Sunday, August 24, 2008

Spitting in the Wind?

One should not mistake comfort in the familiarity of the status quo with its being the most beneficial condition. Richard Garlikov

I have written for some years now about - for me - the healing catharsis of activism.

I have long "enjoyed" the comfort of knowing I am not alone in my feelings of loss and grief in regards to my adoption loss. But I needed more.

I found my activist writing and speaking out against the injustices of unwarranted and unnecessary family separations - as well as the profiteering from child redistribution - gratifying in providing a necessary channel for my anger at it all.

Having twice lost my eldest daughter, having no family of origins or significant life partner for support, and with a family tree littered with suicide and serious is far too easy for me to fall prey to a like demise. My life is a daily struggle not to yield to feelings of despair at the dead end of the relationship with my daughter, and the guilt that I did not prevent it. I struggle not to fall victim to these triggers of genetic dispositions.

I cannot undo the past, but I do have options regarding my present and the future.

And so I write...and I fight as best I can against "the system."

A recent off-hand comment by a colleague set off a downhill chain of events. Someone used the phrase "spitting in the wind" regarding an attempt at activism.

While I have long scoffed at initial reaction was anger. (I find my underlying anger at adoption loss makes me quick to anger.) But this hit somewhere in my gut and I have had difficulty shaking it.

I began living in my head more than living in real time and reality and examining not merely the one thing that the remark was aimed at, but all of activism...and thus my entire adult life!

Has my life been just a matter of "spitting in the wind"? Is all adoption activism a waste of time because it is futile and will never change anything? I recognized why many are opposed to becoming involved in activism - because of this very feeling of futility it creates.

After all, so few states have opened their records in the past 40 years - since my own personal connection to adoption occurred. Despite all efforts to stop immoral so-called "safe haven" child dumping grounds...the last state, Nebraska, actually expanded the definition, allowing the dumping of chidlren as old as 18!

Why bother?

As I questioned what I/we do...I was drawn to an image in my head of Sisyphus doomed to pushing a boulder uphill. Wasteless, pointless use of time and energy was the worst punishment the gods could conceive of for this mortal who had tricked them.

In the realm of the dead, Sisyphus is forced to roll a block of stone against a steep hill, which tumbles back down when he reaches the top. Then the whole process starts again, lasting all eternity.

It was intended to be the most horrific punishment not only because it was difficult labor, but because it was frustratingly futile, unrewarding, repetitive labor. The toil of Sisyphus is a metaphor for all difficult and repetitive labor that is frustrating and unrewarding.

Frustrating and unrewarding indeed describes my life's work in adoption. But because it feels that way doing it...does that make it so?

The 1957 Nobel laureate for literature Albert Camus wrote in a brief essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" (1940) that Sisyphus' fate and his endless toil is not futile.

Camus says: "If the descent [i.e., Sisyphus' returning to the bottom of the mountain to start pushing the rock upward all over again] is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy." And "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

I find this but incompressible and also of little value. Although I take occasional pride in some things I or others have done, I do not do what I do for the pleasure of doing it. If there is no valid result - why do it? Why spit in the wind?

While contemplating this, I found the writings of a philosophical counselor named Richard Garlikov. I found value in his take on Sisyphus. I hope that you do as well:
Making someone happy or providing solace for someone in despair, even if it is only temporary is still a worthwhile act…. Even if all we do in the lifetime of civilization collapses into a universal blackhole or relative pinpoint of incredibly dense mass, our accomplishments are what they were, even if they do not remain in the memory of an omniscient God but dissolve entirely into the metaphysics of empty time. That something happened and meant anything at all is important, regardless of how long it lasts….
… if we once again look at what is in some sense metaphysically important, it is important in life that we try to do what is right, not just that we succeed. We cannot control our destiny, but we can control our deserts, and we do that by always trying to do what is right and what is best. Attempts may be futile, but making the attempt is never futile, for it determines and simultaneously rewards our character….
… Not all work is noble. What is noble is to be striving toward the best we can accomplish, not toward just any accomplishment for its own sake….

In another essay,
Garlikov who provides analysis and resolution of conflicts and disputes, using a philosophical approach, states:
I would argue that happiness also stems from the pursuit of excellence or of desirable (not just desired) ends, even when the pursuit fails to achieve whatever is sought. Psychologically, there is something about the pursuit of the good that gets one's focus off just one's "self", particularly one's more petty or mundane concerns, and onto an ideal "outside" one's self that is, in some sense, more universal and more important, more satisfying and more uplifting --something transcendent.

(Most of Garlikov's writings are offered free of charge on his website.)

And who knows? Since unlike Sisyphus we are neither mythological or metaphorical figures nor are we dead yet...nor doomed by any God...

Perhaps than there is the possibility that we might just reach the summit someday!

This illustration shows a clear distinction between the lone work of Sisyphus and what is possible when we join together! None of us are as powerful as all of us!

The reason the spitting comment had such an impact was because it had not come from an "outsider" but from one with whom I worked shoulder to shoulder, pushing that boulder.

I, however, chose to see my life (and that of the life of adoption activism) not as futile, but as a success according to the following two definitions:
Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. Booker T. Washington

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like to believe that the work I and other adoption activists are doing will leave the world a better place , even if we do not see results -"the redeemed social condition" - in our lifetime.

I thus offer my spittle to the wind...and to the earth and the sea...

