One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Eighteen

Trying to “fit in” might provide an illusion of escaping isolation from others but it will indubitably isolate us from ourselves.

― Matthew E. Gorman

My Journey from Adoption to Identity is approaching a milestone. I began this journey with no particular end point in mind. My only objective was to travel in time throughout my life in hopes of reconciling the place from where I came with where I have been, where I am and where I am going from this moment forward. One’s Origins was a journey back through my life moving forward in time while looking backward like driving a car with the windshield and rearview mirror switched. While conventional wisdom might argue that this holds no value, I emphatically disagree. This opportunity to reexamine the motivations for decisions I made and lessons I failed to learn throughout life the first time has helped relieve me of so much emotional turmoil. I may have had no particular end point at the onset of One’s Origins, but the healing of unsurfaced wounds has been the greatest gift I could have given myself. The journey is by no means complete and with God’s grace it will never end. However, it will never again be the same because the lens with which I see my relationship with the world and others has changed.

The more I learned and shared, I would often receive feedback that there was much resonance among others as they could identify some of their own inner conflicts with my depiction of my own. It is in learning of such drawn connections with the reader that has had such a divine impact on the way I view the value of all with which I have struggled. I am not alone. No one is alone. Many of us feel alone, but we never are alone in often hard to grasp cosmic ways. At our core, we, as a species, are bound by experiences of both pain and joy. In Part Nineteen I will share with you the joy that emerges from confronting pain.

What follows will, at times, read like a manifesto of grudges, in other words, it might appear that I am complaining or venting, or worse yet, whining. Perceiving this as such is understandable. In the introduction of the book version of One’s Origins, I share the need to draw our demons out into the light of day if we hope to conquer them. In part Eighteen, I summon my demons to introduce them to their maker and their demise. My demons are Fear, Remorse and Anguish. As you read what follows, I invite you to think about what still haunts you today. Once I acknowledged my burden it immediately and noticeably diminished. If there is a whiff of complaining as you read the below, it is in pursuit of enhancing my endearment to you. I promise it will be faint and quickly passing.

Fear

Nothing more and nothing less than fear has kept me from pursing my dreams. Nothing ever stood in my way, EVER except my own damn fears! I feared more than death itself both rejection and ridicule. As a child with behavioral challenges attributed to deficits in my ability to pay attention[1], I was very often on the receiving end of rejection and ridicule. Like the child bitten by a dog who never outgrows a fear of dogs, I never outgrew my fear of rejection and ridicule. Because of this I was often left on the outside looking in. I concede that I might recall this happening more than it truly did, but it did often enough to have a lasting impact on me. This culminated in my rebellious lifestyle years later and the mistakes that ensued.

The same fear followed me throughout my career. My fear of rejection and ridicule triumphed over self-confidence, so I adapted to my environment by doing what and being who was expected by others. Being nonconformant years earlier had not turned out so well, so I figured conforming was my only option. Paradoxically, conforming, or “fitting in” did little more than isolate me from myself. I did so out of fear of being shunned again. ‘Fake it until you make it’ often is a fruitful strategy if your heart is into what you are trying to accomplish. Otherwise, you can easily appear disingenuous and untrustworthy. This would ultimately lead to perhaps not complete rejection but certainly being shunned. Ultimately, I was rejecting myself.

Lastly, I have feared loss. To avoid loss, I would avoid deep connections. This fear frightens me so much that I have not even been willing to have a pet of my own, let alone emotional dependency on another human being even though both would immeasurably benefit me. The death of every pet in my home as a child as well as anyone I have loved was always unbearable for me. It is said it is better to have loved and lost than never to love at all. What about having loved and lost and lost and lost and…? I will address this in further detail in Part Nineteen.

Remorse

Throughout One’s Origins I hope I have done an adequate job in communicating my awareness that I have been inordinately blessed and that I am a very fortunate human being. In union with my gratitude there also lies remorse. My fear of not fitting in diminished my sense of self-worth and all the shame and blame from my youth would be adopted by me as deserved and justified. I know no ill will was ever intended by anyone. When I was young their intent was almost always of a corrective nature even if intimidating. Resultingly, shaming and blaming myself was how I was conditioned. I was quick to be harshly self-critical of every mistake I made. More regrettably, to a lesser extent I became critical of others for their flaws and mistakes. I was a product of judgement because of my differences and as a result I became a very judgmental person.

It is in the pain of the aftermath of this that has impacted me the most. I would go on for over three decades believing my worth as a human being was below that of anyone else. Because of this, I invested a lot of time and energy trying to be someone I felt was more worthy of admiration than myself. I was constantly trying to be someone other than who I was, hoping to avoid being judged by others for being flawed. The result was that I was always judging myself and often quite harshly.

I was often told that I just needed to forgive myself. However, I did not believe I owed myself an apology. I knew I was harsh on myself, but I believed deeply that I deserved it. I absorbed enough shame and blame all throughout my youth because of my behavioral challenges that I adapted to the belief that it was all justified and there was nothing for me to regret. That is why the idea that there was actually anything for which I needed to forgive myself never occurred to me.

