A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a local radio station as a movie critic/part time radio personality. Every week, I would attend a particular movie, discuss it on air with my co-worker, and write up a small op-ed piece to publish on the station's web page. (You can see an example of it, just for fun, here: )
That fun little part time gig is now in the past, and it's been quite awhile since I've written a movie review, although that isn't really the purpose of this post. Recently, I had the opportunity to see the film "Lion", about a young boy named Saroo, who becomes lost and separated from his family in India, and is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. In the past, movies about adoption were crossed off my list immediately, because I found them too upsetting....especially if there was a "happy reunion" at the end, reminding me of my own inability to find my missing pieces. But due to the developments of the past year, I finally felt emotionally prepared to see this film that was garnering a lot of critical acclaim. Truth be told, I'm not sure anyone could actually be prepared for the feelings this movie stirs up, and as an adoptee, I found myself staring at the screen in wonder, shocked that someone had been able to so accurately portray the emotions I have felt for most of my adult life.
To clarify, my life has certainly not been anything close to what this child endured. The differences in our stories are profound: He had a close loving relationship with his mother and siblings for the first few years of his life, and then was, in effect, ripped from them as a small child. He was homeless, hungry and scared. He was subjected to people who had no sense of humanity, and it was only through his eventual adoption that he was able to feel safe again. Being adopted at birth, I obviously had no previous memory of my birth family, no "strings of attachment", and I certainly never experienced any of the horrific things that Saroo did---at the age of 5, when he was sleeping on a piece of cardboard in the streets, I was living in the warm, safe and loving home of my adoptive family.
But the similarities in our stories are also numerous, and that is what prompted me to write this particular post. As much as the sadness of his earlier life broke my heart, it was watching him in his search for his identity that spoke to my soul. Certain things would 'trigger' him to think about his family, starting with an Indian dessert that is served at a party he is attending. The feelings are so strong that it almost debilitates him. I thought of the times when I would experience that same moment of helplessness, as someone would point out that my sister looked so much like my mother, and that I didn't seem to resemble either of my parents....and I would get lost in the thoughts of "Yes, I look like someone, but I don't know who they are".
When Saroo began his search, there was a feeling of overwhelming impossibility. He really has no idea where to start, no solid leads or names to help him, and ----let's face it----India is not a small place. As he starts plotting the possibilities up on his wall, it took me back to the countless hours I spent entering my name and information into literally hundreds of "adoption reunion" databases. I had no names to work with, and no idea of where exactly they might be, so I had no way to look for anyone in particular.....all I could do was enter my information, and pray that someone was looking for ME. I followed every single lead I could think of over the years, no matter how far fetched it was, because the pull to know was just too great to stop. Saroo portrayed that as well, basically becoming so fixated on finding information that his family and girlfriend were almost completely alienated from his life.
At one point, he expresses that he just wants to be able to find his mother and comfort her....let her know that he is alright. He knows that she has grieved his loss and it torments him. When I became a mother for the first time, I started to grasp the possibility that my own birthmother was carrying a burden of missing me as well, and it became so important to me to be able to reassure her that I was fine. Even though I eventually learned that she was not particularly worried about me, it was a blessing to ME to be able to let her know.
Eventually Saroo reaches a point where there seems to be no more leads and his girlfriend says "well, what if you NEVER find them? Then what??" This is a common response from many who are NOT adoptees and have a difficult time understanding the pull that many of us feel to get answers. Saroo's parents loved him and he had enjoyed a significantly "better" life with them, than he could have ever experienced in India. Why couldn't he just be grateful for that and let it go?
For some adoptees, there seems to be no real "need" to search for their birth families, and they are content with the information they have. For others, it's as if they have a piece of their identity missing, and they feel utterly lost until they find it. I've likened it before to a "Non adoptee" being told they could never know the names of their grandparents or history of their ancestors, simply because a law wouldn't allow it. All of a sudden it makes no sense that this law actually exists for anyone. And what many people fail to understand, is that searching for your roots does NOT mean that you love or appreciate your adoptive family any less. I have personally found in my searching that locating my birth family has just strengthened the love I have for my parents and sister, while enlarging my family circle and allowing me to love even MORE people. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when Saroo tells his adoptive mother, after he finds his family in India, "Finding her doesn't change who you are to me".
And finally, in the scene where he embraces his family again (spoiler alert---he DOES find them), the emotions are so overwhelming that even my big tough guy husband sitting next to me was tearing up. I found this scene so beautiful for many reasons but mostly because of the fact that he no longer speaks the same language as his mother and siblings, but they are still able to express their love for each other. Although I can't specifically relate to embracing my birthmother---she remains somewhat elusive to ALL her children it seems----I HAVE had the amazing opportunity of hugging my half sister and speaking by phone with both half brothers. And although our lives have been significantly different----in effect, we sort of "speak a different language"-- it's been an amazing thing to me that you can be apart from people for decades, and if you are family, there is no distance.
If you are a person who can't quite understand the importance of allowing adoptees access to their birth records (even though that was not the exact issue that Saroo faced), this can help you more fully grasp the struggles that many of us face in needing all the information we can get to help us in our search.
I don't very often recommend a movie based on adoption merits, but because this film is based on a true story AND truly nails the emotions that many adoptees experience, I can't say enough about it.
Thank you Hollywood, for making a film that puts adoption in the spotlight and allows people to see the good that comes from adoptees getting answers.
Adoption at the Movies (it's a website) recently named Lion the "Best Adoption Picture of the Year"! I CANNOT WAIT to see it.