“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
A few weeks ago, as I drove my son to camp, he asked, “Mommy, how much did I cost?” I was backing out of the driveway, trying to ensure I didn’t hit any oncoming traffic, while strategically planning how to answer such a loaded question. I said something to the effect of, “You’re priceless,” to which Ren insisted, “Yeah…but how much did you pay for me?” The kid is persistent.
If you only knew.
Ren and I talked about how expensive kids are, not just to birth them or adopt them, but to sustain them. I want to honor his differences and also normalize the fact that kids come into families in creative and costly ways, more so in our time than ever before. July marks the month we brought him home six years ago, and each year it spawns deep questions on my part about his origins. It pains me to think that as he gets older, he will have more questions that we won’t be able to answer for him.
If we only knew.
I remember an empty photo album and disposable camera we sent to Ren’s foster mom in China, asking her to take pictures while we waited for him. We received the photo album, full of photographs, on the day we met Ren, and our Chinese guide helped us translate the Mandarin captions written on the back of each picture. There were photos of him sucking lollipops with his foster siblings, photos of him playing with “Baba,” his foster dad. Most of the photos were of him eating, which was also the way we won our way into his heart. These images are just about all I have to offer Ren of his Chinese past. I thank God regularly for Ren’s foster parents, and I know they must wonder how he’s doing now.
If they only knew.
When we brought Ren back to the states, he was speaking Mandarin extraordinarily well for a nineteen-month-old. Within weeks of becoming an American citizen, he uttered his first English word in the Target parking lot as military fighter jets flew over us: “airplane.” Sometimes I imagine the conversations he would be having with his birth family in his native tongue if things were different. Sometimes he asks me questions about his “real” mom, and I wonder what she looks like, what she does for a living, what is her story. I wonder if having knowledge of these things would lessen Ren’s pain or exacerbate it.
If he only knew.
This all has me thinking about memory in general—not just the gaps in my son’s past, but the gaps in my own, the gaps in everyone’s. During creative writing workshops, we often discuss memory as a necessary tool to writing and also an obstacle to it. Some memories remain vague, and some are clear cut. We want to write about certain things, but there are so few details we can actually recall. To remember hurts. To try to remember hurts. As memoirist Mary Karr writes, “Everyone who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.”
If we only knew.
I often feel uncertain about my life, and I wish God would make things clearer to me. Like most people, I have few memories before the age of five, and the ones I do have are like mirages. Despite the questions I’m able to ask my parents, there are still missing pieces of my puzzle, and the more I reach for them, the more they vanish. I also wish I knew more about my husband’s past. His parents died in his teens and twenties, and I never got to meet them. I feel like knowing them would bring so much more context to what I understand about my husband and my children.
If I only knew.
Still, the more I try to remember, the more I find the unknown pockets of my life the most compelling. I feel memories in my body in ways my rational mind can’t explain. I can feel something is true in my heart even in the absence of data or relics to confirm it.
Imagination and mystery go hand in hand, and these are often the richest elements of my life.
I have faith that the day we meet God, our minds will finally sync with all that our spirits and bodies have housed in locked rooms and spoken in very foreign tongues.
Only He knows.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.