Double-Adoptee Indeterminacy

Quantum indeterminacy—the fundamental condition of existence, supported by all empirical evidence, in which an isolated quantum system, such as a free electron, does not possess fixed properties until observed in experiments designed to measure those properties. That is, a particle does not have a specific mass, or position, or velocity, or spin, until those properties are measured. Indeed, in a strict sense the particle does not exist until observed.

—Joint Quantum Institute

The first, and last, time I attempted a boardslide down a handrail on a skateboard as a teenager, I landed on my ankle while still in motion from a three foot height. At the hospital, the doctor told me that I had come the closest she had ever seen to breaking an ankle, without actually breaking it. I think my identity as a twice-relinquished, twice-adopted person functions in a similar way, as if, in being forced to take on multiple, mutually exclusive identities throughout my childhood, I’ve been pushed to the very threshold of dissociative identity disorder, without actually splitting off into distinct personalities. As if I, too, am like a quantum system, and my manifest existence is determined by who happens to be observing me at any given time, or more accurately, now that I’m an adult, from what vantage point I observe myself. As if I depend on this act of observation to save me from an amorphous wave of probable selves, in order to have a specific mass, position, velocity, spin. Otherwise, it’s not at all clear that I actually exist.

Am I my birth mother, Rosanne’s, child? Yes, but that leaves me in a muddle because that identity got reabsorbed into the quantum wave of probable selves when she kissed me goodbye the day after I was born. Rosanne’s child is a shooting star that flashed forth from her womb, only to quickly lose its warmth, light, spin, and specific position in time and space, lost in the Nothing Place. But I am Rosanne’s child.

Am I the child of Mary Ann and David, who adopted me as an infant? Maybe, or sort of, but not anymore, I think. Mary Ann and David’s child also got reabsorbed into the wave of probable selves when David disappeared and Mary Ann relinquished me when I was nine years old. There was no one left to observe me, to make me real. Besides, I had to be cut off from my pre-adoption history and biological roots in order to become their child in the first place, a mere fragment of me. But I am Mary Ann and David’s child.

Am I the child of Frances and Charlie, who adopted me when I was nine? Yes, according to my birth certificate, according to the State of New York. But this has always been my most unstable identity. Severed from my roots, then severed again from my first grafted-on adoptive identity, Frances and Charlie’s child never fully emerged from the quantum soup of probable selves. But I am Frances and Charlie’s child.

Where does this leave me now? As if I exist in a hall of mirrors. Depending on which mirror I look into, I see a different, distorted, incomplete image of myself.

On my most recent birthday, Rosanne, with whom I’ve been in reunion for nearly four years, sent me a most loving message, telling me what a beautiful baby boy I was, and how she regrets not being there for me when I was growing up, but that she’s proud of the man I’ve become. Pitch perfect, the words I long to receive from her. Then why do I feel so sad receiving them? I treasure these words from my mother, and I dearly wish she could have been present to me, nurturing me through my childhood. And I do sense this possibility swimming somewhere in the quantum system. My heart reaches out for it, as if I can almost see it, feel it, before it finally eludes my observation. Not really real. But the loss, our loss, is all too real.

No one exists in and of themselves. We are relational creatures. So which relationships orient me toward my real self? All my life, this question has been a central guiding force. I sought out and clung to people who I hoped, by seeing myself through their eyes, might collapse this terrible sea of indeterminacy and manifest the real me. See me! Make me real! Because I cannot see myself for all the uprooting and replanting, all the irreparable fractures and losses, all the eyes that saw me as a completely different person. I do not even know if I am really real.

So who am I?

I am learning.

I am learning to accept and grieve the losses of the past, the shattering disruptions, the lives unlived or only partly lived, then erased. And I am learning to embrace the radical incoherence of the life I’ve actually lived. Somehow, in the midst of my fragmentation, something holds me in an unbroken wholeness, like the ocean upholding the wave. This is a mystery, the ground of my faith, my most abiding relationship. Turning toward this unbroken wholeness, which includes, unifies, and transcends all of the fragments of my life, is the art of prayer, the gaze of devotion, the physics of communion—the end of all searching.

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