Monday, March 6, 2017

Language Trigger

She noticed the conference materials I was digging out of my carry-on bag and piling on my lap, trying not to bump her arm on the armrest between us.

There was no mistaking what kind of a conference I had attended. Every document I shuffled to the top of the pile had 'adoption' somewhere in its title.

Finally, she spoke: "Are you adopted?"

"No. But I just attended an adoption conference here in New York. I brought lots of reading material home."

"I was adopted from Canada," she offered, adding, "Quebec."

Because of her street-clothes attire, I hadn't guessed that she was a nun. (My second encounter with with a nun connected in some way to adoption.)

"Oh, really? As a baby?"

"As an almost newborn. My parents went there to get me."

This wasn't the time, nor was it appropriate, to fully engage in a conversation about adoption with this sweet lady. Instead, I just listened as she told me of a recent jolt she had experienced.

"We had a guest speaker at the convent," she said. "A monsignor from Quebec. He was a marvelous speaker. And after he gave his presentation in English, he said he'd like to repeat a few paragraphs of it in French, just so we could hear the beauty of the language."

My seat mate paused briefly to collect her thoughts and prepare for her next sentence.

"When I heard him speaking in French, I lost it! I cried and cried and had a hard time pulling myself together. It was just so strange!"

I knew, of course, why she was triggered by the sound of her mother tongue. And she knew, instinctively, the reason for her reaction. But it was obvious she had not scratched the surface of her separation trauma from all that had been familiar to her in her mother's womb. Had we been in a position to have explored that trauma at length, she might have made far more discoveries about herself. But we were simply two travelers making conversation that day. And of course I'll never forget her.

God bless you, Sister, wherever you are.

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