I offer my spittle and my sweat, my tears, my words and voice...because it is all I have to give. If I were a coke-eyed optimist I might even imagine that a drop of my spit watering a seed that might grow into a beautiful flower or mighty oak someday.

Who knows? Regardless, I give it all. How it is received is out of my control and I will not cease because of fear it will not be received well. If we were to act only when assured our actions were to be acceptable, we'd never love or care for children or the informed.

Doing what it is in your heart and soul to do are its own reward. Or as Garlikov points out:
Aristotle had it close to correct when he said that happiness was not in the mere having of possessions nor of reputation or power, though those were useful, but that it is "an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence.
This -- and the support of others who are like-minded -- are two very critical factors that Sisyphus was denied (making his life a living hell) but available for us to freely chose!


Anonymous said...

Mirah, sometimes it feels like spitting in the wind, when we work and work and nothing changes. But remember what Margaret Mead said, and keep on keeping on. I admire your passion and persistence.

AdoptAuthor said...

For me, it's also about:
Nolite barastades carbarudum

All I have is my passion...

Bernadette said...

Excellent post and very inspirational!

Evelyn Robinson said...

I know it gets discouraging sometimes, but hopefully our efforts to educate will pay off one of these days.

Felicia said...

so, heah - I myself always imagine sysyphus counting, 1 time, two times
> - you can take pride in what you do even when no one else sees or sems
> to benefit from it. just my impossible positivity - makes sense to me.
> Maybe somebody else doesn't want to push the bolder - but here I am -
> where is that fucking rock...That we get it to the top is the important
> thing, not that it falls back down. and lots of people have benefitied
> from your work/my work - just to know others are out there is so good.
> doing the next right thing iis a reoccuring theme in recovery. You are
> not spittomng in the wind. You are spitting in the face of convention,
> the face of doom, the face of evil and we will continue to do so...I
> love you, peace of mind, Felicia

Jane said...

Good essay.

Many ideas that only a few years ago seemed to be the province of the lunatic fringe are now mainstream -- civil rights, gay marriage.

Some "radical" ideas take centuries to come of age like democracy, ending slavery, women's right to vote, peace in Europe.

But you can't give up.

I just bought a T-shirt, sold as a fund raiser to pay off Hillary Clinton's debts, which says:

"For everyone who's ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you."pbw

maryanne said...

Spitting in the wind? Yeah, probably, but so are a lot of us. Also rolling that big rock up the hill like Sisyphus, but each time the rock gets a little farther up. There have been changes in adoption in some places, and small personal victories in helping others. We are all frustrated with how slow it goes, but seeing the small victories and not expecting grand dramatic change helps.

I have a weird personal connection to Camus and Sisyphus and his later novel "The Plague". I wrote a paper on them for the class on Existential Philosophy where I met my surrendered son's father! As I remember, it was a pretty good paper. Camus became more cautiously hopeful in "The Plague", an allegory where a biological plague symbolized Nazi and other repressive and evil regimes, and the necessity for good people to fight back and be ever vigilant about the return of evil. There is a beautiful quote at end, which I can't find, about those who are unable to be saints striving to be healers, and that while there can be no final victory, human nature being as it is, the battle will need to be fought again and again by those who choose the good. Even when it looks like you can't win.


suz said...

Agreed. Good post. Only just got a chance to read it.

Mirah, I personally feel very positive about the future. I believwe we are making a difference and will continue to. We must not give into the haters, naysayers, or other.

I have sponsored four mothers who kept their children, I have reunited 50 mothers and children, I have receive more positive emails on my blog than I ever imagined.

It only takes one.

Help one mother, save one mother and her child, and you save an entire generation and all future generations of that family.

Small wins count too. Dont forget to include them and celebrate then while you continue charging down the path after the bigger beast of adoption.

AdoptAuthor said...

yes small wins...

But I must be getting old, Suz. I USED TO feel the way you do. I reunited THOUSANDS of mothers and their children in the 70s! Each one felt like a victory.

But to look back over all those decades and see mothers STILL losing tough.

It's less within the US. Only 1% now lose their kids and that's good. But worldwide the situation SUCKS. The infertile comb the earth like vultures going from country to country for kids that are STOLEN - the latest "quick and easy" one is Ethiopia!

When I see stuff I wrote back then that is still going on - or is even's tough to keep that pushing that boulder. Of course, on the other hand, back then we never saw beyond search, reunion, and open records.

The worst, Suz...the very worst... is that the "spitting in the wind" came from someone who was allegedly pushing with me! Sad.

What we need is uplifting the comments here!!

Thank the universe for you guys!!

Anonymous said...

Hey folks, activism, is what all birth mothers who are depressed over what happened to them ought to be doing! Storm the friggen' Bastille! CHANGE THE SYSTEM.

When I got into this in 1974 I never thought we would still be fighting the same fight today. But we are. And I will go on fighting (though I do need time off now and thwn) until I die, OR THE RECORDS ARE OPENED AND ADOPTION IS NOW LONGER A BOOMING BUSINESS.
But how little has changed in some quarters, yes indeed, is depressing. But that doesn't mean we give up. Thank god for people like Mirah...lorraine

While I'm here, I'm posting a commercial for

AdoptAuthor said...

It's heartening! This is like a "reunion" of us ole-timers! :-))..and some really exciting new blood also!

I'm so PROUD to know ALL of YOU!!

Lorraine, will check out your blog:

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget