God

I have a memory.

I was a little girl, maybe 6 years old, maybe older, and I was sitting on the green grass in my parent’s backyard.  I was looking up at the blue sky, trying to see Heaven.  As I tried to look deeper and deeper beyond the sky itself, I suddenly had a thought.  The thought went like this: “First there was nothing. Then out of nowhere, there was something.”  I have no idea where that thought came from.  But I saw an image so clearly in my mind’s eye.   It was like a light in the sky, or an energy, – something I had no words for at that time –  and it just sprung out from nowhere.  From that moment my mind was made so clear, “This is God.”

My parents were not very religious.  We went to church sometimes, and sometimes we didn’t. However my extended family was very religious and I was raised Catholic.  My mother often spoke of God.  She loved God and told me that she prayed to God every night to bring health and happiness to her beloved children and family members.  She always encouraged me to do the same.

So I did.  I talked with this God that I thought I had come to know.  This light in the sky.  It was comforting, and I felt heard by my God.  I was happy with our relationship.

When I got a little older I began to go to Sunday School. We learned ‘Our Fathers’ and ‘Hail Mary’s’ that I was told to include in my nightly conversations.  I tried to oblige like a good student. Then one day, my mother hung a picture in my room of Jesus and told me,”This is the Son of God.  You need to pray to him too.”  I took one look at this picture and thought, What?!?!

This person was the son of God?  But he didn’t look anything like my God! I mean, how could the light in the sky have a son?  And how could this person in the picture, who was just a person after all, be able to understand me?  I didn’t even know him!  And he didn’t know me!  I felt uncomfortable.  I felt that I didn’t like this person.  I felt that I didn’t want to pray anymore.

So I became quite the rebellious young teenager.  Although I received my Confirmation to console the heart of my beloved grandmother, I decided that I didn’t like Sunday School, that I was not Catholic, that I had my own ideas of what God and Heaven were to me.  These were the ideas that were created in my mind from the vision I saw when I was small.  And I was very content to carry on with them in my heart, all the way through high school and into college, believing that “I made up my own religion, and I’m proud of it.”

My sophomore year at the University of Iowa I took a “Living Religions of the East” class.  The professor was a balding man who delivered these religions and philosophies to a lecture hall full of hundreds of people in a rather dry manner.  He went on about Buddhism, Confucianism…I diligently took notes trying to prepare myself for whatever exams were to come, as well as trying to keep myself awake.  Then, one day we came upon the section of the class entitled “Taoism.”  Suddenly, I stopped. Putting my pen down, I sat up straight in my chair, my mouth dropped open.  I looked around, stunned.  How does he know my made-up religion???”

I was truly shocked.  It was everything that I had felt.  A something that came from nothing.   An energy that connects all living things.  Something so hard to describe that can only be felt or known, but not understood.  Something that resides at the essence of all.  A harmony with all of life – humans, earth, sky. A source where we return to… What I had lived for so many years believing that I had created and only I knew about, was actually an ancient wisdom from the East.  The Tao.  WEIRD. 

After that I considered myself “A Taoist,” although I didn’t really do anything about it.  There was a funky store in town that sold all kinds of books and trinkets of eastern influence and I would peruse it sometimes, never finding anything that grabbed me.  It was all so overwhelming, honestly.  Where do I start?  Should I read this book on Lao-Tsu?  Or maybe something about Energy?  In the meantime, life itself was quite stressful and I felt like I didn’t have space in my brain to delve into this. Instead, I turned to an option that seemed lighter and simpler to me, and began to read some popular books of fiction that explored the concept of awakening such as,”The Celestine Prophecy,” “Stranger In A Strange Land,”  “Only Love is Real” and, “The Tao of Pooh.” It was a time when my mind opened and I became quite interested in the search for a deeper truth – for something that existed beyond what this world was showing me.  I believed it was there, could somehow sense it, and the desire to know more of it was lit in my heart like a tiny burning ember. It was the beginning of something that I didn’t fully understand and yet, at the same time, did not put on the top of my priority list.

Several years later, in my final semester of college, the next shocking-to-me thing happened. I was living in an apartment on Iowa Ave with Rachel Vanderwerff.  Rachel was a home-town neighbor of Dan, who had introduced me to her, and she and I had come to be good friends.  The three of us hung out all of the time and shared in many laughs and conversations.   One morning, perhaps a month before I was about to graduate, Rachel came home with a new and unexpected boyfriend: Avdiel.

I don’t know the best way to describe Avi.  I’d like to start by explaining that during the three years that I was in Iowa City I was aware of an interesting man who used to walk around town.  He had a long beard and wore a long tunic and he sat in the pedestrian mall for most of the day, speaking only with men.  I never knew his name, but as time passed by, several more men that looked just like him began to appear and do the same thing.  Some of my male friends told me that these were religious men who only rode bikes around the country and only ate food from the dumpster – the unwanted, unsold food that stores threw away at the end of each day.  They preached of Jesus and invited other men to join with them and live the simple, humble and pure life that Christ had come to live, spreading His love and truth.  They were only allowed to talk with men.  By the final semester of school, Avi was one of these men who had come into town.

Apparently, he and Rachel had met one night.  She was passing by him and dropped a book that I had given her, “Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life” by Thich Nhat Hanh.  He picked it up for her, intrigued, and they began to talk.  They talked and walked all night long. It was love at first sight, I suppose, and by the morning he had decided to leave his religious group and she had decided to leave school.  They planned to do a bike trip through Europe.

However, until they left, he needed a place to stay, so he stayed in our apartment.  We spent some time together in those final weeks of school- me, Rachel, Dan and Avi. We listened to his stories about life, his reflections, his love of Jesus, his choices, his beliefs.  We would come home after our classes and Avi would have whipped together some delicious meal that he pulled out of the garbage from the Co-Op that we lived next door to.  He would watch at the end of a day to see when the staff would come out to throw away the perfectly good food that could not remain on the shelf, and he would go and grab it right away.  So we actually ended up eating really well, for no cost at all.

During this time, something strange began to happen in my heart.  I found myself feeling agitated and angry – frustrated for no reason throughout the day.  When I took a closer look at myself, I found that I was feeling a great deal of jealousy.  But jealous about what?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Was I jealous that I was suddenly seeing less of Rachel?  No. Was I jealous of  her relationship with Avdiel?  Did I want him to be my boyfriend? No no.  Was I jealous that they were going to go on a European adventure together? No, not at all.  Then, what was it?

Finally one day it came to me. It came to me so crystal clear, yet completely out of the blue.  It was a shocking, unexpected realization.  I was jealous of Avi’s relationship with God.

I realized that I too wanted to have a closer relationship with God.  I really wanted to know God – I mean, I wanted to know the true God in my heart. I  suddenly felt, What could be more important than that in this crazy and chaotic world?  I realized that although I was graduating from the University of Iowa with a BA in English, I had a good boyfriend who loved me and who wanted to go anywhere with me, and my future was wide open with possibilities, I was not happy.  Not happy at all.  In fact knowing that I had all of that and was still unhappy made me even more depressed.  What kind of life was ahead of me?  Was I just sentenced to a life of getting a job, getting a husband, getting a car, a house, a dog, a kid?  It all seemed so empty.  So empty.  So empty.  I couldn’t accept that this was all there was waiting for me.  There had to be more.  I had to find it.  Right then, I made up my mind that I would search until I found it.  I would travel the world until I found it.  I just wouldn’t stop until I found it.  Whatever it was that I was looking for.

I decided that I would learn the trade of organic farming.  I would go to the land and find the answers there.  And I would travel from farm to farm until I found what it was that truly satisfied me.  Because I knew that degrees, jobs, and relationships did not.   They could not fulfill my heart.  It was not anything that Avi ever said or did that made me come to realize this.  It was just what he had appeared to have dedicated himself to that gave me my first taste of a life that I yearned for.  So I set up my first internship.  I would live and work on a farm in Abique, New Mexico for 8 months.  From there, I would make my next plan.  I would live like this until I was clear of what I really wanted.  This was the goal I had set out before me as I drove away from Iowa City after graduation, back to Boston to visit my parents before farming season began 5 months later.  I had told Dan that he could come with me if he wanted to and he decided that yes, he wanted to.  We were off. Off to find something that I could not put into words, but I felt for certain that I would just know it when I found it.

Losing It

It’s been an amazing journey, these last 16 years.  Getting to know Kate, letting her know me, and cultivating our relationship together has been an exploration of healing in the deepest sense of the word.  I feel so grateful for having the opportunity to know her and to love her.  I feel grateful for the chance to fill in some of the blanks, connect some dangling synapses, and ease wounds that I didn’t even know that I had.  I am thankful to myself for my courage to face the process.  I know that I couldn’t have done it without my will to look deep inside, beyond all of the emotions and wrong beliefs, to the truth and heart of myself, and then see again – my life, my world, and the people in it – with those wide and embracing eyes.

It was not always easy, of course. In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed.  I was more than overwhelmed. I was losing it.

*****************

After meeting Kate at the Charles Hotel, I flew to LA later that summer with my boyfriend Dan.  I wanted to visit her world and meet her sons, Ian and Alec.  It was crazy to imagine that I had these “half-brothers” out there somewhere, and I was curious to know them.  At first, it was clear and almost humorous to see the difference in their personalities, just by the way that they greeted me. Ian came first.  He walked out onto the patio where we were all sitting and sat down with a very serious look on his 15-year-old face.  After a moment of slightly awkward silence he said, “Well, this is bizarre.”

A little while later, Alec came home.  At that time he was 14 years old and wearing a cast that covered his entire leg up to his hip.  Skateboarding accident, apparently.  He was full of a big, burly energy and came hopping out to where we were sitting with his arms wide open and a smile across his freckly face shouting, “Hey sis! Gimme a hug!”

