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Shambhala Sun | May 2010
You'll find this article on page 66 of the magazine.

Adoption

Yuto is a healer of hearts; he's Japanese, Jewish, universal. Leza Lowitz on letting this special child into her life.

December 29, 2006:

I am standing on a cliff fifty feet above the Japan Sea, balanced on a precipice between two oceans. I don’t know how life has brought me to this place, this beautiful rock on the Izu Peninsula on the island of Honshu. But I’m here, with my husband and dog. We’ve hiked up twenty miles to stand on this small point of rock on the Dogashima coast, watching the waves crest below and the falcons crest above.

It’s my birthday; the dawn of a new year. I sit down on this line of solid land that cuts into the cliff and give thanks to all who held my hand to pull me up the mountain of life. I feel safe, yet I am literally perched on a narrow, dangerous place on a cliff that drops straight down to the ocean. But it’s not the literal I am interested in. Deep in my heart, I feel a sense of security and peace that I’ve never felt before. So I shift my weight to one foot. I lift the other foot up, place it onto my thigh. I look straight ahead and hold my focus. If I look down I will be overcome with fear. I hold my tree pose, breathing deeply. Strength and courage flood my cells. I repeat my mantra: “I am calm, I am poised… at the center of life’s storms, I stand serene.”

It’s taken me forty-four years to get here.

I’ve searched half the world for this feeling.

And I know, of course, that it is fleeting.

I don’t have a Zen master, a guru, or even, really, a religion. But neither did Tu Fu, Basho, Musashi Miyamoto, and countless other poets and wanderers who made their way through hills and valleys, over mountains and rivers, to seek solace. They didn’t have to sit in a meditation hall and stare at a wall to look inside. They just looked around and paid attention to what was near them. Their teachers were the mountains, rivers, rocks, and trees. Their parents were Mother Earth, Father Sky. Then they woke up. Or should I say, were awakened. I’m waiting for my epiphany. I’ve found ten thousand other ways to be a mother, but I’m still waiting for a child.

 

Elegy

I have a friend who took his three-year-old boy up to the mountains in the Japanese countryside. The boy ran ahead excitedly, as little boys will do. There was a wooden footbridge. It hung over a steep ravine, a hundred feet deep. The boy ran ahead onto the footbridge. The footbridge was made of planks of old wood. Not many people walked in the mountains anymore. There were gaps in the planks. Big gaps.

The father watched.

Every year on the date the boy died, my friend posts a memorial picture of his son on his blog. The boy playing a drum set. Standing in front of a samurai helmet. Smiling for the camera. Making the peace sign with both hands. No words, no commentary. Only his son’s picture and the word  “elegy.”

To remember. To honor.

Life is not safe. I know that. Nothing is certain. Things we hope for, dream about, come or don’t come, and then are gone.

I meet with my friend often. In our own ways we both mourn the children we do not have. Somehow we have been drawn together in this strange world to mirror each other’s pain. To give each other comfort and hope. We will move on, our mutual presence seems to say. We give each other that.

 

Heartlines

My husband is chonan. In Japan, this is a serious business. Chonan means the oldest son and heir to the family name and whatever fortune the family has acquired. While we’d been “away” in the paradise of Northern California for ten years, his younger sister had been doing the dad’s cooking and laundry. But his sister, now in her thirties, wanted to start her own life—open her own business, move on. We couldn’t ask her to take care of the dad forever. It was Shogo’s turn—our turn.

I hadn’t wanted to go back to Tokyo, the busy life, the pollution, the stress. But I loved my husband, and wanted to be with him. And I knew that a good marriage was based on compromise, even sacrifice. After all, the root of the word sacrifice is sacred. In the highest sense, to sacrifice is to do something completely for someone else, with no personal gain. As an independent American woman, that took some getting used to.

And it was time to start a family.

I’d gone about trying to have a child the way I’d gone about everything else in my life: one part perseverance, one part “trusting the process.” And I thought, as many do, that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” I had a full, fantastic life and no regrets. But after eight years, I did something I’d never done before in quite the same way. I got down on my knees and prayed.

And then my beloved aunt got cancer. Her one regret was that she did not have children. She worked all her life in child protective services, and had wanted to adopt. She urges me forward with a force and conviction that only impending death can render.

I learn of an Australian psychologist who adopted an infant in Japan. She gives me the name of the government agency—Jido Sodan Jo. The application asks questions like: Why do you want a child? What kind of upbringing and education would you give it? What are the most important values you would share with a child? What about religion? Filling out the application is challenging, but it is an opportunity for Shogo and me to become very clear on what our values are.  So we send in our application and wait.

 

Bloodlines

Everyone says Japan is a difficult country to adopt from. Not only are there few children up for adoption, but it’s the only country in the world where you need to get the extended family’s approval for the process.

Bloodlines are seen as all-important; one’s ancestors are one’s link to the past. The family registry, or koseki, goes back generations and lists each birth and marriage, tying family to family. When we got married, I did not take my husband’s name, and this caused a commotion at the ward office when the clerk said there was no “official space” to put my own name on the form.  

My husband stood his ground. “Well, make a space,” he said, knowing that was impossible. One thing about bureaucracy is that it most definitely cannot make a space. It would have been much easier for him to request or insist that I change my name, but he didn’t. He just waited for the bureaucrat to find a way to remedy the situation. I kept my own name and was added to the koseki. 

Then doubts start to flood my mind. If we succeed in adoption, I’ll be bucking the system again.

I know how difficult it is to raise a child, let alone one who is adopted in a country that is not particularly open to adoption. In Japan, most adoptions are kept secret. Some children don’t even find out until their parents die.

So we brace ourselves and ask my husband’s father for permission. I find out, to my surprise, that his own father was adopted. Samurai on one side, gangster on the other. My husband has them all in his ancestry—geisha, gangster, samurai, rickshaw driver. This assortment of characters pleases me, makes me feel less strange for my difference, more welcome. My father-in-law says yes.

We ask his sister, since she lives with us. She says yes. We breathe a big sigh of relief. But still I worry. All the possible scenarios tumble through my mind: I am a Westerner and the child will not look like me, so everyone will know he or she is adopted. I know of foreign women who don’t take their half-Japanese children to school because their children are ashamed and don’t want their peers to know they are hafu. And because the child is “different,” I don’t want him or her to be the victim of ijime, school bullying. That could lead to hikikomori, someone who is afraid to leave the house and spends their childhood at home. Even worse it could lead to jisatsu—suicide. I know I am being neurotic, already thinking about the difficulties the child will face in grade school, middle school, junior high, high school, and beyond. I know I am already being a mother. 

I share my fears with my husband. We were both beaten up in school.

“We turned out okay,” he says. It was why I studied karate and meditation, which ultimately led me to Japan.

“Yeah, but we got our asses kicked a lot!”

 “Maybe we went through it so our child wouldn’t have to,” he says.

“That’s a nice thought,” I shake my head. If only that were how it worked.

We decide that we are already a rainbow family, he with his long hair and stay-at-home job, me with my red streaks and funky yoga studio, not to mention his family’s eccentric lineage and our strange pit-bull mutt. In a conservative neighborhood in a conservative country, we already stand out as freaks. Why not embrace it completely?

 

Perpetual Yes

The agency calls about a little girl. We say yes. Nothing happens. Months later they call about a boy. We wait. They offer the child to another family. Many young couples are waiting to adopt, and we are low on the list due to our ages. 


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