DAY 17: Who Dares Fathom Such Grief?

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Daniel Drennan ElAwar

We remain the repulsed, splinters, expelled from the body; the corpus surrounds us, englobes us, drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again, only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations.

Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here.

No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place, none of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt.

Things have changed as they are wont, though it took much of a lifetime: After a decade of search, a DNA test, and reunion with extended family, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds; and an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he trusts with such information, my cousin Jamal’s father.

And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.

Of the two scenarios I had whittled things down to, I perversely preferred the one involving kidnapping; such an act absolves kin of any crime, of any complicity, and reunion might thereafter be imagined to be a joyful occasion.

Quite the other scenario has borne out. There was a woman in trouble, and a paternal denial; there was a choice, and a determination, and there was a familial verdict: Her life, or mine. One reasoned voice prevailed and saved both our lives, forbidding the doubling of sin; then followed a forced sequestering, and a calculated banishment.

Despite unmatched balances of familial power, my grandfather sought a reprieve, requested a stay, asked for a paternal registration so that I might be raised by maternal family—this was refused: Not once, but twice.

My mother fought to keep me an extra month to nurse me; to prepare me for the journey literally out of her hands. She resisted other pressures, never marrying, and never bearing other children. She sought refuge in her faith, the family being mushayakh [1]; this is a comfort to me.

The question now remains: Who dares fathom such grief? Who will atone for such suffering? Jamal recounted the narrative, and before I could even formulate the question, he informed me that my parents had passed away some time ago; an infinite pause followed, and a chasm opened its maw before me.

Her name, in Arabic, means “happiness”. What I would give now to have seen her eyes gladdened by my return; her name thus restored as well.

To those who propose the “win-win” of adoption, I ask you now: Do you feel no duty, no compulsion, to take on this, the grief of a mother for the child she hardly knew? Now compounded by that of her son, grieving the one he never met?

I visited her grave two days before I left Beirut, and there, at that time, I placed this crime on your shoulders, just as I placed candles at her resting place. Will you, at long last, include us in your horrid calculus of valid humanity?

Do you imagine, after all this, I will continue to suffer gladly your sidewise glances, your sneers, your judgments, your backstabbings, your underminings, your euthanizing musings? Above the crypt door was placed a mirror engraved with the words of the Prophet: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”: a succinct condemnation of your arrogance and disdain.

Her story, of patience in the face of incalculable adversity, is one shared by millions of others, her narrative of standing up to you is a comfort you cannot deliver and an agony you cannot assuage with your despicable adoption, its baleful marketing, its woeful mythologies.

To note: I have nothing if not my mother’s resistance, and I say to you now: You have failed miserably, on a global scale and on a universal level, and the displaced, and the dispossessed, and the disinherited now hold you to account. You are the inculcators of an intolerable misogyny; the doctrinaires of wretched misery, all in the name of “family”. What is your answer? How do you plead?

Upon return to source we are obliged the word “repatriation”, as for bones, for relics, for bodies returned from war. I rather prefer the Indigenous term: rematriation. [2] For evidence I present umm and umma, the Arabic words for “mother” and “supranational community” both sharing a similar root.

From these selfsame Moorish roots arose Spain as well as its outcroppings, Argentina and Guatemala among others; lands where the matriarchs and the grandmothers and the matrons endlessly seek what was taken from them.

Their sisters perform the backbreaking work that aims to rectify, annul, and renegotiate the writs of ownership that deny the ability to re-establish Motherhood; they demand accounting for their “disappeared” children; they march and protest for their sons and daughters gone missing; they requisition the return of progeny adopted out of their hands; they fundraise to keep children with their mothers; they are the daughters of those mothers in the foundling hospitals of a century past who sewed scraps of clothing to their children’s swaddling in the hopes of eventual reunion.

Village rumor reports that my mother was sickly her whole life, supporting the pain of separation as best as was possible in those days; and yet, she resisted banishment, and much worse.

