THE CURSE… and the Blessing of Searching for Self
In 1980 a child was born. So were a lot of children. This particular little girl came into the world with the odds stacked against her. Abandoned on the streets of a slum in Calcutta, India, when found, she was covered in filth and weighed just a pound. She was brought to an orphanage to die; but she didn’t.
When she was 3 months old, her future parents were preparing for the arrival of another Indian orphan, a girl named Ruby. Ruby however died before the adoption was completed and eventually this little girl, Reshma was sent in her place, to be raised by a family in the United States.
Reshma recounts being raised in a loving family and despite her harrowing beginnings, experienced a wonderful childhood. Yet there was a piece of her that was missing. In her efforts to fit in with her adopted family, she consciously ignored her Indian origins, even putting on her mother’s makeup in an effort to look more like her. It wasn’t until she became the mother of her own little girl, a daughter who she named Ruby, that she began to want to look for the Indian piece of her life’s puzzle, to more fully complete the story of who she was.
Writing in 2016 she stated, “Becoming a mom has given new life to small wonderings about my Indian heritage and now I have an ever growing need to quench my thirst to know Calcutta. I feel that I cannot fully know myself until I tap into my heritage.”
Driven by these small wonderings she began a journey which has culminated in a documentary film entitled, “Calcutta is my Mother,” that chronicles her first visit to the land of her birth and her experience as an adoptee. Today, she is a speaker and advocate for adopted individuals who, like her, desire to find the missing pieces of their story and themselves.
Surveys show that, 70% of adopted individuals have a strong desire to connect with their birth families. Today, this phenomenon extends beyond the adopted population as a result of non-traditional reproductive methods including, surrogacy, and sperm and egg donation. As Reshma’s and other adoptees experiences illustrate, the need to know where we come from, who we are connected to and most importantly who we are is a profound part of the human experience. And this desire goes far beyond the adopted population.
The last verse of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi states:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6)
Another version of this prophesy was given to Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by an angel named Moroni; the same Moroni whose statue adorns the spires of many Latter-day Saint temples.
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (JSH 1:39)
These scriptures are the fundamental reason that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds temples and why members of the church research family history and perform sacred ordinances in their temples to seal families for eternity.
With the prophecy fulfilled in this on-going way, not much thought is given to the curse that was averted, but what of it? What is the curse? What would the world be like if, as Moroni foretold, the earth was to be utterly wasted at His coming?
Consider the possibility that the curse would look like a world of orphans, disconnected, searching in vain for a missing part of themselves and finding no way home.
It is universally recognized that the deepest of all human desires is connection. From the moment we are born, we seek connection. The practice of placing a newborn on mother’s chest immediately after birth, allowing the infant to reconnect to her all familiar heartbeat, is a beautiful example of the fulfillment of this need. It is a need however that is never fully satisfied, and thus we, as humans, spend our lives seeking connection.
Arguably, the work of turning the heart of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers is about connection. Connection to self, to family, to community, to our ancestors and to God. And why is connection so important? Well, beyond the fulfillment of God’s plan it is through relationships that we learn who we are.
In his book, “Unwanted,” Jay Stringer expresses quite beautifully how these two concepts of identity and relationships work together. “God designed us with the ability to develop a sense of self (identity) and establish joyful and meaningful connection with others (relationships). … Identity and relationships interanimate each other: The more you know yourself, the more intimate connection you can have with others, and the more connected you are to others, the more you will discover who you truly are.”
The argument in favor of connection is further illustrated in a New York Times article from 2013 entitled “The Stories that Bind us.” In it, author Bruce Feller, talks about the importance of children knowing their family stories. Feller cites a study from 2001 where children were interviewed and evaluated to determine the impact of knowing family stories. The study found that children who knew details of their origins:
Tended to do better than other children when they faced challenges.
Proved to be more resilient and able to moderate the effects of stress.
Had a stronger sense of control over their lives.
Had higher self-esteem.
Believed that their family functioned successfully.
Felt that they belonged to something larger than themselves.
What’s true for children is equally true for adults. Knowing our family history plays an important part in developing and maintaining a solid and flexible identity throughout our lives. Even the negative stories from our past, the proverbial “skeletons in the closet,” can teach us understanding and compassion, and create a connection between our challenges and the trials faced by those who preceded us.
And so, the curse, on a less global level, is experienced by any of us, adopted or not, who don’t have the knowledge of our origins and connections to that past. Whether connecting to the living or the dead, these connections help us to know who we are, and come to a better understanding of our place and purpose in the world.
Of all of the blessings that counteract the curse, 21st century technology is without a doubt the greatest. The ability to find historical and present-day connections, through internet searches, genealogical services like Family Search, Ancestory.com, My Heritage and many others, along with DNA testing opens up new opportunities to find information about where we came from and a greater understanding of ourselves.
The strong desire to find self through ancestry is illustrated, somewhat ironically, by the following claim, made in a Time Magazine opinion piece from 2014. “… genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, according to ABC News, and the second most visited category of websites, after pornography.”
Regardless of how much or how little we know of our origins, there is always more to learn, and far beyond satisfying our curiosity or worse yet our vanity, this search for self helps us lay a foundation upon which we can build stronger emotional health and deeper connection with those around us. The alternative is to be victims of the curse, living as orphans, in a world of orphans, seeking, but never finding the connection we and all humanity crave.