There are distinct moments in life that help to shape and define who you are. Many times, you do not even realize how these milestones affect you as a person until months or years later. For me, one such moment was meeting Whitney’s birth family.
When we began the initial planning stages of our 2014 Korea trip, we mainly focused on touring as much of the country as possible in a very compressed time frame. At first, meeting Whitney’s family was not the priority, but rather an added bonus. Our plan was to participate in guided tours of both the mainland and Jeju island, and then spend time in between and after the tours with the Jeons. Touring Korea and seeing all of the beautiful and historical landmarks was wonderful, but that did not end up being the highlight of the trip. The highlights came from time spent with Whitney’s birth family and the memories that we made with them.
Before meeting the Jeons, I remember having so many unanswered questions and unresolved feelings about my past and adoption. I never really took the time to address these questions or emotions prior to meeting Whitney. I did the best I could to fit in and adapt. After meeting Whitney, I had the opportunity to start to explore the emotions and questions that I have always had. Learning about her past and birth family was such a blessing. To connect on an emotional level with another Korean adoptee, who also happens to be my spouse, has been priceless.
I can remember the week before heading to Korea. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask the Jeons, but I did not know if they would be appropriate, especially since this was my first time meeting them. At first, getting to meet them was just a bonus, but now it was turning into one of the priorities of the trip. After finally meeting Whitney’s birth family and spending time with them, they gave us the opportunity to ask them any questions related to Whitney’s adoption. This was a moment in time that I will never forget as long as I live. They explained to us why Whitney was given up for adoption and that the entire family had input on the decision. To this day, many family members still regret the decision to give Whitney up for adoption, but are so grateful that she has been reunited with them. I had no idea that family members could have a say in a decision like this, but I learned that this was a common practice in Korea.
As I sat in their living room listening to Whitney’s adoption story from her parents’ perspective, I remember having so many emotions and thoughts enter my mind. I asked myself, “Could I ever have the opportunity to sit down with my birth family and have this kind of discussion?” “Would they even be willing to meet with me if I did a search and found them?” “Would they be proud of who I am and the man that I have become?” That single conversation started to open doors in my mind that I thought had closed years ago. I am very fortunate to have had the privilege of hearing their side of the story and the emotions that they felt when choosing adoption.
On our final day in Korea, we were dropped off at the airport by Whitney’s parents and younger brother. We said our goodbyes and headed into the terminal. At that moment, I just wanted to run back and spend more time getting to know them and sorting through my feelings. I can only imagine what Whitney was feeling. Our plane ride back to Nashville was very long. I spent some time looking out the window, staring at the thousands of miles of ocean below me and realized how far Korea is from us. I pondered on the experience that I’d just had and reflected on all of the information that I had learned.
After returning to Nashville, life continued on just as we’d left it a few weeks prior. We both returned to work, social engagements, and everyday life. The only difference for me is that life has completely changed. I am now part of a brand new family seven thousand miles away from me. These people had been complete strangers, but now I long to spend time with them, getting to know them better on a personal level.
At the airport, we said our goodbyes and headed into the terminal. But I just wanted to run back to them.
Many days, I find myself thinking about the Jeons and the impact they have already had on me. I look forward to future time that we will spend together and continue to reflect on past memories. Time is a precious gift that we are all given. At the end of my life, I want to look back and say that I lived life with no regrets. Because Korea is so far away and our visits will be fewer than we desire, I find that the time from this point forward spent with the Jeons is so valuable. Whitney does a great job of taking time to FaceTime or Skype with them, but it is not the same as actually seeing them in person. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow, so we have to make each and every day count. One of my favorite songs of all-time, For Good, comes from the Broadway show Wicked. One of the verses is as follows:
I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you. Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun, like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood…who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
This song speaks volumes for how I feel toward Whitney’s birth family. They accepted me as a part of their family and meeting them has definitely changed my life for good. Regardless of what happens in the future relating to my own birth family and possible search, I know that I will always be able to count on the Jeons to be there for me.
Reprinted in entirety, full credit: We the Lees https://wethelees.wordpress.com/