I wish to reemphasize something I mentioned in Part One. In the very first paragraph of One’s Origins I wrote these words. “…and that home is the place to where my memory carries me to this day when I desire peace and warmth.” My childhood home was my sanctuary. The harshness I internalized my whole life came from outside the home.

Anguish

Following remorse is Anguish. I have been anguished for allowing myself to fall into the pit of despair over all decisions in my life that I had perceived as unforgiveable mistakes. Hell, I even held anguish for the perceptions that my mistakes were unforgiveable. The result has been a catastrophic self-perpetuating cycle of disharmony. Everyone makes mistakes and many of us spend far more time than is warranted stewing over them.

I have been anguished not that I sunk three quarters of my annual salary at the time into a highly ranked two-year MBA program or that I invested nearly as much money and nine years into a highly specialized technical undergraduate degree. I have had amazing experiences and developed life-long friendships. My anguish comes from my motivations for doing so. I did not do these things to further my career per se, I did it to further my image in my own eyes. I can pretend I wanted respect and admiration from others but in truth what I wanted, no, what I needed were those things from myself. My ego needed me to. I enslaved myself to my ego. I am now also aware that I wanted to honor my dad’s wish for a better life for me. These are the reasons I chose to stay on the career path I was on for so long.

I remain anguished for feeling ashamed of myself, not because of my mistakes with substance abuse many years earlier, but rather because I refused myself the forgiveness I so much both deserved and needed. The way out of this hell has been right in front of me with the door as wide open as every other door I have ever walked through to get me to where I am today.

Finally, I am anguished that until now, my only outlet for this has been anger. What pains me the most is never learning how to see the good in myself that others did. Somewhere along the way I lost my ability to reciprocate any, let alone all, the love I was ever given. I was the only one standing in my own way. Of all that still haunts me today, this one continues to drive me to tears.

I had become co-dependent on the trifecta of Fear, Remorse and Anguish. Those three emotions wrapped up in one, personified the person I would see in every mirror for most of my adult life. I saw a person in whom I never had any confidence. Is it any wonder why others lacked confidence in me as well? It has been only in emotional outbursts that my pain would find its escape.

These are my demons. Now that they are out in the light of day, I have the upper hand in confronting them. In Part Nineteen I will share my plans for doing just that. I look forward to seeing you there!

[1] As a matter of personal conviction, I decline to use any description of a human quality the includes the word “disorder”. In my rather unwavering view on this, negatively labeling any quality of mental, neuro, or emotional differences as a ‘disorder’ causes a significant part of the challenges those possessing these qualities throughout their whole lives. Diagnosed is better than undiagnosed all day every day but we mustn’t compound their struggle with negative labels. During the course of writing One’s Origins, I came to learn of a growing hypothesis in the field of child psychology that what is referred to today as ADD might be a manifestation of depression from very early life traumatic event.

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One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Seventeen

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

“How Can I Keep from Singing”
Songwriters:
Camilla Kerslake; Michael Damien Hedges; Robert Lowry; Sally Herbert
Recorded by Enya

In Part Sixteen, One’s Origins began charting its course homeward to the present moment. I closed Part Sixteen reintroducing the meeting of my two half-brothers. I also alluded to meeting a cadre of family members. This is what Part Seventeen is all about. I would, for the first time ever, see the road for which I have long wandered this earth searching; the road to more complete belonging.

Shortly after meeting Scott in April of 2019 (Part Three) there were rumblings of a large family reunion being planned for the summer. This reunion was going to serve two extraordinary purposes, one sorrowful and one joyful.

A weekend in the middle of July was selected and the location was to be near Donner Lake in Truckee, CA, about 15 miles northwest of the north rim of Lake Tahoe. Six of us would be arriving from Utah, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The remainder would be coming from within California. All things on balance, this location was most centrally located. What a divine coincidence it was that this northeastern region of California, where I had visited only once before on a bicycle tour twenty years earlier, was of very somber significance of which I shall soon share.

My father, Lawrence was the middle child of three boys. His older brother is deceased and the younger one, Uncle Bruce, is alive and well. Between my two uncles there are 10 children who are all first cousins to Dan, Scott and me[1]. With the only exception of Dan, Scott and myself, everyone else had grown up with each other or at least knowing of each other. Most had not seen each other for quite some time, and a few had not seen others in thirty years.

Dan, his family and I were meeting everyone for the first time, and all the same, there was a mysterious sense of familiarity. We all felt familiar with one another from the moment we all laid eyes on each other. This should not surprise us since the origin of the English word familiar means “belonging to family”.

This was apparent from the very beginning of my visit. My cousin Donna, along with Dan, traveled nearly two hours from Truckee to meet me at Sacramento airport. I don’t believe we were more than five miles on our way back before Donna began to open up with me about some of the details of her life. I strongly doubt I would have had her courage to be so forthcoming so soon. That she did, however, immediately relieved me of all my apprehensions to be fully and swiftly reciprocal. Her openness softly disarmed me, and I found this quite freeing.