It was fun to meet these endearing characters, however as the evening and the week unfolded, I found a knot that began to twist in my stomach, and in my heart.  Ultimately, these people were just strangers to me, and it was unsettling to realize that I had pre-existed for them.  For years they had wondered about their “sister”.  They had talked about her, thought about her, and hoped for a time when they could meet her.  Kate had given me the name of Phoebe Columba Mulgrew.  I could feel that Phoebe Columba was alive in their lives – like a ghost.  I felt that I had come to LA to fill in the shoes of my own ghost.

It became deeply confusing.  I was not expecting that I would suddenly have a family.  I already had a family!  And I had a strong loyalty to and respect for that family.  I mean, those were the people who I grew up with, who knew everything about me, who had been there for me my entire life.  Every time that Alec would call me his sister I would just see my own little sister’s face flash in front of my eyes.  No, I don’t have any brothers!  I only have one sister, her name is Renee Gaudette and we laughed and cried and suffered together! We played and fought and joked together!  And every time Kate would introduce me to a new person as her ‘daughter’ I would think No! You are not my mother!  I already have a mother….she held me and loved me and took care of me all my life…isn’t she the one who deserves to be called my mother??  The guilt and resistance began to swell.  A defensive wall stacked itself up inside my heart.  All I could think about was my innocent family on the other side of the country, just loving and honoring me in their pure, simple and true ways, and here I was betraying them!

It didn’t make any sense.  Nothing did.  Everything felt wrong.  An agitation began to cover me like a thin layer of skin.  I barely knew what I felt, so I certainly didn’t know how to talk about it or process it.  I was tangled.

So much so, that by the time I got back to Iowa City my brain just wasn’t working properly anymore. It became really obvious one day, later that same summer, when Dan and I were walking down the street together and I looked down to find that my sandle was unbuckled.  So I sat down on the curb and began frantically trying to buckle it until I realized that it was broken.  Upon discovering this, I burst into senseless tears.  Dan, dumbfounded, asked me why I was crying. In hysterics, I replied,

“Because if my sandle is broken then that means my mother is going to die.”

Dan looked at me in shock.  “No, it doesn’t mean that.  Of course, it doesn’t mean anything like that Danielle.”  And he had to comfort me right there on the curb until the wave of insanity passed, and I was ready to continue our walk.

Another evening we were on our way to dinner at our favorite Indian food restaurant.  Right as we were approaching the town square, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and again began to cry.  I just cried and cried until Dan took me in his arms.  Collapsing into his warm and safe embrace I sobbed, “I don’t want to be adopted!  I just don’t want to be!”  That was the only clear feeling that I could come up with. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my parents to be my parents, or that I didn’t want Kate to be my biological mother, I just wished that being adopted was not my predicament in this lifetime.

So, as I said, it was not easy.  Everything came apart like frayed wires in my mind.  I had already been an emotionally sensitive girl, but after LA it rose to a whole new level.  It took a long time and a lot of work to begin to repair those confused, contorted and fragmented feelings and thoughts.  Fortunately, I had a hunger to do the honest work of it.  I desperately wanted to find peace and heal myself from the inside out.

Finally one day, overwhelmed by the world, tired of all the therapy, not interested in drugs, determined that if the craziness was in my mind, then I should be able to fix it, I decided, “I know, I’ll do some yoga.”

 

The First Meeting

It’s all very sticky in my mind. It’s like a stone path with big sections of stones missing. So you just stand there for a while trying to figure out how you’re going to get to the next stone, and then just resolve to walk in the mud.

I don’t remember that whole phone conversation. I don’t even remember how it started.

It was as if I was straining to hear, in a perfectly quiet room.

I remember a raspy voice. Was there in emotion in it?

She was surprised that my voice was not raspy like hers.

I remember three questions that came relatively quickly:

Kate:  Are you happy?

Danielle:  Yes

Kate:  Are you pretty?

Danielle:  I don’t know, my boyfriend thinks I am

Kate:  Do you believe in God?

Danielle: No

….well, not in the way that you probably mean, so I’ll just go with ‘no’….

What else did we talk about?  I think that she went on to tell me that she did believe in God….something something….something something….

She then told me that she wanted to meet me.  She said that she was going to fly to Boston, and that she would be here in four days.

Oh God Oh God Oh God.

I hung up, cancelled my cab, and called into work.  I can’t come in.  I’ll explain later.

******************

I did not eat a morsel of food and had diarrhea for four days.  I was, as they say in Colorado, a “hot mess”.

We were to meet for dinner in the lobby of the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square. My sweaty palms gripped the steering wheel as I drove up looking for parking.  Calm down Danielle, please try to calm down.

