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

I miss writing icons. Yesterday I found this link to a wonderful video that demonstrates the process of writing an icon, and I found myself enthralled as I watched. (The iconographers are Anton and Ekaterina Daineko, a married couple from Minsk, Belarus, who are teaching workshops in the U.S. this summer.) I even got a little teary-eyed. And while I feel strongly that I will never return to this liturgical art form, I will always be thankful for the time I spent learning, practicing and teaching it, because of the greater understanding and appreciation of iconography those years gave me. (If you missed my post about five years ago on why I retired from writing icons, it’s here.) 

And so this morning when I went to our icon corner to do my morning prayers, I smiled as I read about the saints who are commemorated in the Orthodox Church today. And especially about this event, which is also commemorated: “The Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.” In 1579 in Kazan, Russia, a terrible fire destroyed part of the city, but spared a nine-year-old girl named Matrona, although her house was burned. The Mother of God appeared to Matrona and directed her where to find a miracle-working icon, buried under a stove, covered in ashes, but wrapped in cloth for protection. The icon was taken to the Annunciation cathedral, where it became known for healing the blind and curing eye diseases. A church was built on the site where it was found, but sadly it was later destroyed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

I found this wonderful poem in the book, Mother of God, Similar to Fire (given to me by friends a few years ago), which contains beautiful icons paired with poems—a form of ekphrastic writing that I enjoy immensely. The icons are written by William Hart McNichols and the poetry is by Mirabai Starr. I don’t have permission to publish her poem in its entirely, so I’ll quote a part of it here:

KazanOur Lady of Kazan

You lived a fully, deeply human life,

And this humanity is what helps us feel connected to you.

This world is yearning for your Mother-Love.

Show our leaders how to guide us

With respect for our dignity and well-being.

Teach us to love one another

With boundless patience

And unbridled joy.

 

I found these words—and the beautiful icon (which I’ve only shared a detail of here) comforting to offer as a prayer as our nation mourns the loss of more lives to violence on our streets and in our homes.

Writing on Wednesday: Finding Language for Primitive Emotional Experiences

This past February I did a blog post in response to a wonderful book I was reading, Why We Write About Ourselves. The post was titled “Shaping the Chaos.” I quoted four of the twenty contributors to the collection. This morning I picked the book back up, hoping that one of the memoirists in the book had written to a particular issue that was on my mind. Bingo. I found A. M. Homes’ chapter. Homes writes fiction and nonfiction, and she understands the importance of drawing clear lines between the two genres. In her memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, she  pushes through the project painfully, sometimes wondering if she would keep going. Here’s what she says about that choice:

What propelled me to keep going was that I felt I could bring to the memoir my experience and training as a writer—finding language for primitive emotional experiences. One of the things that worked about the book was that it gave voice to people who hadn’t found language for their adoption experience. It allowed them to explore their own experience in a different way, and/or to have their feelings about it articulated and confirmed.

Ahn, Soo Jin, in S. Korea, waiting to be adopted

Jason (Ahn, Soo Jin,) in S. Korea, waiting to be adopted in 1983

That’s what our son, Jason, is doing with the incredible essays he pens and publishes on his blog, An Opinionated Man. Recently he put this essay, “A Book of Triggers,” on Facebook, and it brought me to tears. He’s a fearless hunter, like the heart. I love him so much and I’m so proud of him. This is only one of many such essays, but I’d like to share it today. If you’re writing memoir—or even thinking about writing memoir—take notice of this courageous and beautiful piece.

A Book of Triggers

Jason C. Cushman

If I were to imagine a book of life it would best be described as a book of triggers. For what is life other than a slowly revealed circle of need, want, and more need? My book of triggers has always been my journals that I have kept throughout my life. Triggering thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the moment laid to permanent rest by drifting pen. At rest, but never sleeping, they are active memories that swim before my eyes even still as I read my life from dried ink. Is there a point when life can finally be accepted and we see a trigger no more. No, I think not.

I have lived my life balanced on the knife’s edge of emotion. Being far too sensitive as a child, I carried much of that pain because of my inability to ignore pain. To ignore the barbs of life that found welcoming flesh every time within my body. Within my soul. Is there an MRI for the soul and what would the picture of mine look like? I imagine my soul is much like me. We would not appreciate the eye of such scrutiny or the nakedness of such honesty. We would instead turn in upon ourselves, as we have always done, seeking the shell that God never blessed us with.

I write my triggers because I recognize they exist. They are as real as the scars that mark my skin. Denial is a luxury I cannot afford anymore and maybe never could. After my first suicide attempt I realized that I very much hold the ability to deny. I could ignore the sun until it burned my face. Actually that is an apt analogy considering I still remember the burn of bile coming up my throat as my body fought desperately to live. I do not take credit for such actions. A white flag of acceptance hovered above my falling body during this point of my life. Falling for I had indeed fallen to the moment. There was never a clearer time in my life as my body fought to live through my stupidity and that is ironic still to this day. To me the sadness that fact brings is the largest trigger of all.