Donna; Matt; Nina; Uncle Bruce; Dan; Mary; Ann; cousin Bruce (missing: Donny)

Once we arrived back at the house, I began to meet many others with whom I share my paternal linage. Most were already there when I arrived, and a few would be arriving later. With each relative I met, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how much I had missed them while never hitherto knowing they existed. I felt this way when I met Dan and Scott and I felt this way there and then as well. I fail to find words to describe the sensation of missing someone you never met before. There was no denying that our pre-life cellular bond had never been quiescent/dormant. As much as this was a true reunion for my uncle and cousins and for the others (myself included) it was ostensibly just a union, this was indeed a reunion for all in a near cosmic sense. Dan was accompanied by his wife, Jenny, along with their five children and five grandchildren. My cousin Nina was accompanied by her husband and son. In total, we would have 21 beautiful souls gathering to reunite. To accommodate us all, two full-size rental houses five minutes apart were secured.

Matt; Bruce; Donna; Dan at Fallen Leaf Lake

In Part Two, I shared that the first meeting of Dan and I took place at the sight where our father Lawrence is buried at Santa Rosa Memorial Park in Santa Rosa, CA. On the Saturday of our reunion weekend, July 13th, Dan and I along with Uncle Bruce, my cousin Donna and her companion Larry, set out for a midday road trip to Fallen Leaf Lake, about two miles south of the southern rim of Lake Tahoe. As our reunion was north of Lake Tahoe, this would be about an hour’s drive each way. Particularly for Dan, Uncle Bruce and I, this visit to Fallen Leaf Lake had a very special meaning. On July 23, 1969, at approximately 4:00 PM local time Lawrence Stone, father to Dan, Scott and me, had drowned in this lake three weeks after his 24th birthday. Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, Scott was unable to attend the reunion. Almost to the day, 50 years after his death Dan, Uncle Bruce and I stood on one of the docks near the café and gift shop looking out over the lake. It is often such a cliché to say, ‘Miss you and wish you were here.’  On that day and at that place, Scott’s unfortunate absence was mightily felt.

It gives me chills to recount that the only time I had ever been in this area before was 20 years earlier on a road cycling vacation that traversed the Sierra Nevada region. I had spent a week riding my bicycle over these same mountains and around these very lakes oblivious to the fact that my father had drowned nearby 30 years earlier.

Throughout the weekend the music played, and everyone enjoyed.

I’d like to now turn to happier times. Let’s return to the reunion. Our lodging was split between two homes since we had a near-sellout crowd in attendance. One of our two rented homes served as our main reunion headquarters where all our congregating took place. This multi-level cabin was nestled deep within the lush green arbor salad of tall Jeffrey and Lodgepole Pine along with a bit of White Fir. Off the backside of cabin there was a large deck strong enough to support us all at once. From anywhere on the deck one could not escape the breathtaking views of the sun slicing its way through the tall trees. The visual wonders that poured through the cornea would soon be matched only by the auditory pleasures that flooded the ear canals for the duration of the weekend. The weather was picture perfect for the entire weekend. Nights were chilly making for pleasant sleeping and days were warm with clear skies.

Nina and Larry harmonizing beautifully.

On the first full day of our reunion, my cousin Nina, who is a professional karaoke artist, began to unpack her equipment on the deck. This was followed by Larry who has been playing the guitar since before I was born. He and Donna traveled nine hours each way from just outside Salt Lake City to be with us and Larry had his guitar and acoustic amp in tow. For the next two days, the auditory delight I would hear from the voices that would sing would echo throughout the valley and envelop me.

Three of Dan’s children (my nieces and nephew) Sara; Thomas; Kathryn.

Nina and Larry’s singing voice both could hold their own on any stage and commercial radio anywhere. One by one, all my cousins along with Dan’s family alike would take turns singing songs – and all possessed amazing singing voices. Two of Dan’s grandchildren, one six and one five, collaborated on a duet of “Tequila” by The Champs. They nailed it! I confess that I found the coincidence unsettling that each time I took a turn at the microphone, the vast majority of them would head indoors for a change of scenery. My singing voice, apparently, was enough to make one’s eyes tire from the ever-perfect views of nature outside that surrounded us.

At one point, Dan and I took a short drive to a general store a little further down the mountain.  As we walked from the car to the store and back, we could look up at the mountainside towards the cabin and hear the trees singing with the voices of those I had long loved but with whom I only recently became reacquainted.

Not bad at all for a makeshift bedroom for the week.