I pushed through the glass door and entered. There she was.  I knew it was her right away, although I had never seen her before.  She stood up and approached me with a look in her face… what was that look? Was it sorriness? Eagerness? Tenderness? Was she just as overwhelmed as I was?  I think so.

We embraced, I think.  Did we speak?  We must have. She was shorter than me.  We went upstairs to the restaurant. She kept pouring wine into my glass.  Glass after glass of white wine.  I didn’t even feel a slight buzz.  I was miles away from my body, reeling.  I ate a lot of nuts.  I just kept crunching away at those big Brazil nuts to calm my nerves.  I don’t even like Brazil nuts.  Or white wine.  Did we order food? Chicken I think. I barely ate it.  What did we talk about?  I  don’t remember.  At one point we were sitting side by side and she said, “Hm, where did you get those thighs? Those aren’t my thighs.”

No, I didn’t have her thighs or her body at all.  But I had her face.  The shapes of it.  The jaw line, the mouth, the nose, the freckles…I finally found where my face came from.

After dinner we went upstairs to her hotel room and there she called my biological father to tell him that she had found me, and was sitting next to me.  He was surprised, to say the least.  “What a great father’s day gift” he said.  Oh yea ~ it’s father’s day, I totally forgot about my dad.  His wife also got on the phone.  She was excited too.

The next evening we had a big dinner at Jimmy’s Harborside with my entire family.  I have a relatively small Italian family and they were all present except for my cousin Paul.  My cousin Carly, my aunt Gail, Uncle Frankie and his wife, my nana and papa, my mother, father and sister Renee. Everyone came to let this lady named Kate know whose family I was really apart of! That is the nature of my passionate, emotional, over-protective, loyal and deeply loving Italian family.

I have to hand it to Kate. She was so brave!  I didn’t know then how strong she really is. But there she was, in the middle of this emotionally explosive tribe known as my beloved family.  Someone from a television network happened to be sitting at a table nearby,recognized her, and kept sending over wine.  And she kept drinking it.  She told the story of how she gave me up for adoption and began to cry.   Upon seeing her tears, my mother and grandmother also began to weep and console her.  I worried about them so I ran over to make sure everyone was alright, and when I looked up,  every single person at the table was wiping their eyes.  I couldn’t believe it.  Except for my sister. She sat with her head down, but I don’t think she cried.  It was all too close to home for her, since she was also adopted and had not met her biological parents.  So she took off – said she had to go do something.  And there I was, the only set of dry eyes at the table, running around from person to person, telling them all that it was ok, that everything was ok.

After dinner, we drove Kate back to the Charles Hotel. She would catch a flight to LA the next morning.  I was sitting next to her in the back seat and she was holding my hand.  From the front seat, my mom was turned around and she was holding my other hand.  Then Kate said, “How does it feel to have two mother’s holding your hand?”  How does it feel, you ask? How does it feel? It feels like all circuits in my brain are shutting down.  It feels like everything is coming undone and I’m trying desperately to keep it together.

I think I smiled.

Kate got out of the car. We said our goodbyes.

As we drove away, and she was out of sight, finally the numb, frozen statue that I had become in response to the whole event broke, and I collapsed into tears.  My parents tried to comfort me but there was nothing that they could say or do, because even I didn’t understand any of it.

I cried for three days.

I have been healing for sixteen years.

“How did you find them?”

Mostly, I was just curious.  It wasn’t even a curiosity that haunted me or anything.  But from time to time I would just wonder….where did this face come from?  Where did this body come from?  Where did this blood come from?

I knew that when I turned 18 years old that I would be eligible to begin to search for my biological parents, if I so chose to.  However, 18 came and went for me and I was in the thick of my senior year of high school, and boyfriends, and colleges, and leaving home for the first time.  It was the farthest thing from my mind.  But, after transferring from the University of New Hampshire to the University of Iowa, settling into my study of literature and creative writing there,  entering into a soon-to-be very serious relationship with Dan Lutz – a kind, caring and beautiful 20 yr old boy who I met in one of my classes – my curiosity began to grow.

Perhaps it was because everyone was always asking me “Where are you from? What’s your heritage?”  And of course I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t know.  So people would have a fun time guessing.  It became a game for my friends and classmates. “Italian!” “French!” “Native American!” “Polynesian!”  I heard it all.  And yet, I had no idea.  So I thought, if I could just get a couple of pictures and some information about these people who created me, then it could fill in a missing piece about myself.  But that’s all I was looking for: a couple of  pictures and some information.  That would suffice.

So in the fall of 1997, in my 20th year of life, there in a tiny shoe-box of a room that I was renting in a big, old, crickety and far from cleanly house on Van Buren St., I sat down to write a letter to The Catholic Charity Bureau.  The letter stated who I was and that I was interested in finding out more information about my biological parents.  To my surprise, I received a letter back almost right away.  The Catholic Charity Bureau told me that all of my files were burned in a fire and I would have to write to the State of New York to get any information. “Oh great,” I thought to myself, “now I’m orphan Annie.”