I thus rematriate for her, and for those like her, the women of “al-bilad ash-sham” [3] who claim me as theirs. The mothers who forego adherence to patrilineal duty, reaching out to protect me; the village women chastening powerful sheikhs demanding I desist in my search; the neighborhood women ignoring the potent proscriptions concerning veils and non-family members, like the hajjeh upstairs from me in Beirut reducing me to tears in our stairwell with the words: “Daniel, enta ibni.” [4] Rematriation is popular, not political; a spiritual bond, not a legal contract.

Goodbye, Lebanon. May you treat more kindly those who follow. And may they find something other than the harsh rebuke suffered by those who have the great misfortune of finding themselves within your bogus borders.

May you be haunted eternally by all of those you have disappeared, in ways as diabolical as iniquitous; those who have gone missing to preserve your fascistic notions of reputation; of purity; of patriarchy.

I survived your immune response for twelve years, and what I know now, what I have learned about myself, in terms of my sense of place and family and belonging, will undoubtedly inoculate me for however long a future that might remainder me in this realm.

You can no longer sap my soul, nor will I allow you to foment my nightmares; you are bereft of power over me, you are exorcised and extirpated in turn. And my name henceforth shall be: Daniel Ibn Bahija[5], grandson of Hussein and Latifa—may God rest their souls.

You cannot deprive me of my right to origins. And there is one final statement to make before I close this chapter of my life: know that I will return. My place is secured; the mountain winds are at my back; my journey is as on the plain [6]; my people have been informed of your doleful crime.

And now I state I have survived you twice; returning stronger each time; and it is my great pleasure knowing that my expulsion will be forever marked by a scar, and I am honing my skill at further flaying your woundings.

For I have learned the meaning of patience, and steadfastness in the face of adversity; and my very being, let it be known, is noble testament to my mother’s fortitude.

Two days before I was to leave Jamal and his father drove me up to the communal crypt where my mother was laid to rest; they pointed out my father’s lands, as we discussed the rejected attempt to contact my five half-siblings, fearful of a trespasser usurping their inheritances.

I came armed with a poem courtesy of my friend Zeina; it recounted the words of a mother of one of the disappeared during the Civil War; the mother, realizing she will not outlive her son’s absence, states: “Should my son come back, let him knock on my grave three times; in this way maybe, I will find peace.”

At the door to my mother’s crypt I completed my journey, I came full circle; I keened, my tear-streaked visage mirrored in the reflection of the Prophet’s reminder. The steep valleys and enormous pines stoically reverberated an arrested time come to an accomplished halt; with the little energy left me I knocked three times on the crypt door;

I informed my mother I was back and I begged her forgiveness for my tardiness; I pleaded she overlook our paths that had not managed to overlap, I beseeched her to realize, as my friend Omar assured me, that the answer to her lifetime of dowaa [7] had, at long last, come to pass: I had returned. And I made her a promise, and I declared it out loud: “My story is your story; and my existence is your resistance.”

Notes:
[1] Druze religious family.
[2] Term coined by Steven Newcomb, Executive Director, Indigenous Law Institute.
[3] Damascus Country, the pre-colonial name of Levantine Southwest Asia.
[4] “Daniel, you are my son.”
[5] “Daniel, son of Bahija”.
[6] An expansion of the common greeting, “Ahla wa sahla”, literally “[Your] people and plain”.
[7] Prayers/supplications.

daniel-d-e
Daniel Drennan ElAwar was adopted via Lebanon to the United States at the age of two months. In 2004 he returned sight unseen, and taught graphic design and illustration at various Beirut universities. He continues to work as a special advisor to the Beirut-based children’s rights organization Badael/Alternatives on issues of adoption and adoptee return. He is co-founder of the web site Transracial Eyes (http://www.transracialeyes.com/). From January to June, 2016, he was a research fellow at the Asfari Institute of Civil Society and Citizenship in Beirut, focusing on citizenship as a function of displacement, dispossession, and disinheritance. As of June 2016, he is in reunion with his family in Lebanon. He currently is an assistant professor of Illustration at Emily Carr University, Vancouver, Canada.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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