Shortly after returning home from Lake Tahoe, plans were being made for Thanksgiving to be held at Nina’s house less than twenty miles south of Sacramento, CA. Most of us who attended the Lake Tahoe reunion also attended Thanksgiving and many stayed for several days. My cousin Matthew who I met in the very beginning and introduced in Part Four joined us along with another cousin Donny and Nina’s daughter. These three were unable to join us in Lake Tahoe. I myself arrived Monday and returned home Friday to avoid the two busiest travel days connected to the Thanksgiving holiday. There was singing, of course, just as there had been at the Lake Tahoe reunion. If in the coddling arms of mother nature is the first place I’d want to be listening to the voices of angels, a music studio is the second place. Nina, our karaoke maestro and lead vocalist, houses her wares inside a detached garage converted into a no holds barred music studio. Due to yet again an overflow situation for sleeping accommodations, I along with one of my cousins slept on air mattresses in the studio. Imagine a five-year boy, with a fascination for Batman that only a five-year-old boy could have, being told that he had to sleep in the Batcave for a few nights. That was me.

A Thanksgiving week full of song and dance.
So much for which to be thankful.

The week was filled with music and song just like in Lake Tahoe. I am sad to report that the verdict was that I hadn’t improved much since Lake Tahoe. I know it has everything to do with confidence. Music and song, as well as other artistic outlets for emotional expression, is so tightly woven into the fabric of my paternal genealogy that all I received from each and every one of them was the sincerest of encouragement.

One afternoon, Dan and I took a ride to his house about three hours north on Nina’s home where I would spend one night. Along the way, we stopped to visit the man who raised him; the man he grew up referring to as Dad. Their relationship is as beautiful as any relationship between a grown man and his dad can ever hope to be. It’s the very beauty my eyes continue to see in the relationship with my dad with every passing year. Meeting Dan’s dad was a most pleasant surprise. Surrealism has no bounds.

I conclude Part Seventeen with this astonishing realization. Less than one year has passed since our Lake Tahoe reunion weekend and all people on earth are living in the throes of emotionally turbulent times as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the world. If our learning of each other occurred just one single year later, or if the current global pandemic occurred just one year sooner, we would only have progressed as far as learning about each other and that’s it. There would quite likely be no meeting Dan and there would certainly not be any meeting of Scott. This weekend would not have occurred, nor would Thanksgiving be what it was. If nothing had happened beyond learning of one another had occurred, One’s Origins would never have been born and this life-giving journey, where I have found so much healing, would not have had this opportunity to begin.

In Part Eighteen I will begin to bring One’s Origins home where it belongs. The journey will continue on for as long as I live, and hopefully long beyond.

[1] Our aunts, uncles, and cousins are all connected to us fully by only one of our parents, unlike full siblings which must share both parents. A sharing of only one parent is a half-sibling. However, as long as my father and my cousin’s father are full siblings, then my cousins are full cousins. If my father and their father were half-siblings, then we would be half cousins. More interestingly, my cousins have a younger half-brother who all share the same father – my father’s brother. So, for me, as well as Dan and Scott, they are all full cousins to me but the youngest among them is a half-sibling to the others.

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One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Sixteen

“All that is true and real is always simple and natural, and life-supporting.”
― Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Upon returning from Rwanda (Part Fifteen) I found myself forever changed, except, that is, in my employment situation. I remained void of any career rejuvenating prospects, in part, I cannot deny, due to my underwhelming level of motivation. Rwanda was truly impacting my paradigms and my prioritizations. I was conspicuously being relieved of my ever-artificial lust for outsized material wealth. Rwanda revealed to me that a life in pursuit of material wealth for its own sake alone truly held no meaning or redeeming value for me. My definition of success did not have to be as myopic or grandiose as I had come to believe it had to be.

I was rapidly approaching middle age and could only go as far as to believe that I would find peace on the same career path if I only slowed things down a little. In contrast to my ill-conceived ambitions of a few years earlier, I had to come to terms with the fact that a high-profile business executive was not the person I am deep down inside. Given the paths I was invited to walk along and all the investments I made in time, money and energy, this was sure a bitter pill to swallow. I had skills of how technology and business works (apart and together) and that was all I needed to know to make a very respectable living for myself. I had amassed a far greater understanding and respect for the world at large and all people in it. Every human is a living and breathing story, and I LOVE a good story!

What I yearned for was not prestige or outsized earnings. I yearned only for more learning. I had the moxie to do whatever I wanted and go wherever I wanted, so why the hell didn’t I just do it? Courage. I lacked faith and courage. I knew I had wings, but I did not trust them. I did not begin to trust my wings until after I met my biological family. I do not know how or why that became the missing ingredient, but it has irrefutably been every bit that. Well, maybe it does make sense the more I think about it.

I became a little more involved with Patrick’s film production company which had only been established within the prior couple of years. He and I worked out an arrangement whereby I would provide management consulting support and I could learn about the creative side of film production. Hmmm…. something new that I now find challenging and interesting.