Nonetheless, I did as advised.  I wrote a letter to the State of New York.  But I sent it off right before I was about to leave for Ireland to study abroad at the University College Galway for a semester.  So, I strategically put my parents house as the return address because I knew that I would spend the summer in Boston when I got back to the States, before returning to school.  Stuffing it in a mailbox, I figured that I would just check on it in 6 months time.  Then, off I went to the Emerald Island, for 5 months of international friends, travel, enchanted forests, hitch hiking adventures, pubs, potatoes, rolling hills, the roaring Atlantic, my 21st birthday, Guinness, lots of Guinness, and a little bit of school 🙂

           *****************

Everything worked out just as I had planned. Sort of.

I returned to my hometown for the summer of 1998 and one day I was sitting at my parent’s kitchen table when it popped into my mind.

“Hey dad, did I get any mail from the State of New York while I was gone?”

A little light bulb went off in my father’s brain, who was preparing to leave for work. He hurried over to the dining room table in his suit and tie and began ruffling through a giant pile of papers.  The dining room table was well-known as a family file cabinet, where only my father really knew the perfect order to the madness of it all.  However chaotic it may have sometimes looked, though, he was still (and is still) the most reliable person I know.  He pulled out from the heap one little white envelope addressed to me from the State of New York.

“Here you go honey!”

I opened it up and the letter read something like this (I paraphrase):

“Even though you were born in New York, you were adopted through Massachusetts courts, so we cannot help you. However, we have included a brochure for a company called The International Soundex Reunion Registry.  You can become a member by filling out your information and sending it back to them.  If either of your birth parents are members, then this organization will connect you.”

Hmm, interesting.  Ok, so I did it.  I filled out my info and sent it in.  I probably even handed it back to my dad with a stamp, asking him to mail it for me on his way to work that very same day.  But I did it thinking that this was just another piece in this puzzle, and it would probably be another 5 years before I heard anything about it, and then I went on my way, not giving it much more thought.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Only two weeks later I was sitting in my living room, in a reclining chair by the window where I often sat.  I was reading something, but I forget what it was.  I was periodically looking out the window because I had called a taxi to take me across town to a little sandwich shop where I was working as a counter waitress for the summer.  Nobody was home.

Suddenly, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello may I speak to Danielle Gaudette please?”

“This is her.”

The woman’s voice on the other end sounded very bright and excited.  To this day, I cannot remember her name.  But, she introduced herself to me and then said, “Danielle, I am calling from the International Soundex Reunion Registry. I am very excited to tell you that I think we have found a match.”

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

“I need you to gather any and all of the papers that you have regarding your biological parents.  Any information that you have, please get it now. I will hold. I need to check it up against the information that I have,” this nameless woman directed me firmly.

” Ok…” I was beginning to enter into a delirium.  I ran over to the dining room table.  I had never actually seen any papers, but I remembered that when I first began searching for my biological parents, my mother said that she would pull what she could from my safety deposit box.  I never looked at those papers before. I don’t know why.  But I vaguely remembered someone telling me that they were on the dining room table, of course.

And I was right.  The paper was there.

“Ok, I have it.”

 The woman on the other end spoke kindly and carefully, “Tell me exactly what it says.”

“It says that my birth mother was a young woman when she gave me up for adoption.  She was an actress in New York City and was unable to take care of the baby. She asked for her mother to help her but her mother was not able to due to her grief from a recent death of her younger sister. It says that she is Irish Catholic.”  ….what?!  I’m Irish ?!?!??

“It says that my birth father was a theatre director.  He is Russian. Jewish.” Are you serious??? I’m Russian????  This took me even more by surprise, seeing that I was completely in love with Russian history, culture and literature. It was my most favorite subject to study in school. I was shocked and delighted to find out that I actually shared blood with these intriguing people!

At this point, my overall shock level was increasing rapidly. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

“Well Danielle,” said the voice, “this all matches perfectly with the information we have here in front of us.  Yes, we have found your biological mother.  We are going to call her now and let her know.  Stay by your phone.”

I hung up and began frantically pacing around my apartment – living room, kitchen, dining room, living room, kitchen, dining room – in a frenzied loop.  My heart was beating so fast that there was no way to be still. Everything was happening so suddenly and unexpectedly.  My brain was going into overload and beginning to malfunction.  Even though it was daytime, I felt like it was dark out.  My whole world was closing in on me and I was losing my proper sense of sight and sound. I kept pacing to stay afloat.

The phone rang again.

“Hello?”

“Hello Danielle it’s me again.  Well, I have even more exciting news for you.  This is really incredible actually, and we are all just so thrilled about it over here in the office.  Do you watch Star Trek?”

My rapidly beating heart dropped into my gut.  I leaned onto the counter top in my kitchen for support. Oh God, does this really have to be dramatic?  Can it please just be normal.  Please I can’t take any drama.  I need normal right now.

