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I have to do something proactive. I am
fiercely committed to living my dreams. If I’m not, who else will be? I contact a dozen
international adoption agencies. Most of them don’t write back. The few who respond say they don’t work with families who live abroad. We
apply in Vietnam. We wait some more.
I make Shogo
call the orphanage. I insist that he tell them to stop calling us every
month to ask if we are interested in a different child.
“Tell them to put a perpetual ‘yes’ on our file, okay? Tell them that whatever child they have available,
we are interested.”
“Yes. Whatever child.”
I want to say all those things like, “It isn’t fair,” and, “Why us?” but I already know the answers to those questions,
that there are no answers. This is our fate, our journey, our path.
somehow, miraculously, it works. The little boy
they called us about a few months ago is available again.
we say, eager to meet the child who is destined to be ours. But
when they come to our house to tell us about him, the information is sketchy at
“Do you have a picture?” I ask.
astounds me. Japan is the land of the camera—how
could they not have a picture?
you interested or not?”
they ask. They’re not messing
around with this child. He’s
interested,” we say
for the second time in my life, I get down on my knees and pray.
We visit Yuto in
the orphanage for hours, days, weeks, months. Finally we can bring him home for
an overnight. Then, finally, we can bring him home forever, just after his second birthday.
go to a
playground where he can see the bullet trains passing overhead. At the
playground, he comes up to the other kids and wants to play with their toys, or
play ball, or play with them in general. He
likes to hold hands. He wants contact, touch, closeness. Because he grew up in
an orphanage where everything was communal, he misses it. He has no concept of personal
The first time we give him Ai-Ai, the stuffed monkey we’d brought to take with him in the car—he
tries to leave it at the orphanage. We have to
convince him that he can keep it. He’s
never had a single thing of his own.
He is the opposite of other kids, who have to learn how to share. He brings
his own toys to share, but the other kids don’t take much interest in them. I don’t want to try to make sense of things
like this, or explain everything to him.
He’ll learn. I want to cut a path in this crazy
of life with him.
Sitting Zen. Walking Zen. Playing
Mothering Zen. It’s all practice,
and we have a lifetime.
my aunt doesn’t. I want him to
meet her before she dies.
we bring him
to San Francisco. He loves his seven-year-old cousin Shaviv, but he cannot pronounce Sh, so he calls him Habib. My sister tells me Habib
means “friend” in Hebrew.
We see a homeless man with a cat on the
street in front of Macy’s on Union Square. The cat has been hit
by a car and the man needs money for its hospital bills. Everyone rushes by the
man and the cat, but Yuto pulls my arm, insists on petting the cat. Then he sits
down on the
pavement and tries to pick up the cat to hug it. I tell him the cat is hurt and
he shouldn’t touch it. So he pets it instead. Now
people stop to look at the little boy sitting on the sidewalk,
blocking their path. Some mothers pull their children away. A
photographer stops to take a picture. Others put money in the basket.
More children come to sit by his side.
he brings together the splintered worlds of strangers. He is a healer of cats
and hearts, a small wonder in this world of so many
wonders. If I ever felt any doubts, I do not now.
All That Divided Us Will Merge
there are many customs for birth in Japan—the
mother returning to her parents’
house, a celebration of the child’s
first solid foods—we’ve
missed them all. In California we
hold a Jewish baby-naming ceremony
for Yuto. Many people from my mother’s community gather to welcome him, though we are strangers. Yuto is
given the name Benjamin after his maternal grandfather, who came from Ludz,
Poland, and Walter Benjamin, the Jewish writer–philosopher and member of the
resistance in World War II. There
is a ceremony where we throw all our sins into the Napa
River. Any time
between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in the Jewish
tradition, it is customary to throw breadcrumbs into a body of water as a
symbolic act of repentance. The ritual is called Tashlich, a sending out. We gather at a waterfront to “cast away” the sins of the past and resolve to have a better
year in the one to come.
My mother and stepfather, father and stepmother, my sisters and their
sons are there. The whole family has gathered
to heal and rejoice. It seems to be a holy time all over the world. In India it is the Hindu
celebrating beginnings and removing obstacles. In the Muslim world, it is Ramadan.
My mother’s friends, most of whom I don’t know, come up to congratulate us. Some tell me their
stories, of how they too were adopted, or how they adopted children, and what a
wonderful mitzvah it is.
Tossing bread into the water,
everything is still. It is a beautiful moment.
The congregation has prepared a blessing for the occasion. It
the one who blessed your ancestors bless you. We hope that you will be a blessing
to everyone you know. Humanity
is blessed to have you.
Yuto sits atop his father’s shoulders wearing his beaded yarmulke, smiling
and dancing. Yuto
is Jewish and Japanese; he is universal.
look at Shogo and
see he too is crying.
Humanity is blessed to have you.
adults gather and say the Shabbat prayer:
And then all that has divided us will merge
Then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both women and men will be gentle
And then both
men and women will be strong
And then no
person will be subject to another’s will
And then all
will be rich and free and varied
And then the
greed of some will give way to the needs of many
Then all will
share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all
will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all
will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all
will live in harmony with each other and the environment
everywhere will be called Eden once again.
My mother ordered a cake for Yuto
decorated with Pokemon, though Yuto seems to be the only one there
who does not
know who Pokemon is. He devours the cake, which says:
“Mazel Tov, Yuto. Welcome to the Tribe.”
aunt passes away. I am stricken with grief. She is my beloved, my friend, my
mentor, my guide. But I cannot cry forever. Yuto has been given a pogo stick and wants
to bounce on the sidewalk. It is dangerous, but he can’t
be stopped. He seems impervious to pain, though I know he is not. It’s
just that he learned not to cry at the orphanage, where help might not have come
and plentifully as it would in different circumstances.
he points to the
“Cho cho! Cho cho!”
A butterfly lay on the ground. A
beautiful orange and black monarch.
“Nette imasu”—it’s sleeping. I use the Japanese euphemism for death.
He leans over its lifeless body. “Shinda?” he asks. Is it dead?
I wonder how, and where, he has
I say, scooping up the butterfly in my hands and bringing it over to the garbage.
But this will not
“Hana! Hana,” he stomps his feet
and motions to a potted
daisy bush in front of the house. Understanding, I carry the
butterfly over and put it to rest on the bed of flowers.
He covers it with a leaf. Then he points up. Sora, he says. Sky.
he takes my hand and leads me back to the pogo stick, where he bounces and
bounces until dinnertime.