My earnings from this? Each time I brought in new business I would receive a percentage of the revenue. Nothing more. I had never held much desire to be in sales which is a prescription for starvation as an independent consultant. My gregarious side (a must-have for sales) only comes out after I assess the environment and determine I am safe to let myself out of my shell to play. Too often in the past when I attempted to sell, by the time I could develop the courage to be more assertive, the opportunity would cool off a little. A more confident individual would have progressed anyway. We never defined my role in terms of sales but considering my comp package, I was every bit the sales guy.

Such was my life at the moment. Earning a paltry fraction of the earnings with which I had, over the years, grown comfortably accustomed. I was in the midst of parting (sadly but also peacefully) from a relationship that culminated in co-habitation and a subsequent move to Baltimore. After a less than a year after moving, I would make my way back to Pennsylvania with my belongings and a prayer that someone with cash in the bank, but no income of any real measure, could find a comfortable apartment. My prayer was answered. I found a place just shy of a thousand square feet nestled in an area about an hour west of Philadelphia that would quickly become to feel like home for me.

Over the next two and a half years, I would work an odd consulting gig here and there. That along with the few bucks I might have made with Patrick was still less than I earned during my first year after completing my engineering undergraduate degree. Patrick and I began to ideate a platform for executive video portraits that provided professionals a short video sharable on websites or social media to help market themselves in their careers. We provided structure and post-production along with coaching for being on video. We had do-overs and outtakes and all involved had fun with it. I thought were we really onto something. This was in 2012-2013; either the wrong time or the wrong place. Today, video has become ubiquitous and I have since been told that if we were located nearer to Silicon Valley rather than the east coast, the odds of it becoming something would have been more substantial.

In the Fall of 2014, I received a call from a former colleague with whom I had worked prior to the trip to Rwanda. I was pleased to hear from him. The work to which I was introduced through him then was mentally riveting and the people with whom I found myself working were intellectually invigorating. Nearly all had Ph.Ds.  I, with a degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA, was often the least educated person in the room. And I loved it! My acquisition of new knowledge had nowhere to go but up. To this day, my work with him between 2008 and 2010 remains among my top three favorite professional commitments with which I have ever engaged throughout my entire career.

He had recently cultivated a relationship with someone holding a significant position in R&D at a large agricultural company who was eager for assistance with simulation and statistical modeling to improve decision making in plant breeding. Basically, given what was known from data and experience, how can it be algorithmically determined where and when to plant and which varietals would be selected for advancement and which would not? Enough of all that shop talk. The client had requested a dedicated manager for the growing list of projects being offered. The salary was commensurate to where I had left off the last time I was fully salaried and I was intrigued by the prospect of learning a new industry. Moreover, the client had a global presence. While I did not know this at the time, throughout the next four I would travel to several countries on three continents and meet many more amazing people.

But wait! Is this not just one more episode of a door being opened for me where I walk through without any meaningful evaluation? Fair question. I was truly pleased, and in some ways relieved, to have this opportunity present itself to me. But notably distinctive here is that this felt more like when I was invited to join the technology team at the engineering firm where my professional career was launched. I was filled with wonder and excitement about learning something new.

I accepted his offer and for the next four years I would manage client relationships and a variety of projects. In much contrast to the pretense and game playing I came to equate with the contact sport of office politics, I was around highly educated people who, by and large, were not duplicitous in any way. It was rather refreshing to work with highly educated and dedicated professionals whose office attire kept them prepared to visit the crop fields on a moment’s notice without a wardrobe change. I appreciated this noteworthy contrast in the degree of pretense I observed during the earlier elevations of my career. In its own way, the authenticity in people I observed now had far more in common with my experiences in Rwanda than when I was waist-deep in high-pressure corporate environments. There was a bonus. Up to this point, nearly all my travel for work had primarily been within the United States and Canada. This new client was headquartered outside the U.S. and had a global presence. My time here sent me to several countries on three continents where I would meet many more amazing people.

Four years into this job there was a shakeup at the one client for whom I was exclusively hired. My days were now numbered. Within the same fortnight, I would be given two months’ notice of termination, I would make plans to visit a friend in Sonoma County, and I would open a very special email. Upon reading this very special email, I would make a few phone calls and before I knew what was happening, I was on my way to California as planned. But this trip would have one additional special purpose; to meet a gentleman I had hitherto never known or knew existed with whom I share paternal ancestry.

This brings us back to Part One where this whole journey began. So now where do I go from here? Within the next few months, haven already met two half-brothers, I would be finding myself planning to meet nearly two dozen more beautiful souls who are descended from my paternal grandmother.

I am filled with so much excitement and joy to share my experience of this reunion with you. What will I learn? What will I accept? What will I deny? What will I carry forward and what will I leave behind? I am really looking forward to writing and sharing Part Seventeen. I believe it will be as fun as it is evocative.

I hope to see you in Part Seventeen.

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One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Fifteen

“The path to light and redemption often appears barren and desolate.
It is when we struggle most to see the light, we need the help of complete darkness.”
― Matthew E. Gorman

In Part Fourteen, I was beginning to draw conclusions about the world in which I now lived. What I had not realized then is that as I ascended in roles and responsibilities, I was becoming more entrenched in the operating principles of every man and woman for themselves. Long gone were the days when one could safely assume colleagues had your back. Gone were the days of trust as I had come to know it. In this new world, my value as a human being it seemed to me, became more tied to the successes I had hitherto enjoyed. In hindsight, this is certainly not surprising. I developed the belief that worth equals achievement. Without the latter, the former could not exist.

One year after completing my MBA, I resigned (not without being requested to do so) from my employer of eleven years without another job waiting for me. Despite the respectful relationship that existed between my boss and me, neither of us could deny my withering zest. I had been bombarded with stories about people who left consulting employment to start their own independent consulting businesses and find themselves on stronger financial footing. The year I resigned was the same year that the recession of 2008 and 2009 was beginning to bloom. I don’t believe I could have chosen a worse time to take such a risk.

I was feeling pains of withdrawal from the intellectual stimulation I immensely enjoyed from the academic environment. I could feel my intellectual muscles begin to atrophy and I was growing melancholic. I was now pretty certain that fulfillment in life for me was not down this path. I began having conversations with other academics about returning to school for a Ph.D. I had not yet understood was that my career did not have to be where I found fulfillment. My career did not have to be my identity. Since pursuing a Ph.D. would unavoidably and significantly impact my career and earnings, the threat to my identity was too much to bear.

In the fall of October 2011, an opportunity presented itself to me that would invite to me re-examine so many ill-developed conceptions of who the person I had begun to believe I was meant to be. My friend Patrick, a film producer and owner of ProCine Sound and Picture, was retained to create a faith-based documentary on the 10th anniversary of the Vatican approving Kibeho, Rwanda as an approved Marian Apparition site[1]. (Rwanda is predominantly Roman Catholic.) Such a production requires several pieces of equipment, most of which were rather expensive.

Yours truly capturing sound at service in Kibeho Rwanda.

He needed someone to aid with sound capture and management while he focused on image and motion capture. The fundamentals were easy enough to grasp. A brief crash course on the equipment and I was ready to go. I won’t provide a play by play of all that unfolded during our trip. However, I will share a few experiences that were rather jarring to the paradigms onto which I had recently been clinging. At the end of this blog, I provide a link to a six-minute video which is the short version of the final product.

The first evening of actual filming was for a vigil service. Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the church grounds. Patrick and I retrieved our equipment from the vehicle, and we were immediately surrounded by a couple dozen children and teenagers. Patrick and I are both over six feet tall and white. While the group with which we traveled included two caucasian women who were also from the U.S., they each stood at about five and a half feet tall or so. Patrick and I literally stood out like sore thumbs. Factoring in our equipment, we were like a carnival attraction to the people with whom we had come to congregate.

The young people who were fascinated by our presence and armloads of equipment flanked us on all sides. They wanted to learn what on earth we were all about. A few offered to help us carry our equipment wherever we needed to go. Since we wanted to capture footage from several places and angles, we had to move around a lot. This meant our new roadies and fan club would be taking on a bit of work. It should be noted that Patrick and I did not know a single syllable of their language and likewise for them with English.

Although the threat of rain was small, clouds covered the sky. It was near dusk, so the dark of night was quickly edging closer. Once the evening turned into night, the people’s celebration would move to the indoors of the church. As we began to gather our equipment for the trek inside, which took several minutes, the supply of electricity to the parking lot light poles (which were not much more than a few weather-ready light bulbs hanging from poles) would be disrupted repeatedly leaving us in the dark. I mean pitch black dark. If you held your hand in front of your face you would not see it. Whenever this happened, I felt the grasp of the hands of those helping us. In so doing, they communicated to us that they were still with us and we need not be concerned. This struck me at once as both reassuring and transformative. I instantly became keenly aware that their primary interest was in taking care of us and not in any physical possession of ours.

Once we were through with filming on our first night, we began packing things up and we were discussing how to handle tipping the kids who helped us. I figured in my head how many Rwandan francs would be the equivalent of a few US dollars for each kid. When we gave them the money they were as excited as they were dumfounded. “Why on earth are they giving us money?” They seemed to be wondering. The others nearby who were less involved in carrying the equipment but still followed us everywhere we went, looked at those who did receive money equally perplexed. “Why did they give that to you?” It dawned on me that their willingness and downright eagerness to assist us was not motivated by any want of material compensation but merely to explore their sense of wonder. I was witnessing in my life for the first time in a long time, true beauty in humanity.

The following day was the main church service. The link to the video at the end of this blog goes a little bit more into this but I want to share the experience of observing a section of the service where gifts are carried to the altar to be sacrificed for the good of others. Commonly, this is merely ritualistic and the gifts include nothing more than what the celebrant will be using for the eucharistic portion of the service and it takes up no more than a couple minutes. That was not the case here. For what possibly lasted nearly a half-hour, if not longer, there would be a sea of people carrying to the alter items they bought from home to offer to those less fortunate than themselves. Think about this for a minute, by first-world standards, these were people who are unimaginably impoverished, and they still acted on their sense of duty to assist those whom they realized less fortunate than they themselves were. They had nearly nothing, and still felt they were fortunate enough to give away something – so they did! Contrast that with first world countries where there is an overabundance of things we need for sustenance and we still feel we never have enough.

Once the service was over, we had several days planned to travel around to learn more about the 1994 genocide that factored into the stories behind the apparitions. In the spring of 1994, between 800,000 and one million Tutsis were slaughtered, commonly by machete, by the Hutu’s. The bloodshed was so widespread and intense many rivers and waterways were tinted red during this time period. For a historical account of these events and the events that led up to the genocide, I welcome you to visit this link to a BBC article published on April 4, 2019.

The village youth enjoyed following us around.

We visited other churches as part of the documentary. One church we visited was connected to a bakery that made communion wafers. They also made bread and rolls. Outside the perimeter of the fenced-in church grounds were more neighborhood kids intrigued by what they saw from a distance as we went about our business. While touring the bakery operations, we purchased several dozen rolls for about one US dollar per dozen. We walked out beyond the fenced area of the church grounds to offer rolls to the children lingering about. Our group comprised about four or five people and dozens of children swarmed us once they realized we were offering them bread. With each one of our hands holding out the bread, other hands from all directions would grab and pull to get a piece despite our attempts to assure them we had more than enough to go around.

Things we take for granted, would often be sources of fascination and wonder for the children.

Occasionally, a roll or a piece of a roll would fall to the ground landing in the mud. The contest for that piece would follow it down and the victor would rise smiling as they ate their mud-soaked piece of bread. If that is not what real hunger looks like, I have no idea what does, and I have no desire to observe it. As I stood more than a foot above these children, I realized how much I looked up to them as well as those who helped us earlier.

The rest of the week included visits to mass graves (some rather horrific) and other memorials honoring the souls slaughtered in the Spring of 1994. Our journeys also took us to locations where we would meet people who had lost loved ones in the genocide as well as those who had served time in prison for their part in the genocide. One such encounter our host, Immaculee Ilibagiza[1] who lost nearly her entire family herself, negotiated, in front of our eyes and ears, a reconciliation attempt between a grieving young woman and a man believed to have been responsible for the death of at least one of her loved ones. In place of scathing hatred, the voice of the grieving was full of deep sorrow and pain. The pathway to forgiveness and peace was being laid before the feet of these two individuals and I had a front and center seat less than ten feet away. I could not understand a word being said, but I could feel every ounce of emotion being exchanged. I was in a country and among people, that, seventeen and a half years later, were still in the process of healing.

Our group left to right: Yvan (our driver); Immaculee (author, speaker and our host); Renee; Patrick; Chantal (genocide survivor); Margaret; yours truly

As the week came to a close, I found myself pondering many responses, some emotional and others intellectual. One thought that oddly stood out was the notion of chance. As a business-minded person who, at home, was trying to embark on an entrepreneurial pathway, I held the belief that financial success primarily comes from blood, sweat, and tears. Indeed, grit and perseverance are essential components of success, and those things rely solely on us. The most significant factor is one that no one individual can ever control or even influence. The environment into which we are born, in my case in the United States with a favorable cluster of demographic characteristics, is a random draw, pure and simple. What we do in our environment later on is up to us. The other revelation I had was that I, as a citizen of a nation whose overarching values breed abundance in material worth and depravity of gratitude, was now congregating among a people who possess little if anything of any material worth, but whose hearts overflow with gratitude. I am reminded of the saying I once read but to whom it is attributed, I cannot recall. “I feel quite sorry for many wealthy people. The only thing they have in life is money.”

Yours truly at the entrance to Hôtel des Mille Collines (cinematically known as Hotel Rwanda).

I conclude Part Fifteen with a brief tale of our lodging. We did not stay in one region throughout the week. Rather, we traveled to and lodged in several areas. The accommodations were quite basic. A bed, a sink, and a toilet. On our final night, we were back in the capital city of Kigali where this amazing experience all began a week earlier. We stayed at a hotel that is heavily frequented by foreigners; Hôtel des Mille Collines. The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was later used as the basis of the 2004 film ‘Hotel Rwanda’.

I look forward to seeing you in Part Sixteen. In the meantime, I invite you to watch this six-minute video to learn more about the experience of my week in Rwanda. https://vimeo.com/34709750

[1] Immaculee Ilibagiza is a survivor of the genocide and her astonishing story of faith, survival, and forgiveness is told in her seminal book, “Left to Tell” ©2006 Immaculee Ilibagiza

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_apparition

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Protected: One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Fourteen

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Protected: One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Thirteen

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A Son’s Early Christmas Gift

Less than three weeks to go before Christmas and I have been given one of the greatest Christmas gifts any adult child of living parents could ever hope for. My dad suffered a mild heart attack. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, I love my dad and I shudder the thought of ever losing him. I say that his heart attack was a gift because he did not succumb to it. It did not take him away from us.