“No” I said.

“Well, your biological mother’s name is Kate Mulgrew.  She is Captain Katherine Janeway on Star Trek Voyager.  She is sitting in her trailer at Paramount right now, waiting to talk with you.  I want you to hang up your phone and wait.  She’s going to call you right now. And…..congratulations, Danielle.  We are so happy for you.”

Ho-ly Shit.

Now, there is a funny thing about trauma.  It really messes with your brain.  It inserts blankness for where there should be memories and re-writes stories in various twisted and contorted ways. So, according to my birth mother, it was me who called her on this day.  But in my mind, it was she who called me.  And at this point of course it doesn’t make one bit of difference.

What’s important is that this was the moment.  So quickly this moment came – too quickly!  I was not prepared.  I thought it would be years of searching!  But it was as if this ultimate moment had been sent down a chute and it was crashing into me, and all I could do was let it. I was about to meet the person who brought me into this world. Right. Now.

My body grew weak.  My legs were trembling.  I needed to sit down.

The phone rang one more time.  I don’t know if I was breathing or not.  I pressed the talk button with a sweaty finger, knowing that the person on the other end would be someone who I had never met, a complete and total stranger, and yet was somehow, some way, a person to call my mother.

 Exit: Danielle’s heart, shooting out through her head into the universe

Enter: The beginning of a whole new world that I had never, ever imagined….

I was adopted

People always ask me “When did you find out that you were adopted?” But for me, I cannot pinpoint one particular moment when that happened. I feel like I just always knew.  From the time that I was very small, my mother used to say, “You didn’t grow in my belly.  You grew in another lady’s belly, and then we came to get you.  You are our adopted angel.”  I remember her telling me that before I was ever in school, or old enough to realize that this was even something different than other children.  And I accepted it so comfortably, without a question.  Actually, I felt kind of good about it. My mother had a way of always making me feel so special.

I was quite content with my family and my life, and the story of my adoption that was told to me again and again was a very happy one.

That story goes like this:

My mother desperately wanted to have a baby, but due to some fertility issue on somebody’s part, her and my father together were unable to get pregnant.  So they put their names on a list to adopt a baby, but the expected waiting time to adopt a child in Massachusetts was four years.  My mother’s heart was aching.

Wanting to help, my mother’s cousin and his wife, Bobby & Barbara Manzelli, introduced my parents to their friends Walter and Naomi Sullivan. The Sullivan’s seemed to be people of power and had close relations with a man named Cardinal Cooke, a Cardinal working in New York City, and they asked him to help my parents to find a child to adopt in the state of New York. Through him, my parents were connected with a  Sister Una McCormack, the executive director of the Catholic Charity Bureau in Manhattan, and it was she who was able to find a baby in New York City for my mother in just ten short months. My parents were overjoyed, and felt that some great blessing had come upon them.

They drove four hours to NYC to get me – my grandfather at the wheel,  grandmother in passenger seat, and my parents in the back with a pillow upon which they could hardly wait to rest me.

My mother and father entered the room at Catholic Charities.  It was a big room with a big crib in the middle of it, and a big mirror. They didn’t realize it yet, but that was a two-way mirror behind which nurses were watching to see the authentic reaction of the parents when they meet the baby for the first time.  In the case that there might be no warmth, no connection,  then they had the right to discontinue the adoption process.

My parents crept up to the over-sized crib and peered over its bars.  There they found the “tiniest peanut” with a big bush of black hair on her head, lying quietly on her 10th day of life, waiting for them.  Upon first sight, my mother burst into tears and threw her arms around my father, the two of them jumping up and down in excitement.  But that just wasn’t enough to contain the depth of their joy.  So my mother hopped on my father’s back and they began galloping around the room in a piggy-back ride of sheer bliss, crying and laughing with shrieks of delight.

Meanwhile, the nurses who were secretly watching this scene were so moved that they too began to shed tears.  Everyone, including my grandparents, ushered into the room to celebrate with my mother and father.  One nurse approached my mother and said “I have never seen such a connection and a display of love.  I would like to arrange for you to bring your baby to the archbishop and receive his blessing.”  And so she did.  And so I became her blessed little adopted angel.

As prepared for, I drove back to Massachusetts on a pillow.  My father had to move to the driver’s seat because we were all almost killed multiple times on I-95, as my grandfather kept taking his eyes off the road so that he could turn around to look at me with his big gloating smile. It was a day of happiness for everyone.

So much so, that when these travelers turned the corner on Piermont St. to return home to their apartment in Watertown, MA, they found that the entire street was lined with lawn chairs filled with family, friends and neighbors, all waiting to celebrate with them.  And there, hanging across the front window of the house in preparation for the festivities, was a bright yellow home-made banner that read: “Welcome Home Baby Danielle.”

