Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

April 12, 2006


The Greek goddess Psyche is portrayed as a butterfly, which represents the soul. Socrates said, "Know thyself." From that knowledge human beings can build a base, truly think for themselves and grow into their potential, complete human beings they were meant to be.

This ability to grow and transform is the most basic human right and a function of the soul. If we are denied it, then I don't know what it is we remain. I don't think there is a language for this state of existence. Regardless of clever adaptive tricks we devise to survive, all adoptees remain in some state of arrested childhood for our entire lives. The harm, although invisible, is irreparable.

Annie Dillard, in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, describes a scene that illustrates what happens when we aren't allowed to become who we are.

One spring when she was a child in school, her teacher had captured a large and unusual caterpillar in a jar and kept it on a windowsill so that the students could observe the stages the giant polyphemous moth would undergo on its transformation into a winged adult.

One morning they saw that overnight the moth had emerged from the confines of the caterpillar casing, but the jar was too small to allow its wings to unfurl properly. They all watched it struggle there in its glass prison to become what it must.

Students trailing her, the teacher carried the jar to a sloping driveway, opened the cover, and lay the jar on its side so that the moth could escape. Unfortunately its wings had stuck against the glass by the shellac-like substance that coats the wings and dries to allow them to harden for flight.

The teacher finally took pity and pulled the moth from the jar. They all watched as it hobbled and crawled down the drive, its wings forever unfurled, stuck grotesqely against its sides, mutant, wrinkled, useless appendages, for as long as the moth might survive.

Dillard says that the monstrous sight affected her for the rest of her life. She said she will forever see that moth crawling, crawling, crawling down the driveway encased by its own wings.

Like the polyphemous moth, the adoptee's task is to emerge from nothing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

# Peter O'Connell Says:
April 13th, 2006 at 3:27 am e

I like this story very much. The Socratic principle: ‘know thyself’ is a problem for adoptees. We see that what we become is made up of a combination of genes and environment - but we know nothing about our genetic heritage; how our parents looked when they were happy, the wave in their hair, small things that make the emotional bond between parent and child. And of our environment? Well its a bit like the moth in the jar - how different life could have been….. Not necessarily better, but different and, perhaps we could be forgiven for believing, more natural.

Thanks for the link, I’ll also be linking to your site.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

# kippa herring Says:
April 13th, 2006 at 5:47 am e

I appreciated this story too, though forbore from commenting, not feeling qualified to do so.
But Peter’s reply sort of gives me permission.
I found myself especially responsive to his last sentence.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

# KristenJean Says:
April 13th, 2006 at 9:01 am e

quite eloquently written. i’ve added you to my links. just let me know if you mind and I can take ya off if you want.

and I totally agree that “know thyself” is a difficult one for adoptees and confusing. I think cicero said somethign to the affect of “to be ignorate of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” I don’t knwo the exact exact wording but it has stuck with me since I read it, we don’t and can’t know out past unless we search. and we search for ourselves in a way that non-adoptees just never will.


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