On the evening of December 5, I received a text from my mom sent to me and my brother informing us that our dad was in the ER with chest pains. After a couple hours and several back and forth texts, we learned that he was in fact in the middle of a heart attack, clinically referred to as a myocardial infarction. He would be kept overnight for more tests and a cardiac catheterization first thing in the morning. Against my mother’s wishes that we not act impulsively, I had an overnight bag packed and was out the door rather quickly to make the three-hour drive to Sussex County in Delaware where they have been living for the past 17 years.

I went straight to the hospital. He was still in the ER and my mom was with him. She had driven him to the hospital that afternoon and had been there ever since. I did not arrive until 11:00 PM. I won’t belabor the details but suffice it to say that his diagnosis of a heart attack was no joke. As I sat with my mom next to his bed in the ER, the nurse began to ask several questions and two of them I found rather jarring. “Do you have a living will?” and “Would you like a minister to visit with you?” Hearing her ask that last question was like a bucket of ice thrown in my face. My immediate thought was “Excuse me! What are you implying?” In that moment, I began to process the notion of the family’s first Christmas without Dad. Every unsaid word between us that I ever wish had been said came rushing through my head and all tomorrows with him began to dissolve before my eyes. For a moment I allowed myself to turn my focus away from how I was responding to all this and look for clues about how he was feeling. We Gorman men never achieved any measurable degree of mastery in talking about how we feel. Nonetheless, I was sensing that he was very frightened and despite the physical presence of my mom and me, he felt alone in his mortality.

Later, my mom and I prepared to leave for the night. She walked out of the room ahead of me. Every unsaid word was stampeding through my mind and I refused to walk out of the room without giving life to the most important amongst them. I turned back to face my dad and took one step towards the side of his bed and I got down on one knee. I took his hand, looked him in the eye and I said, “I love you Dad. You are stubborn and sometimes I think you’re bone-headed, but you’ve always had my back.” It only took about eight or nine seconds for me to say these words to him while we looked into each other’s eyes. But that was plenty of time for both of us to get choked up. In no more than a whisper, he said while holding back tears, “I love you too.” I put my other hand on the back of his head and kissed him right above his forehead. By now I was incapable of speaking through my own tears. The last sentence that I said only to myself is “I am not ready to lose you.” As I walked my mom out to my car, I refused to entertain any outcome that did not include him returning home soon.

The follow morning, corrective procedures were performed to alleviate that which triggered the heart attack. All went as well as we could have hoped. My mom and I arrived back at the hospital and Dad was recovering from the morning’s procedure. The doctor who performed the procedure stopped by to provide us with the post-procedure summary. After explaining things in ways that made it easy for us to understand, he took on a more serious tone and said exactly what I was beginning to conclude on my own. He looked at my mom then at me and said, “Your husband/father is very lucky he got here when he did.”  Yes, we are very lucky. We are very blessed. We are very grateful. And that was only part of my early Christmas gift.

Not only did I receive the gift of the opportunity to say those three little words man-to-man; son-to-dad while he is alive, but the door has also been opened to organize the scores of so many other thoughts and words that flooded my head when I heard the nurse ask if there was denomination preference for clergy. I had been given the chance to use that moment when I knelt by his bedside to explore further what our relationship means to each other and what it has meant throughout the years. Far too often are loved ones lost while their survivors agonize over all that is left unsaid.

In a most surprising way, I shall also be grateful that my, shall I say ‘quiet’, employment situation allowed me to drop everything and be by their side through this.

After my mom and I went home on day two, we had dinner and I returned to the hospital for a one-hour night visit alone. As we sat there, my dad told me something of which I am very aware if even at times only subconsciously. He pointed out that my brother Andrew and I, both in our fifties, are fortunate to enjoy the longevity of both our parents. He is right. But we are more than fortunate. We are truly blessed. Thanks in no small part to social media, I am very aware of so many of my contemporaries who have lost one or both parents. At best I could only ever imagine how such pain could possibly feel. That imagination had become quite vivid.

The following day, my mom and I, along with their dog Latte, headed to the hospital to pick up Dad who was being discharged. Once home, I backed into their driveway to make sure his side of the car was near the front path to the door. I opened the door to help him along and told him I had two things to say. First, “Welcome home!” and second, “I am sure happy it is me saying that and not Saint Peter.”

If I may offer this to all – and I doubt anyone will be hearing this for the first time. Tell you your loved ones you love them. If this is not something you find comfortable, you are not alone. Do it anyway. You will be very happy you did. Trust me on this. Grief, it is said, is nothing more than unexpressed love.

God bless you all! For all who share in the faith and tradition in which I was raised, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. For all others, I wish you a very joyous Holiday Season.

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Protected: One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Twelve

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Protected: One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Eleven

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Protected: One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Ten

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