This is the glorious story that I grew up listening to, in all of it’s colorful variations.  It is a sweet story that warms my heart even now. To me, it is a story of a baby who started her life on this planet by being unwanted by the people who made her, lying alone in a crib with no one to call her mother. Then, in only ten short days became the most wanted and highly celebrated little creature in her own small piece of the universe – loved, adored, and deeply cherished. I can really feel how these extremes have influenced my life in the most profound and complicated ways.  And my life itself has become a beautiful unfolding of this beginning, in all its mystery, complication and glory, and a great healing of all that came with it

I am so, so grateful..

 

Ode To My Mother

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She was the only mother I knew for the first 21 years of my life.  And if you ask me, “who is your real mother?” then I will tell you, it is her.

Her name is Beverly Marie Gaudette.  She was born on October 19th, 1948. She died on December 16th, 2013.

From the time of my childhood, all the way up through my college years, she was my best friend, my inspiration, my biggest fan, and the love of my life.

When I was little, I remember writing her long love letters about how I felt that we were One, stuck together like glue – that somehow I was her and she was me.  In retrospect, it was pretty advanced and heavy stuff for a six year old to be contemplating.  But she was really my whole world.  I told her all of my secrets, she was there for me through all of my dramas and adolescent tears.  We shared in the warmest love, the deepest belly laughter, and a bond of trust that was priceless to me.

It was a sharp thorn in my heart that she suffered so much from horrible and often debilitating bouts of severe anxiety and depression, a mental illness that was her adult way of trying to process the sexual abuse she experienced from a half brother when she was 8 years old.  A mental illness that haunted her life – our lives – and sent her down a dark road of endless psychotherapy, heavy medications and even two separate rounds of electroshock therapy.  A mental illness that I believe led her to her untimely death.

So, her pain was my pain.  I did EVERYTHING to try to make her happy.  I danced, I sang, I performed shows on my own personal stage which was my living room floor.  I would drag my little sister out of bed early on Saturday mornings and dress her up with all the random over-sized hats and scarves and mittens that I could find in our front closet.  Then, I would wake up my parents and pour my passion into yet another award-winning performance. Although my  sister, Renee, was miserable, it was all worth it to make my mother laugh 🙂

One time when I was in high school, I was working on attempt number 1,999 to try to make her quit smoking.  I desperately wanted her to be healthy.  So, while she was sitting at the kitchen table puffing away, I said “Ok, if you smoke then I’m gonna smoke!”  I picked up her pack of Merit 100’s, lit up and took a drag.  Since I was familiar with smoking something a little more green, but never cigarettes , I literally took a long drag and held it into my lungs. In an instant I burst into a fit of coughing and was rolling around the kitchen floor choking and gagging and gasping for air.  All the while my mother was standing over me saying, “Why are you smoking it like it’s a joint, huh?  How do you know how to smoke it like that?” Which of course caused my coughing to turn into a kind of “caught red-handed laughter” and the two of us laughed hysterically like giggling puddles on the kitchen floor for a long time.  Just another moment of hilarity for us.  Failure-to-get-my-mother-to-quit-smoking number 1,999 for me.

Despite all of the good times and great times, bad times and ugly times that we had together on this journey, perhaps the most amazing memory of all, was the memory of the moment that my mother left this world.

I know that might sound morbid or even crazy to say, but it’s really true.  Maybe it is because I have been so diligently dedicated to my spiritual path for the last 15 years and have developed sensitivities to feeling the soul and the spirit, but the moment that I feared my entire life – the moment of my mother’s death – was actually quite extraordinary.

We were all there that day – my father, my sister, my aunt and my cousin.  We had been pretty much by her side for the last 10 days, since we knew it was the end for her.  Three and a half years prior to this day, my mother suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and ‘incurred multiple infarctions’.  Although she survived, she was left with severe brain damage.  A top neurologist at the Beth Israel Hospital explained to us that her brain was damaged in ten different places and although she did not have a diagnosis of dementia, her brain looked like a person with advanced dementia.  She was 61 years old.  For the next three  and a half years she pretty much just lived in a bed, slowly withering away.   Her communication skills declined continuously – there was little to no talking.  She took in food through a tube that had been surgically placed into her stomach during the time of her initial emergency brain surgeries. There was absolutely no quality of life, and watching her have to live like this was torturing the hearts of those who loved her.

I was sitting in a chair by her bed the moment she took her last breath.   I felt a strong and bright energy all around me and suddenly I felt my mother’s spirit escape from her broken body.  That spirit was big and bright and joyous and it was literally doing somersaults around the room, celebrating its freedom.  That is what I truly felt.   And although Renee cried out in grief and ran out of the room, and my other family members were moving about, embracing one another, I just sat clutching the center of my chest, which was reeling with feelings. Tears that were mixed with sadness and gratitude, joy and awe, streamed down my cheeks.  I realized at that moment that my mother’s illness and the unfortunate events of her life were not to be pitied.  Of course, from one perspective it could look that way. However, what I saw then was that my mother was not a small, pitiful person at all.  In fact, she was a great spirit who had just come to this life to experience something that she needed to experience, and actually wanted to experience.  It’s hard to describe and impossible to put into words properly, but that’s what I felt.  I felt her true spirit – beyond the brain damaged woman who she had been for years, beyond the sickness and the suffering – a spirit that was filled with love and a kind of bronze, warm, sandy light. Suddenly I remembered that this was the light that I always saw in her hazel eyes.  It was the light of her smile that filled up a room. This was, and had always been, her spirit shining through, I just never knew it until that moment.