We cannot live our lives cringing from the sound of every trigger we step on. Instead that sound should become like music to our ears as the cacophony of reality impresses upon us the reality of our conquest. We are taught now to ignore triggers and to steer clear of even the subject. In our politically correct society we are forced to forewarn people that “trigger warning” the words written here might actually mean something to you. Might actually affect you in some way.

When I look over my shoulder I do not see a past presented by picturesque Monet created pathways. Instead I am assaulted by the rawness of Memphis city streets alive with the power of memory. A painting littered with forgotten words and stained with pain born tears. A painting of reality is what my past presents and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I wake up to a trigger each morning. A Korean face looks back at me in the mirror and no matter how many times I splash myself with cold water, still the same slanted eye, half smile appears. It must be me. It has to be me. And yet that introduces the second trigger of my story, the power of acceptance. To accept what does not feel right, to be forced to be who you don’t think you are. Who cannot relate to such a feeling for differing reasons? The world is a melting pot of such forced persuasions as we are each told who we are and what we were meant to be.

I think the saddest part about my first two triggers is that they were decided for me. They were part of a path connected by an action one cold morning in Busan, South Korea. A morning when a mother decided she no longer wished to be a mother and in doing so she placed around my neck a necklace that did not hold a locket of love. Instead it held a golden trigger upon which was written a name. A meaningless name which was never to be used. A name that I sometimes wish I was. Ahn Soo Jin.

It is amazing how much meaning a name can have and yet not have at the same time. I suppose much of that has to do with acceptance of what that name truly means. We are given words to mark us as singular in an overcrowded world that will rarely see you as an individual. Who does that name mean more to? To an adopted child a “given name” is simply another tab in our adoption file. Particularly if that child is Asian and adopted into the United States because most of us are forced to have our names changed. Our “given name” becomes an amusing item of memory that we sometimes fondle late at night as we look to the East.

My Korean name is more than just a trigger because my birth mother gave it to me. I am constantly reminded of the holes in my past when Koreans shake their heads and exclaim “that is a girl’s name!” So we can at least pinpoint where my love of alcohol came from. She had to be drunk to name this Adonis of a man a woman’s name. What was she thinking? Did the orphanage mix up my sister’s name with my own? Dominoes of life fall with a clatter as the inevitable line of questions rattles off in my head. I cannot stop them. I allow them all to fall and run their course. Stopping this line of thought simply bookmarks my pain for a later time of contemplation. I rip off quickly the band aid of life to get it over with.

I have long since placed my Korean past in the closet it belongs. It is only revisited when society tells me I should reflect on certain days with happiness… such as mother’s day. People often say that Christmas is the worst time of the year for them and that depression always seems to rear its head during that holiday. For me mother’s day is the most depressing of all holidays. My depression no longer “rears” his head when he hears of this joyous annual occurrence. Instead he grumbles and mumbles. Only the attentive can make out the words he repeats over and over. “Fuck mother’s day.”

I do have an appreciation for mothers and fathers and I have my adopted parents to thank for that. They were great role models, provided for me, and even more importantly were supportive during my adoptive search. They never once tried to hinder what must have seemed like an inevitable train wreck and neither did they belittle me with advice on a topic they had no experience with. That is something many adopted kids forget is that there is no guide for their new parents and mistakes will be made. The love and compassion though that it takes for someone to take a stranger, even a child, into their home is immeasurable.

As I have grown into my new role as a dad I have found moments of pause. Times where I wonder about the man I will never know, nor have any desire to meet. Whenever I walk into a doctor’s office and fill out the family history survey with a large N/A I sometimes catch my eyes rolling… as much as Asian eyes roll. I wonder how many times I will have to explain my own confusion and lack of answers to the world. When entering the military I had to be cleared for my Tops Secret clearance for the Air Force. I remember my mom telling me that the investigators were at their house and kept asking about my birth mom. One of the agents said “well we will need to speak to her. How can we be sure he is really South Korean?” My mother responded, “well when you find her tell her that her son says hello.”

Growing up the only Asian idol I had was Bruce Lee and unfortunately I really didn’t start liking him until college. I instantly connected with his struggle to prove to his own country his worth and how that drove him so hard through his movie career. I wonder if other displaced children have day dreams where they return in triumph to the homeland that rejected them. Maybe they return as the adopted child of the President or they become the next Korean boy band sensation. Instead we live in a reality that never fully accepts us and we in turn never fully accept it. Living life between two shadows of want is a sad way to live.

 

Jason with his own birth family, Christmas 2015

Jason with his own birth family, Christmas 2015

November 1985, just after adopting our third child, Elizabeth Ann

November 1985, just after adopting our third child, Elizabeth Ann

Leaving the Airport...

Leaving the Airport…

Our first meeting with Jason, at the airport in Memphis in January, 1984

Our first meeting with Jason, at the airport in Memphis in January, 1984. Our joy contrasted with his grief at being left by his birth mother and sent away from his country.

© Copyright SusanCushman.com