My mother is the greatest muse of my life.  Even now, as I sit down to write this blog, I find myself beginning by wanting to write about my mother.  I share here 3 poems for my beautiful mother.  I miss you mum!  I love you. Thank you for everything ~

Poem #1  Written in 1998 while I was away at school, studying at the University of Iowa

Angel-Heart Queen

There is a woman I know
whose heart is filled with angels.
Infinite numbers.
They sing when she speaks
And when she smiles
they fly out into the world.
Tiny white-winged angels of love
Encircle me
I have known this woman
my whole life
and longer (I sometimes feel).
Perhaps I was her mother in another world
And she mine, before that
And she mine, now.
The circle is endless.
She is the angel-heart queen of my world.
Now
Always
If she could know
that sometimes
when I sleep
when I walk
when I breathe
I cry.
Tiny white-winged angels of love multiply
across distances
And enter me.
They flow through me,
Every cell of my body
Every capillary of my soul
And exit me,
through tears.
Perhaps they fly back to her
and whisper my love
Recycled
Reborn.
Holy is the angel-heart queen.
And my love, too.
(I miss you)

Poem #2 Written in September, 2000. After beginning my healing path with Dahn Yoga, I had many deep healing experiences purifying the painful childhood memories of my mother’s mental illness.  This particular one happened during meditation.

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She wants to burn her mother’s bed.

Bed of sickness and sorrow
Bed of fearful nervous heart
Bed of poor me why God why? Help me please O God I can’t take another day.
Bed of no will
Bed of hopelessness
Bed of Soul dying

She wants to burn her mother’s bed.

Then. She changes. Her mind.

There is stillness all around them she imagines in the quiet hours of 4am new day. Now, there is a yellow rose in her heart and she sends a rainbow message to her mother’s yellow rose.

“Come out come out wherever you are!” she whispers. And waits.

And they become surrounded by capsules of white light.

And there is a rainbow bridge connecting them.

And she asks that the capsule become an ocean of light to cleanse her mother’s body.  Out! Out! with the dirty seaweed sadness in rippling waves. Residue, like thick mud, builds up and oozes from her mothers fingertips and toes and daughter cleans it up with tears of gratitude in her eyes. THIS IS HEALING.

The message comes clear like a song she suddenly remembers: Love and Heal.  Love and Heal.  This is all she wants to do. The apple tree in her yard tells her that there is fruit in her heart and her mother is her student and her mother is her teacher.

And the whole world is waiting.

Sunlight shines through branches and she knows that this is Life. Simple.  So she changed her mind, one day. This is the story of a girl who changed her mind. One day.

Bed of hope and healing
Bed of restoration
Bed of noonday nap time sunshine seeping through and laughter like butterflies all around us.

Poem #3 Written less than a year before my mother passed away, when she was just withering away in that body, in that nursing home, day by day. I wanted her to move on to a better, more peaceful and more beautiful existence that I felt she deserved.

You Did It

My Mother
My Angel Heart Queen
You taught me how to love.  You taught me how to laugh.  You saved my life.
You did it

You did it
My Mother
My Angel Heart Queen
You embraced 2 abandoned little girls.  You made them feel like the most adored and special little people on planet Earth.
You did the most important thing that any one human could do.
You completed your work.
You did an amazing job.
You did it.

You did it
My Mother
My Angel Heart Queen
You suffered enough.
You endured endless hurt and pain.  The darkest suffering — you persevered again and again.  In the name of Love.
You did it.

You did it
My Mother
My Angel Heart Queen
You suffered enough
You payed back your debts
You cleaned up your karma
You did it.

You did it.
My Mother
My Angel Heart Queen
You’re done. You’re finished. You don’t have to suffer anymore. No more.
Do you hear me?
Please hear me.
Don’t you trust me?
Please trust me.

I promise you….

There is more Joy than this, waiting for you.

There is more Light than this, waiting for you.

There is more Peace than this, waiting for you.

It’s your time now.
Time to be free.
Time for peace…finally.

Our Mother. Our Angel Heart Queen.  Our Savior, Our Hero, Our Friend.
You will live on forever in our hearts.
And we will meet again soon.
In a happier place than this.

We want to see you smile again.
So go.
You’re done.
You did it.
You’re free.

Our Angel Heart Queen.
It’s time to go back to Heaven.
I will sing for you
And you can fly ~